By Rae Mok
When you bought your own place, you put in efforts to ensure that it becomes a cosy home so that you can live in it comfortably. So now that you are planning for a baby, shouldn’t you also give your baby the best “home” for the next nine months?
As our work and daily life gets to us, we tend to neglect our own health. However, if you are planning for a baby, it is no longer an issue that you can brush aside. You would definitely want to give you child the best, and what better way to start than by working on the mummy’s body – the baby’s “incubator”.
Knowing your body
Before you try to conceive, you need to understand your own body. Discuss your plans and any health issue with your family doctor or your gynaecologist, and seek their opinion on what you need to do to prepare for the baby. For example, if you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, your doctor might want to put you on a program to manage the issues. This is also a good time for a full body check-up if you don’t do one regularly, to uncover any hidden health problem which you might not be aware of.
You should also consult your doctor if you are underweight or overweight. It has been noted that underweight women tend to have smaller babies even though they put on the same weight as other women during their pregnancy. Being overweight increases your risks of having gestational diabetes and high blood pressure during pregnancy, which could cause complications. Work out a suitable plan with your doctor to address these problems before planning to conceive.
Changing your diet
If you are a huge junk food fan and like deep fried foods, starchy foods and snacks, it is time to change this habit. It is a known fact that too much unhealthy food is bad for your body, but when your baby is getting all his/her nutrients from your body, you surely don’t want him/her to get these unhealthy parts too, right? You can’t control passing on your funny traits, but you can surely control passing on unhealthy cells. If you have always wanted to adopt a healthier diet, now is the time.
We have heard it too many times, but it is most important now to start taking a balanced diet. A balanced diet means including food from the 4 food groups, in the order of quantity as shown in the Healthy Diet Pyramid (www.hpb.gov.sg) –
1. Rice and grains: Choose whole grains wherever possible – in bread, rice, pasta, cereals and noodles. Whole grains contain numerous vitamins and minerals and also aid in our digestive system.
2. Vegetables and fruits: Take 2-3 servings a day and you will need even more when you are pregnant. Eat a wide variety of vegetables and fruits. However, do take note not to overeat fruits like durian as they contend a high amount of sugar.
3. Meat, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, dairy products: These foods are high in protein which provide for our growth and developmental needs. They help you to build muscles which will be important when the weight of the baby starts to pull on your body. Replacing carbohydrates with protein has also been found to lower cholesterol and blood pressure. However, choose lean meats to reduce the intake of fats.
4. Fats, oils, sugar and salt: You know this one – the lesser the better! If you have a sweet tooth or like your food heavily seasoned, change your taste before you conceive and it will be easier to control and accept when you are pregnant as these are no good for a growing baby.
Supplementing your diet
During pregnancy, your body will require large amounts of iron and calcium for the baby’s growth. Iron is commonly present in meat, chicken and fish, while calcium can be found in dairy products like milk, cheese, and even dark leafy vegetables. You can also get these from iron-enriched, or calcium-enriched products. As we do not get enough of these from our diet alone, your doctor might also recommend you to start taking supplements containing these.
However, the most important supplement is folic acid. Folic acid is most important before and during the first 12 weeks of your pregnancy. As most women do not know that they are pregnant till around five weeks, it will be good to start taking as soon as you start planning to conceive. Folic acid reduces the risks of the baby developing neural tube defects, the most common being Spina Bifida, where the vertebrae does not fuse properly, which could lead to paralysis, incontinence, or mental developmental problems.
It is also advisable to start building the body’s immune system as you want to stay as healthy as possible during your pregnancy and avoid taking medication. Some women also choose to seek the help of more traditional methods. Dawn Tan, 36, turns to TCM. “I have always believed in TCM as it healed my sensitive nose problem which I was suffering from since young. When I decided to plan for my pregnancy, I returned to my TCM doctor for advice. She diagnosed that my body is rather weak, and advised that I build up my body before trying for a baby. My husband and I went through a six-month program. With regular monitoring of our health, she prescribed different herbs for us. We took these herbs for a period of time to strengthen our bodies until she gave us the go ahead to start trying for a baby. According to her, TCM can help to strengthen the womb and also help us produce healthier eggs and sperms, to increase our success rates.” It sure worked for the mother of two kids aged 8 years and 4 months, as she managed to conceive quickly after TCM treatment.
It is important to remember that everything you do in the months prior to conceiving may impact the future health and well being of your baby. Eat healthily, seek help for your medical problems, reduce your intake of caffeine, plus abstain from alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs. Provide the optimal best environment for your baby to develop, and you will be richly rewarded with a healthy, bouncy baby.
Dawn Tan with her daughter