Why should you prepare for pregnancy?

Many couples have contacted me with issues around conceiving and fertility – none of whom have considered their diet and lifestyle and how this is a major factor in optimising conception, and something I will soon be offering advice and treatment on.

But for now, as a community midwife I meet women who have come to my clinic to let me know they are pregnant. Some of these women have tried for months to get pregnant, others have just started trying to conceive. However, it always strikes me that very few women prepare their body to enhance their pregnancy and reduce their risks and anxieties around growing a human being. This process is very intricate and complex.

Much like planning a major event in your life, much time and attention to detail will be required. If you think of a wedding or a holiday – we don’t just find ourselves suddenly in these situations, we carefully consider venue, transport, clothing, pre-preparation, diet etc etc. So why do women not apply the same consideration to pregnancy?

Initially planning should include folic acid which is a type of B Vitamin. This helps with the production and maintenance of cells in your body and supporting a pregnancy. I rarely find a woman who has commenced the minimum recommended dose of folic acid pre-pregnancy. The majority of women, I would estimate to be around 95% or more think about it or commence it once they have a positive diagnosis of pregnancy through a pregnancy test. For those requiring a higher dose of 5mg, which requires a prescription from your GP and is recommended if you have any of the following:

• BMI above 35
• had a previous pregnancy and the baby has had a neural tube defect
• are taking anti-epileptic medication
• are diabetic
• you or the biological father have a neural tube condition or a family history of neural tube condition

Many women meet their midwife at around 6-10 weeks of pregnancy. Folic acid is only required for the first 12 weeks, therefore it is possible that the benefits of taking folic acid have been missed!

Research shows taking the correct dose of folic acid can significantly reduce neural tube defects (NTD) which are defects of the brain, spine, or spinal cord. These are formed in the first month of pregnancy, often before women are aware they are pregnant, hence the importance of preparing for pregnancy.

Spina bifida and anencephaly are the two most common NTDs, although there are others. With Spina bifida, the baby’s spinal column doesn’t close completely usually resulting in nerve damage causing some paralysis of the legs. In anencephaly, most of the brain and skull do not develop. These are usually permanent and non-curable.

Your diet can contribute to folic acid intake, however, it is unlikely you will be able to consume the recommended minimum daily requirement, let alone the higher dose. But preparing well for pregnancy and increasing foods which contain folic acid will help to reduce the chance of your baby having a NTD. These foods include:

• The legumes
• whole grains
• fruits (particularly citrus)
• vegetables (especially asparagus, brussels sprouts, and dark leafy greens)
• breakfast cereals fortified with folic acid.

So please, please ladies, plan to take your folic acid 🙂

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