Becoming the healthiest version of you is beneficial for your health overall. Focusing on your whole health is especially important if you’re considering starting a family since your health is directly tied to that of your baby. Lifestyle changes to get — and stay — healthy can lead to a smoother pregnancy and childbirth for you, as well as a healthier, happier baby.
As you begin to think about family planning, have an open and honest conversation with your doctor about three important lifestyle factors that affect your fertility: your weight (which is tied to your hormone health), blood sugar, blood pressure and stress levels.
How Your Body Weight Affects Hormone Health
The relationship between weight and fertility involves more than just the number on the scale. Being underweight or overweight affects your fertility because your weight influences the hormones involved in ovulation. Being a healthy weight boosts your hormone health, which can increase the odds of getting pregnant.
When you’re underweight, with a BMI below 18.5, your hormones may be out of balance. Your body might slow or stop estrogen production, causing your ovulation and menstruation to stop, too. A regular ovulation cycle is necessary to get pregnant.
If you’re overweight or have a BMI over 25, the excess fat cells in your body release more estrogen than usual. A high amount of estrogen in your body can disrupt your ovulation and menstrual cycles, making it more difficult to get pregnant. Being overweight or obese can also raise your risk of gestational diabetes and inhibit fertility treatments like in vitro fertilization.
It’s important to work with your doctor to understand your body mass index (BMI) before conception.
“This not only ensures that your body is in the best shape possible for what’s ahead but can also help boost your fertility if you were previously underweight and lessen your risk of a premature delivery or stillbirth if you were previously overweight,” says Ashley Hill, MD, medical director of obstetrics and gynecology at AdventHealth Medical Group. “Further, being overweight during pregnancy can cause several dangerous complications such as diabetes, hypertension, stillbirth and an increased risk of needing a cesarean delivery.”
How Your Blood Sugar and Blood Pressure Influence Fertility
“If you’re diabetic or hypertensive, or both, it is very important to work with your doctor to fine-tune your management of these conditions before getting pregnant,” says Dr. Hill.
Additionally, some of the medicines used to treat hypertension may disrupt a baby’s development, so it’s important to talk with your doctor about how to manage these conditions safely before and during pregnancy.
“Controlling your diabetes can help prevent birth defects,” Dr. Hill says. “Managing your blood pressure helps ensure that your baby can receive the right amount of oxygen and nutrients and reduces the risk of preeclampsia, a dangerous condition for mother and baby.”
How Your Stress Level Affects Pregnancy
Managing stress isn’t easy. Trying to get pregnant can be a stressful process in itself with a lot of factors to consider, and infertility issues can be distressing, too.
The relationship between stress and fertility isn’t as straightforward. It’s not that stress necessarily causes fertility issues, but lowering your stress levels can mean better health for you and a less complicated pregnancy.
“Most importantly, relax,” says Dr. Hill. “The better you take care of yourself, the better you’ll feel going forward,” he says. Because many women feel like they need to rush to get pregnant, Dr. Hill emphasizes that it’s best to take the time to get healthy before pregnancy. Because it is often more difficult to conceive as women age, if you are older than 32 or 33 you may wish to speak with your doctor or midwife.
That said, pay attention to stress that you can’t seem to shake off, and don’t be afraid to have a conversation with your doctor about feelings of stress, anxiety or depression or other behavioral health conditions you’re experiencing.
“If you’re experiencing unusual anxiety, let your doctor know, because usually we can help,” Dr. Hill says.
Other Lifestyle Factors to Evaluate
In addition to talking with your doctor about your weight, blood sugar and blood pressure and your stress levels, there are other lifestyle factors that you can take charge of to have a healthier pregnancy. Take an inventory of habits like:
- Alcohol intake: Avoiding alcohol can boost ovulation health.
- Caffeine intake: Limit your caffeine intake to less than two eight-ounce cups of coffee every day to stay healthy.
- Medication use: Avoid taking lots of vitamins and over-the-counter drugs when trying to conceive.
- Smoking: Tobacco use is tied to lower fertility rates as smoking damages eggs and ovaries, which can slow the conception process.
Healthier Habits for a Happier You, and Baby, Too
Fortunately, you can manage your weight, blood sugar and pressure and stress levels in similar ways. Getting healthier in body, mind and spirit starts with self-care each day. When you start small with daily goals, you can build a healthy lifestyle that you can maintain before, during and after pregnancy.
To jumpstart positive lifestyle factors that affect your fertility, start with two major players in your health: what you eat and how you move.
Your daily nutrition — not a diet — and exercise routine are two of the most significant factors in maintaining a healthy life and pregnancy.
Dr. Hill advises all of his patients to take care of themselves in these ways. “Prepare healthy meals, exercise regularly and get proper sleep,” he says.
Small Changes That Work for Your Lifestyle
For your daily meals, you can make one small change to your meals every day to eat healthier in the long run.
- Avoiding processed foods
- Eating a protein-rich meal
- Eating complex carbohydrates, like beans, veggies and whole grains
- Focusing on whole foods
- Practicing reading food labels
To make exercising a healthy, sustainable habit, you can:
- Ask for accountability from your partner or a close friend
- Commit to a quick exercise daily, like walking during lunch
- Get your partner or friend on board with a new workout class
- Try a new exercise that gets your heart rate up
Whether you’re actively trying to conceive or are just thinking about family planning in the near future, it’s never too early or too late to make healthy choices for yourself that will benefit your fertility.
Whole-Hearted Care for Pregnancy and Beyond
Becoming the healthiest you can be before pregnancy starts with whole-person treatment that takes care of you in body, mind and spirit. “I always advise scheduling a preconception checkup to review important aspects of your health and make sure there are no barriers to a safe and healthy pregnancy ahead of time,” Dr. Hill says.
We are dedicated to caring for your well-being long before pregnancy and well after childbirth. Our expert women’s care programs can help you achieve whole health, and in turn, improved fertility. Find an OB/GYN physician or midwife to support your pregnancy today.