Preparing Your Body For Pregnancy
Making healthy choices will not only benefit you when you’re trying to get pregnant, but it will also benefit you and your developing baby during your pregnancy. That’s why we’ve done the research for you to gather the recommendations from experts in fertility and the best ways to prepare your body for pregnancy, what can affect your chances of getting pregnant, and what really works to help your body get pregnant.
Pregnancy is a big feat for your body — you’re creating and supporting the life of a whole other human being, entirely on your own. That’s a pretty significant task. Preparing your body for pregnancy simply means making sure that you’re healthy and ready to handle the challenges that pregnancy throws your way. Talk to your doctor when you’re ready to start trying for a baby, and they’ll be able to advise you on how to give yourself the best chance of a healthy pregnancy.
Your doctor will also give you advice on how early you should start preparing your body for pregnancy. They may recommend spending a few months caring for your health before you start trying to conceive, or they may tell you that you’re ready to start getting pregnant immediately. Some things your doctor may recommend to help you prepare your body for pregnancy include (1, 2):
Getting caught up on vaccines before you get pregnant
Making sure that the medications, vitamins, and supplements you’re on are safe to take during pregnancy
Taking a prenatal multivitamin with folate
Changing your diet to help increase your fertility and overall health (see Question 6 for more information on fertility diets)
Avoiding alcohol and smoking, and limit caffeine and sugar intake
Adjusting your exercise routine (or starting a new exercise routine)
Getting to a healthy weight before trying to conceive
Making sure any chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or asthma are managed properly
Getting blood tests or genetic tests
Tracking your menstrual cycles and fertility signs, such as cervical mucus, basal body temperature or continuous core body temperature, and luteinizing hormone
Reducing stress in your life and prioritizing your sleep schedule
It may sound like a lot, but most of the above points can be boiled down to caring for your overall health. Your doctor may give you additional advice on how you and your partner can increase your chances of getting pregnant once you do start trying. Thankfully, many of the above steps to prepare your body for pregnancy may also positively affect your fertility (keep reading for more on this).
If you’re planning on getting pregnant soon, it’s a good idea to focus on eating a nutritious diet. However, even if you’re eating healthy, the food you eat may not provide you with all the nutrients you need for a healthy pregnancy. Prenatal vitamins can help fill the gap so that you get the essential nutrients you need, especially folate and iron, which are important for fetal growth and development (3).
Always talk to your doctor before you take any new vitamins or supplements, but a general good rule is to start taking a prenatal vitamin at least 3 months before you conceive, if possible. If you’re already trying to conceive, talk to your doctor about getting on a prenatal vitamin as soon as possible. Taking prenatal multivitamins before you conceive can help make sure that your baby gets the nutrients it needs from the very moment of conception, before you even know you’re pregnant (3).
The most important nutrient to look for in a prenatal vitamin is folate, a form of B vitamin. A dose of 400 micrograms of folate per day is recommended to help prevent fetal neural tube defects in early pregnancy (3, 4). Another bonus of taking a prenatal vitamin before you conceive: the folate in your multivitamin may decrease chances of ovulatory infertility, which is the most common cause of female infertility in the United States (5, 6, 7).
Note: Check the label of your prenatal vitamin before buying. Some may contain folic acid, which is a synthetic form of folate that up to 60% of women are unable to process. If you’re part of that group, you may be missing out on the folate your baby needs for a healthy pregnancy. To avoid this, stick to a prenatal vitamin that contains folate or methyl-folate (8).
Other nutrients that should be in a prenatal multivitamin include iron, calcium, iodine, zinc, selenium (for thyroid health), and vitamins A, B, C, D, and E (3, 9).
It is a good idea to tell your doctor when you’re thinking of trying for a baby. Seeing your doctor before you conceive can help you make sure that your body is healthy and ready to support a pregnancy; a lot of important growth and development happens during the first few weeks of pregnancy, before many even know they’re pregnant (10).
During pregnancy, your body is expected to do many things that it doesn’t normally do, all in the name of creating and supporting the life of a new child. Your doctor can help you get your body ready for this challenge, but only if you let them know that you’re trying to conceive.
When you tell your doctor that you’re trying to conceive, they will go over a few things with you, including your lifestyle and medical history. They’ll discuss any potential risks that could affect the health of your pregnancy and talk about what you can do to minimize those risks. They may also address any factors that may impact your ability to conceive (11). Other things that your doctor may want to go over before you start trying to for a baby include (11, 12):
Any chronic health conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or asthma, before you conceive
Lifestyle changes before trying to conceive, such as changing your diet, adding exercise, or cutting out smoking and alcohol
Your medications, vitamins, or supplements
Genetic testing done
What you can do to increase your chances of getting pregnant and having a healthy pregnancy
There hasn’t yet been enough research to definitively recommend an ideal length or type of exercise for women who are trying to conceive (13). However, scientists have gained some insight into a general level of exercise that is best for fertility. Research has shown that moderate exercise may improve fertility in everyone, including those who are overweight and those in a healthy weight range (14). Vigorous exercise, on the other hand, may affect ovulation and make it harder to get pregnant for those who aren’t overweight (15).
In addition to helping your fertility, moderate exercise may also help you get your body ready for the challenges of pregnancy by improving your fitness level and your overall health. Physical activity may also help improve or prevent many health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. It may also help strengthen your bones and muscles, control your blood sugar and insulin levels, and increase your chances of living longer (16, 17).
Guidelines from the American Heart Association suggest getting at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week, along with 2 days of added muscle-strengthening activity (18).
So what is moderate exercise? It depends on your current fitness level. In a nutshell, moderate activity is any form of exercise that raises your heart rate and gets you breathing faster. You should still be able to talk without needing to stop and take a breath. This may include activities like (18):
Don’t forget to talk to your doctor before starting any new exercise routine, especially if you’re trying to conceive, think you might be pregnant, or have other medical concerns.
As we talked about in the last question about how much exercise is recommended, the best type of exercise to do when you’re trying to get pregnant is moderate exercise. The goal is to get your heart rate up without overexerting yourself. The level of physical activity that qualifies as “moderate” will be different for everyone, but here’s a good rule: during moderate exercise, you should be able to carry a conversation without having to take breaks to catch your breath (18).
Note: Talk with your doctor before starting any new exercise routine, especially if you’re TTC, think you might be pregnant, or have any other health concerns.
The best type of workout is one that you will do, so try to find something you enjoy. That’s the key to maintaining a habit and sticking to your exercise routine week after week. Here are a few types of exercises that are safe to do while TTC (the intensities of these exercises can be adjusted so they fall within the “moderate physical activity” range):
It’s also good to incorporate moderate strength training into your weekly exercise routine. The American Heart Association recommends doing muscle-strengthening activity 2 days a week, on top of your 150-plus minutes of moderate physical activity (18). The idea of strength training may seem intimidating if you’ve never done it before, but you can find a routine that works for you, no matter your fitness level. Here are a few types of muscle-strengthening exercises that can be done with or without weights:
No matter which type of exercise you do, make sure to give yourself time to stretch before and after. Yes, stretching can help you increase flexibility and care for your muscles. However, it’s also a great opportunity to check in with your body and really take note of how you’re feeling, which is especially important when you’re TTC.
There are specific food recommendations that are associated with a “fertility diet,” but, really, the main thing you should focus on is making healthy eating choices. Sticking to a nutritional diet has been associated with improved female fertility and higher sperm quality (19, 20). As a general rule, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend a diet rich in (21):
Polyunsaturated oils (these include healthy omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which have been associated with improved fertility in women and men [22, 23].)
In a 2007 study that observed 17,544 women over 8 years, researchers found that women who followed a fertility diet had a 66% lower risk of ovulatory infertility and a 27% lower risk of infertility from other causes (24). According to that study, eating a “fertility diet” means:
Getting protein and iron from vegetables more than animal sources
Eating more monounsaturated fats and less trans fats
Choosing full-fat dairy foods instead of low-fat or no-fat
Eating complex carbohydrates (starchy vegetables, beans, peas, and whole grains)
Avoiding simple carbohydrates (processed foods, white bread, pastries, candy, soda, and syrups)
Taking multivitamins (see Question 2)
Note on red meat: Recent research has found that unprocessed red meat may improve fertility outcomes. Processed red meat, on the other hand, is associated with decreased fertility (25).
Eating too much sugar is associated with a whole host of health problems, including an increased risk for high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, inflammation, fatty liver disease, heart attack and stroke (26). Unfortunately, it may also have a negative impact on fertility too.
In a 2012 study, researchers looked at the sugar intake of 3,628 women who were planning on trying to conceive. They found that women who had over 3 servings of soda a day had pregnancy rates 52% lower than women who didn’t drink soda at all (27). Excess sugar consumption has also been associated with decreased sperm quality and increased infertility in men (28).
Researchers are still studying the link between sugar and infertility. However, one theory is that sugar may affect fertility because of its potential to cause increased insulin resistance, which may play a role in decreasing semen quality and interfering with ovarian function (29).
So how much sugar is too much sugar? According to the American Heart Association, women should limit added sugar to no more than 100 calories (25 grams or 6 teaspoons) per day. Men should stay under 150 calories per day (37.5 grams or 9 teaspoons) (30).
You already know that you should avoid alcohol while you’re pregnant, but what about when you’re trying to conceive? While moderate alcohol consumption doesn’t seem to have a big impact on fertility, regularly drinking in excess may decrease fertility in both men and women (31).
When it comes to fertility, research suggests that drinking in excess means having more than 2 drinks a day (or 14 drinks per week) (32).
While a few drinks every now and then may not harm your chances of conceiving, you should take care to stop drinking if you suspect you might be pregnant to avoid causing harm to the baby’s growth and development. Alcohol consumption during pregnancy has been associated with (33):
One of the best times to start focusing on your health is when you’re trying to conceive. Not only can improving your overall health help you get your body ready for pregnancy (see Question 1), but it may also increase your chances of conceiving. In addition to adding positive, healthy foods and habits to your life, there are also a handful of things that you should try to avoid if you want to improve your fertility. These include:
Smoking: Smoking may accelerate the aging of follicles in the ovary. As you get older, you have less healthy eggs that may lead to a potential pregnancy. Smoking can make the number of healthy eggs decrease even faster. It may also increase your risk of early menopause (36).
Trying to conceive can be stressful, especially when things aren’t happening as quickly as you thought they might. Unfortunately, that stress may make it take even longer to conceive. Research suggests that chronic stress may cause hormonal changes that affect ovulation and fertility (37).
In a 2016 study that observed 400 women under the age of 40, women who had high levels of stress during their ovulatory window were 40% less likely to get pregnant than women who reported lower stress levels (38).
While more research is needed to fully understand the relationship between stress and fertility, there are a couple theories about why stress may make it harder to conceive. Researchers think stress may (38):
No matter the mechanisms behind why stress affects fertility, we can all agree that it’s a good idea to decrease chronic stress whenever possible. If you’re having trouble managing stress while you’re trying to conceive, your doctor may be able to give you some tips and techniques to help, including practicing mindfulness meditation, deep breathing, yoga, exercise, and prioritizing getting a good night’s sleep.
You should always feel comfortable coming to your healthcare provider with questions about fertility and getting pregnant, even if you haven’t started trying to conceive yet. However, fertility testing typically isn’t recommended until you’ve been actively trying to conceive for one year without getting or staying pregnant. If you’re 35 or older, that time drops to 6 months (39).
There are some reasons you may want to talk to a medical professional about your fertility earlier, though, such as if you (39):
There are at-home fertility tests that you can take to assess your fertility when you’re trying to conceive. These are often cheaper and faster than a visit to the doctor, but they can be hard to understand and interpret without help. At-home tests aren’t a perfect substitute for talking to a healthcare professional about your fertility, and you’ll need to see a doctor for a definitive diagnosis or treatment plan.
If you decide to get your fertility checked out, your doctor may recommend physical exams, along with blood tests and semen analysis for your partner (39). Once they get the results, they’ll be able to advise you on the next steps you should take to increase your chances of conceiving.
Knowledge fuels the empowered. Read more about trying to conceive in our blog posts below. We do the research so you don't have to.
Michels, K. A., Wactawski-Wende, J., Mills, J. L., Schliep, K. C., Gaskins, A. J., Yeung, E. H., Kim, K., Plowden, T. C., Sjaarda, L. A., Chaljub, E. N., & Mumford, S. L. (2017). Folate, homocysteine and the ovarian cycle among healthy regularly menstruating women. Human reproduction (Oxford, England), 32(8), 1743–1750.
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Attaman, J. A., Toth, T. L., Furtado, J., Campos, H., Hauser, R., & Chavarro, J. E. (2012). Dietary fat and semen quality among men attending a fertility clinic. Human reproduction (Oxford, England), 27(5), 1466–1474.
Moran, L. J., Tsagareli, V., Noakes, M., & Norman, R. (2016). Altered Preconception Fatty Acid Intake Is Associated with Improved Pregnancy Rates in Overweight and Obese Women Undertaking in Vitro Fertilisation. Nutrients, 8(1), 10.
Nassan, F., Chiu, Y., Vanegas, J., Gaskins, A., Williams, P., Ford, J., Attaman, J., Hauser, R., Chavarro, J., EARTH Study Team. (2018, November). Intake of protein-rich foods in relation to outcomes of infertility treatment with assisted reproductive technologies. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 108(5), 1104–1112.
Hatch, E. E., Wise, L. A., Mikkelsen, E. M., Christensen, T., Riis, A. H., Sørensen, H. T., & Rothman, K. J. (2012). Caffeinated beverage and soda consumption and time to pregnancy. Epidemiology (Cambridge, Mass.), 23(3), 393–401.
Hatch, E. E., Wesselink, A. K., Hahn, K. A., Michiel, J. J., Mikkelsen, E. M., Sorensen, H. T., Rothman, K. J., & Wise, L. A. (2018). Intake of Sugar-sweetened Beverages and Fecundability in a North American Preconception Cohort. Epidemiology (Cambridge, Mass.), 29(3), 369–378.
Karmon, A. E., Toth, T. L., Chiu, Y. H., Gaskins, A. J., Tanrikut, C., Wright, D. L., Hauser, R., Chavarro, J. E., & Earth Study Team (2017). Male caffeine and alcohol intake in relation to semen parameters and in vitro fertilization outcomes among fertility patients. Andrology, 5(2), 354–361.
Whitcomb, B. W., Purdue-Smithe, A. C., Szegda, K. L., Boutot, M. E., Hankinson, S. E., Manson, J. E., Rosner, B., Willett, W. C., Eliassen, A. H., & Bertone-Johnson, E. R. (2018). Cigarette Smoking and Risk of Early Natural Menopause. American journal of epidemiology, 187(4), 696–704.
Wesselink, A. K., Hatch, E. E., Rothman, K. J., Weuve, J. L., Aschengrau, A., Song, R. J., & Wise, L. A. (2018). Perceived Stress and Fecundability: A Preconception Cohort Study of North American Couples. American journal of epidemiology, 187(12), 2662–2671.