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9 ways to prepare your body for pregnancy

Planning for pregnancy and motherhood is a daunting task. It goes without saying that you and your partner have a lot more to think about than just the baby's name and the colour of the nursery walls. One of your first priorities should be to ensure that you are in the best possible shape both mentally and physically. Simply put, healthy, happy mothers make healthy, happy babies. Here are nine areas of your health that the experts agree you should start focusing on in the year before you fall pregnant.

Get your weight under control
Being overweight can make it difficult to fall pregnant, add to the strain on your body and increase your risk of developing gestational diabetes. Being underweight can cause difficulties conceiving and can result in miscarriage or a low birth weight for your baby. 

If you need help controlling or putting on weight, speak to your doctor and a dietician about the best way to approach this.

Get fit
In general, when pregnant, you shouldn't start any exercise you weren't already doing before you fell pregnant. Make sure that you've started a workout routine that will prepare you for those extra kilograms you're going to pack on and for running around after a busy toddler. It will happen sooner than you think! 

Eat well
If there was ever a time to finish your veggies, this is it. Vegetables and fruit provide the nutrients you need to be healthy and to have a healthy baby. Whole grains and low-mercury fish and other lean proteins should also feature in your diet. And you should cut back on sugar and bad carbs like white bread and white rice.  

Quit smoking, cut down on alcohol and caffeine
Smoking while pregnant lowers the amount of oxygen available to your baby and increases the baby's risk of respiratory problems, premature birth and low birth weight. But the stress of quitting smoking can also have negative effects on a pregnancy, so the best time to quit is right now.

Alcohol may reduce fertility in both men and women as well as having an impact on your general health and wellbeing. When trying to fall pregnant, it's best to reduce your intake to one to two units a week.

The research on caffeine's impact on fertility is inconclusive, but when you do fall pregnant you'll definitely need to reduce your intake.

Start taking folic acid and pregnancy vitamins
Folic acid or Vitamin B9 is very important for the development of a healthy foetus. It helps to prevent neural tube defects, which affect around 300 000 babies worldwide each year. Folic acid is found in leafy green vegetables, brown rice and breads and cereals that have been fortified with the vitamin. But it is virtually impossible to get sufficient folic acid from diet alone. Healthcare professionals recommend taking 400 micrograms for at least one month and preferably three months before you fall pregnant as well as throughout your pregnancy.

Choose a multivitamin with a combination of Vitamin D, Vitamin E, Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, iron, selenium and zinc. Most pre-pregnancy vitamins have folic acid in them, but check the dosage to ensure you're getting your 400 micrograms.

Make sure you've had your MMR vaccination
If you contract rubella or German measles during your pregnancy you could lose your baby, or your baby could be born with multiple defects. Having an MMR vaccination at least a month before you fall pregnant will provide you with immunity against the disease. If you are uncertain about your immunity, ask your doctor for a blood test.

Also ask your healthcare professional if there are any other vaccinations that you should have before you fall pregnant.

Start to relax
Researchers are still exploring the link between stress and infertility, but there's no denying that the best way to look after yourself is to reduce your stress levels. Make sure that you get a little me time every week, and find productive ways to tackle all those things in your life that get your blood pressure up.

Track your cycle
The best time to have sex in order to fall pregnant is in the three days prior to ovulation. This usually takes place on around day 14 of your menstrual cycle (counting the first day of your period as day 1), but every woman's cycle is different.

If you would like to maximise your chances of falling pregnant, it's a good idea to start mapping your cycle, so that you know exactly when your fertile window occurs. There are some great apps to help you do this, or you can use an online tool, or purchase an ovulation testing kit from your local pharmacy.

Make an appointment with a gynae or healthcare professional
Many South African gynaecologists will only take care of pregnant women who were already their patients before they fell pregnant. Start asking friends and families to recommend a good gynae and make an appointment for a check-up.

Even if you are opting to go with a midwife delivery, it's still a good idea to have the all-clear from a specialist in women's medicine before you embark on your journey to motherhood.

Final word
Pregnancy and birth are two of the most special experiences that a woman can go through. By planning and taking care of yourself well in advance of the happy event, you'll be giving your baby and yourself the gift of good health.

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