Kicking Your Habits
Not only is it vital to a healthier lifestyle — not to mention a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby — to kick some bad habits, evidence shows that kicking bad habits such as alcohol, smoking, drug use, and caffeine can also increase chances for conceiving. You should begin to make these healthier lifestyle changes at least three months to a year before you plan to conceive. When it comes to fertility, a healthy lifestyle is just as important for men as for women. Sperm can be affected by alcohol, tobacco, drug use, and caffeine as much as a woman's eggs. Some research suggests that certain bad habits can contribute to lower sperm counts and slower sperm motility.
Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause both mental and physical birth defects in babies and may result in deformities, social or learning problems, and sometimes death. There is no safe level of alcohol during pregnancy, and it should be completely avoided. That includes the time you are trying to conceive, since many times you may be pregnant before you realize it. According to recent studies, women who drink alcohol while trying to conceive, even in small amounts, may reduce their chances of becoming pregnant. Alcohol-related birth defects are more likely to result from the intake of alcohol during the first trimester, when the brain and many of the baby's organs are developing. Growth problems are likely to result from drinking alcohol in the third trimester. Drinking at any stage of the pregnancy can affect the brain. Drinking alcohol can also increase the risk of miscarriage, low birth weight, and stillbirth babies as well as fetal alcohol syndrome. If you are having a problem with not drinking, you should seek professional help.
Cigarette smoking or any other kind of tobacco use can be very hazardous throughout your pregnancy. Smoking has been proven to cause miscarriages and preterm delivery, as well as infant death. Smoking can cause low birth weight, asthma in infants and young children, SIDS, and other respiratory diseases. People who smoke inhale nicotine and carbon monoxide, both of which can travel through the placenta directly to the baby. This can prevent the fetus from receiving the oxygen and the nutrients it needs to grow and develop properly. Secondhand smoke can be just as hazardous and should be avoided when possible. After pregnancy, it is important to remember that your breast milk often contains what is in your body. If you smoke while breastfeeding, your baby can ingest the nicotine in your milk.
According to the American Lung Association, “Smoking during pregnancy accounts for an estimated 20 to 30 percent of low birth-weight babies, up to 14 percent of preterm deliveries, and some 10 percent of all infant deaths.”
It will not protect your baby if you merely cut down on your smoking or switch to lower tar cigarettes. Women must quit smoking while trying to conceive, while pregnant, and while breastfeeding. This can be the perfect time to stop smoking for life and help decrease your risk of developing future tobacco-related health problems, such as cancer and heart disease. Kicking the habit can take time, so get started well before you begin trying to conceive.
The risk of caffeine intake during pregnancy is a controversial issue. Still, most experts agree that you should cut back on your caffeine consumption while trying to conceive and while you are pregnant. That doesn't mean you have to completely cut out caffeine, but you should cut down. Most research shows that it is safe to drink coffee or other caffeinated beverages during pregnancy as long as you consume less than three cups, or about 300 mg of caffeine per day (per the American Dietetic Association). Consumption of more than 300 mg per day has been associated with a possible decrease in fertility and an increase risk of miscarriage or low birth-weight babies.
Caffeine acts as a mild stimulant to the central nervous system and also has a diuretic effect, which increases water loss from the body through urination. Neither of these effects is favorable during pregnancy or even for good health in general. Caffeine can also decrease the amount of calcium your body absorbs and can increase loss of calcium through the urine. This effect of caffeine becomes more prominent if dietary calcium intake is already inadequate. Many over-the-counter pain relievers, cold medications, allergy medications, and diet pills contain as much caffeine as a cup or two of coffee, so read labels carefully. When purchasing over-the-counter medications, ask the pharmacist which are best. Be sure to mention that you are pregnant or trying to cut down on your caffeine intake. Many energy drinks on the market today also contain very high levels of caffeine.
While many doctors recommend cutting back on caffeine, others recommend cutting it out of your diet completely, especially if you are in a high-risk category. Some doctors may recommend cutting out caffeine completely during the first trimester and then restricting amounts during the remainder of the pregnancy. Talk with your doctor about your best options. Decaffeinated beverages are fine, but be sure they are not crowding out more nutritious beverages such as milk, water, and juice. When in doubt, do without!
If you are a caffeine junkie, cutting back or cutting out caffeine can be difficult and may cause headaches and fatigue. Cut back gradually, and work to have it under control by the time you are ready to conceive.
It is crucial that while trying to conceive, women and their partners avoid recreational drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, and other illegal drugs, and it is especially important for the mother to avoid them during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Many recreational drugs are highly addictive, and users may need professional help to kick the habit for good. Most of these drugs can reach the fetus by crossing the placenta and can also be passed through breast milk.
Studies show that using marijuana during pregnancy can result in low birth weight, malformations, poor growth, and fetal neurological problems. The male sperm can also be affected by using this drug. It can take one month for the drug to be completely out of the body, so a woman should quit using any drugs at least a month before even trying to conceive.
The message is simple: If you want to have a healthy baby and a healthy pregnancy, illicit recreational drugs have no place in your lifestyle. These drugs have no place in the environment of an infant, and the time to kick these habits is before you even attempt to conceive. Be honest with your doctor — if you are a user, let him know so that you can get the help that you need.