It is the dream of every couple to conceive and have healthy babies after marriage. There are instances where in-laws become impatient and brim with expectations of conception. However, many women of childbearing age do not seek care in the conception process. How do couples take advantage of preconception care to augment their chances of receiving God’s gift of the womb?
Understanding pre-conception care
Experts describe pre-conception care as a set of interventions that aim to identify and modify biomedical, behavioral, and social risks to the woman’s health before pregnancy, during pregnancy or pregnancy outcome through prevention and management.
It is that mandatory self-service for both men and women that is focused on reducing maternal and fetal morbidity and mortality, increasing chances of conception when pregnancy is desired, and providing contraceptive counseling to help prevent unintended pregnancies. It has been reported that 5 out of 10 women report that their pregnancies are unplanned.
As a result, essential health interventions provided once a woman and her partner decide to have a child would be too late in 50% of pregnancies. Unplanned pregnancies are at a greater risk of pre-term birth and low birth weight babies. Over 12% of babies born pre-term are at an increased risk of perinatal death.
Pre-conception care equips the woman to accommodate new life in her womb for 9 months. It also helps bring health benefits to adolescents, women, and men, irrespective of their plans to become parents. A World Health Organization Policy Brief (2013) shows that preconception care has a positive impact on maternal and child health outcomes in both the short and long term. This is the opportune time to prevent and/or control diseases. To take advantage of it, certain steps should be taken before pregnancy or early in pregnancy to maximize health outcomes.
Preconception care addresses a plethora of maternal complications, notably undernutrition, iron deficiency, prevention of transmission of HIV and Hepatitis B from mother to child, reduction in perinatal and neonatal deaths, reduction in unwanted pregnancies, hypertensive disorders, and diabetes mellitus.
Boosting your Preconception Health
Health is wealth. A couple that wants to conceive must prepare for pregnancy at least 3 months before doing so. Here are advice and suasion on how the woman can undertake to increase her chances of conceiving healthy babies.
Periodic visits to a gynaecologist are highly encouraged in the conception journey. Regular medical checkups help keep all medical conditions under control. Some medical conditions can affect pregnancy and vice versa. Examples of such diseases are diabetes mellitus, hypertension, sickle cell disease, asthma, chronic liver and kidney disease, thyroid disease, obesity, epilepsy. These diseases will need to be controlled if a couple desires pregnancy to avoid worsening of conditions or early termination of pregnancy.
Also, any prescription or over-the-counter medications should be discussed with a doctor to assess their effects on pregnancy. This is because some drugs affect the development of the fetus. These include miscarriages, and abnormalities in the growing baby such as missing limbs, heart and spine abnormalities.
Women should monitor and understand their menstrual cycle to best know their ovulation period and the best time for fertilization to occur. Knowing these will inform the couple as to the probable time in which ovulation will occur. The couple can plan to increase their frequency of intercourse to make a lot of spermatozoa available for fertilization.
All women of childbearing age need to take folic acid 400ug daily. The medicine lowers the risk of some birth defects of the brain and spine, including spina bifida. All women of childbearing age need to take folic acid every day.
Diet is one important factor that affects conception rates. It is advised that couples eat a healthy balanced diet, including fruits and vegetables. Diets with high levels of vitamin C are highly encouraged. Vitamin C can be found in fruits such as oranges, mangoes, pineapples. These fruits act as antioxidants that prevent cellular damage and thus help to improve the quality of eggs and sperm. It also helps protect the DNA material in the egg and sperm cells.
Couples should avoid introducing toxic substances into the body by avoiding smoking, recreational drugs, and alcohol. Smoking affects the quality of eggs and sperm produced. In the fallopian tube, certain hair-like structures called cilia help to sweep the sperms to meet the egg. Smoking thus affects these hair-like structures and so this, in turn, affects fertilization.
Also, alcohol affects testosterone levels in men and affects the quality and motility of spermatozoa. In women, alcohol intake can affect the quality of eggs, the fetus, and can cause fetal alcohol syndrome. Partners can be supportive in desisting from the unhealthy lifestyle of smoking and alcoholism. Also, there is the need to avoid toxic chemicals like fertilizers and also pesticides as they can be dangerous to the reproductive system and also the developing baby.
Lastly, the woman needs to take life easy and engage in activities that help in self-relaxation. It is advised that a relaxed and free mind will contribute immensely to the conception and subsequent development of the baby in the womb.
Activities that help one to relax such as music, spending time at the beach, spending time with family and friends are great ways of relaxing and de-stressing. The male partner can also improve his overall health, especially reproductive health to maximize chances of a successful conception by joining his partner in a healthy lifestyle. Exercising can boost the woman’s energy levels and also improve the general well-being of an individual
Couples should prioritize and optimize quality health before, during, and after conception. Access to quality healthcare will contribute to the successful conception and development of a baby. Having a balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle will also position the woman to be able to conceive. In all considerations, medical advice will be able to provide further customized care towards the conception goal.
>>>the writer is a Specialist Obstetrician-Gynecologist. She also provides quality healthcare education on childbirth, Obstetrics and Gynaecology through her show, Time with Dr. Nita.