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The Role of a Healthy Lifestyle Before Pregnancy: What Does the Research Tell Us?

optimizing health Dec 07, 2023

In the United States, it is estimated that 1 in 5 pregnancies are affected by adverse pregnancy outcomes, and unfortunately, this rate is increasing. These outcomes put both the mother and the baby at risk for serious complications. One often overlooked aspect that can significantly impact pregnancy outcomes is the lifestyle choices made by prospective parents before conception. A recent article was published in Obstetrics & Gynecology that reviewed the implications of lifestyle choices on pregnancy outcomes. The evidence is mounting, pointing towards the critical role of a healthy lifestyle in shaping the course of pregnancy and the well-being of both the mother and baby.

The Foundation for a Healthy Pregnancy

Embarking on the journey to parenthood begins long before conception, during the pre-pregnancy period. While healthcare guidelines have long recommended a healthy lifestyle before pregnancy, the evidence supporting the beneficial associations has been somewhat limited. But what does adopting a healthy lifestyle really mean? We know that a healthy lifestyle is not a one-size-fits-all concept, but regular physical activity, proper nutrition, and emotional well-being are integral components.

The preconception period is a crucial time to adopt a healthy lifestyle that can set the stage for a smoother pregnancy and a healthier baby. Some studies have even suggested that adopting a healthy lifestyle in the preconception phase can improve your fertility. This recent study provides a more comprehensive understanding of how lifestyle choices can influence pregnancy outcomes.

Protecting Against Adverse Outcomes

The article by Wang, Siwen MD et al. sheds light on the substantial benefits of a healthy lifestyle before pregnancy. Their study demonstrated that by following healthy pre-pregnancy lifestyle choices, you can significantly lower the risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes. These outcomes include miscarriage, gestational diabetes, gestational hypertension, and low birth weight. In fact, the findings suggest that nearly one in five adverse pregnancy outcomes could have been prevented by adopting all six healthy lifestyle factors during the preconception period. These 6 factors are:

  1. Maintain a healthy weight for your height (BMI 18.5 – 24.9)

  2. Avoid tobacco products including smoking, vaping, and regular secondhand smoke

  3. 150 minutes per week or more of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity

  4. Healthy Eating (the diet used in this study was the DASH Diet)

  5. Limit alcohol to one drink per day (or less!)

  6. Take your prenatal vitamin

Empowering Prospective Parents

Preconception care should go beyond the traditional approach of prenatal vitamins and doctor's visits. It should encompass a holistic approach to well-being that includes making informed choices about diet, exercise, and lifestyle habits well in advance of conception. By acknowledging the importance of the pre-pregnancy period and embracing positive lifestyle changes, prospective parents can lay the groundwork for a healthier pregnancy and a brighter future for their growing family. It's time to recognize that the journey to parenthood begins with choices made well before the baby bump becomes evident—a journey that starts with a commitment to a healthy lifestyle.

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