Please refer to February 5 entry for entire graphic. Today: Behavioral Preconditions to Pregnancy.
Why do you suppose the American College of Nurse Midwives and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend the minimum time between pregnancies to be two years? Why is it critical to eat foods high in B vitamins (including folic acid) and calcium during the childbearing years? How does your exercise regimen in the six months prior to conception affect your risk for some disorders of pregnancy, such as preeclampsia?
Answer: Your preconception or interconception behavior affects the course and outcome of your pregnancy. As it turns out, it takes about two years for a mother’s body to replenish her stores between pregnancies. Prior to a first pregnancy, behavior in the six months leading up to conception has been shown to affect outcome.
During pregnancy, nutritional and functional resources must support two beings in one body, one of whom is growing at a very fast speed by biological standards (think cell time NOT computer time). Essential vitamins and minerals (such as B vitamins and calcium) are taken from the mother’s body — already in metabolic stress due to demands on the kidneys and liver to clear toxins and filter metabolic waste from the fetus as well as the mother.
Insuring that maternal stores of valuable nutrients are adequate to provide for both fetus and mother is a job that only the potential mother can do. By eating a balanced and colorful diet of proteins, fruits and vegetables, whole grains and essential fatty acids (omega 3’s and 6’s — fish, walnuts, olive oil, avacado, eggs), as well as adequate aerobic exercise leading up to and during pregnancy, a woman improves her odds for a healthy infant. Smart behavior reduces her risk for conditions that cause immune system and cardiovascular disorders that disturb implantation, blood pressure and blood flow to essential organs.
Further, avoiding risky behaviors that may lead to systemic infections, metabolic syndromes or malnutrition leading up to conception is an aspect of behavior known as “risk-aversion” — the ability to avoid behaviors that have negative consequences. Infection at the time of conception (to be discussed in a future post), an extreme lifestyle (either sedentary or anorexic), toxic food choices, drugs, tobacco and alcohol are all behaviors that incur risk for poor pregnancy outcomes, including prematurity and low birth weight — outcomes on the rise in the U.S.
As discussed in the previous two posts, behavior is intertwined with genetics and environmental influences. Having a certain gene mutation or an environmental risk may predispose a woman to possible problems in pregnancy or the development of certain cancers, but some behaviors — especially exercise — may mitigate this potential or reduce the severity or course of disease. Behavior is the area in which we have the greatest control. Exercise, healthy nutrition and risk aversion are the three areas in which women can exert control over their destiny as moms-to-be. It’s a difficult set-up. We live in a time of instant gratification of personal acts. But, motherhood is a long-term commitment to the biological and psychic wellbeing of a new human who is — and is not — us.