When ace tennis player Serena Williams had her daughter Alexis Olympia, she said, “We’re not spending a day apart until she’s 18. Now that I’m 36 and I look at my baby, I remember that becoming a mom was also one of my goals when I was little, before tennis took over, when I was still kind of a normal girl who played with dolls…”
Even though a lot of women today are consciously choosing to steer clear of motherhood, for most others it is still very much a life goal – regardless of career success and financial independence. The current fertility rate in India is currently around 2.1 births per woman, as per data from the World Bank. The anticipation of bringing new life into the world is certainly special, but planning a new baby requires a lot more than that. One needs to be well-prepared physically, mentally, and emotionally for the roller-coaster ride that involves conception, pregnancy, and finally motherhood.
Obstetrician Dr Rubina Haneen believes that enjoying the phase is most important – it shouldn’t be the cause of undue stress and anxiety. “So the first and most basic thing is to be fully convinced that you want the baby, that you’re up to carrying one for the full 40 weeks, and that you’re ready for the lifelong commitment of motherhood. That choice and decision have to be yours and yours alone.”
Once you are clear in your head about this, it is time to proceed to the next step – prepping your body and mind to conceive and carry a baby. “It is important to take into your account your medical history, any STDs, your body, and the lifestyle that you’ve been leading. All of these are contributing factors to planning an effective pregnancy. Consult your gynaecologist about any irregular periods, sudden weight gain, or facial hair growth. You should also be careful of UTIs, abnormal vaginal discharge, or anaemia. If you’ve had any surgeries, used contraceptives, or terminated previous pregnancies, share those records with doctors as well, along with medical records and paperwork. Epileptics need to be especially careful and require extra-specialised consultation before conceiving. Lastly, if you’ve got hypertension, thyroid disorders, kidney disease, or diabetes, keep in mind that your pregnancy might be more high risk.” Pregnancy can be either low-risk or high-risk. When a woman gets pregnant, a lot of changes and shifts occur within the body. Starting off with the best possible health can go a long way in ensuring that your pregnancy is low-risk and free of complications such as gestational diabetes or alarmingly low haemoglobin levels.
Dr Karishma Bhatia, Consultant Gynaecologist at Chicnutrix says, “Folic acid is an essential supplement for women planning a pregnancy. It’s always a good idea to consult a gynaecologist for pre-conceptional counselling. We always start folic acid supplements prior to pregnancy as organogenesis and major development of the foetus starts in the initial few weeks, even before a woman gets to know she has conceived. This helps prevent congenital abnormalities like neural tube defects. There are different brands available in the market, some even come as a combination of DHA and iodine. One should also focus on having a nutritious diet which is full of vegetables, fruits, and sprouts. Additionally, it is very essential to stop smoking and consuming alcohol.”
Other than folic acid, it is also vital to consume calcium supplements – especially for women over 30. This is because the foetus actually takes calcium reserves from your bones to feed itself. To keep your calcium levels optimal and prevent the early onset of osteoporosis, get your doctor to prescribe a recommended dosage. You could also include more yoghurt, cheese, tofu, salmon, and spinach in your diet. Ironically, despite the vast reserves of sunlight, most Indian women are also deficient in Vitamin D3. Along with calcium, Vitamin D3 supplements should also be considered. Exercise is a must – whatever stage of the process you’re at.
Says Dr Haneen, “One of the huge hurdles in conception is PCOS or Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. One in every five women in India suffers from PCOS. If you’re unable to get pregnant, visit your gynaecologist to rule this out. Weight loss and diet regulation can go a long way in alleviating PCOS and improving fertility. Smoking is another major cause of infertility and it can impact both men and women. Nicotine consumption in women over time alters things such as the DNA of the egg cells or uterus lining and could cause ectopic pregnancies or birth defects. In men, semen quality and sperm count are affected. Smoking is also a major cause of male and female cancers.”
Besides keeping your body in prime condition during this phase of your life, it is also important to factor in other considerations. Discuss your finances with your partner – especially the vital costs that come with pregnancy (sometimes even with fertility treatments!) and the entire process of raising a child. Do you have a childcare system in place if both of you plan to go back to work full-time? Are you both on the same plane when it comes to parenting? These are just a few basic questions to consider. It might be wise for you and your partner to see a counsellor beforehand.
Lastly, go back to the basics. Stress-relief is important so try yoga, meditation, deep breathing exercises, or long walks, whatever works for you. If you can afford it, switch to foods that are organic and household and personal-care products that are free of toxins. Limit your caffeine intake and get a good night’s sleep. Work towards overall immunity building. Communicate with your partner and share your excitement, joys, and fears during this phase.
After checking all these boxes, if you decide you’re not yet ready to get pregnant, it’s fine. Those of you who are unsure – but feel the biological clock is ticking – can look at freezing your eggs, or go one step further and freeze your embryos. Remember, this is supposed to be a beautiful time in your life, so be completely ready and enjoy every bit of it once you take the plunge.