Eating healthy and exercising started as “a vanity thing” for Tequesta resident Jenny Lee Allen. But it became even more important when she learned she was pregnant at 34.
“Just knowing that a tiny human being was growing inside me was enough for me to kick my lingering bad habits, including diet soda and artificial sweeteners,” she says. “I was in great shape and was able to continue exercising and even running up until the day my son was delivered. I did indulge in the occasional craving, such as ice cream and onion rings, but I kept everything in check.”
Allen’s second pregnancy a couple years later also went smoothly while continuing to eat well and exercise almost daily. In fact, she logged 800 miles during her second pregnancy. Once again, she had a relatively easy delivery when her daughter was born.
“When a woman becomes pregnant, the body will work to nourish the growing baby with whatever resources it has, which is why it’s so important to give your baby the best foundation possible by eating healthy, maintaining a healthy weight and exercising before you try to conceive,” says Belci Encinosa, director of Community Engagement for Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition of Palm Beach County. “We see moms who are overweight and even underweight, and not being at a healthy weight from the start, sometimes the body will reject the baby.”
Another factor that can make it difficult to conceive or promote a healthy pregnancy is stress. Christine Englestad, division director of Maternal Child Health with the Florida Department of Health Palm Beach, cites research from Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center that concluded women who had the highest levels of stress, as measured by a biological indicator found in saliva, took 29 percent longer to get pregnant, and their risk of infertility doubled.
And if a woman suffering from chronic stress becomes pregnant, it could lead to issues for the child, according to a 2001 study out of the U.K. “This study actually highlighted that maternal stress can lead to increased anxiety and decreased memory function in the child later in life,” Encinosa says.
It may be no surprise that eating healthy and maintaining a healthy weight are necessary to help ensure a healthy pregnancy. But did you know your dental health is just as important?
Englestad cites a 2011 study at the University of Western Australia that examined the oral health of mothers and the average time it took to get pregnant.
“It took women with poor oral hygiene an average of two months longer to conceive than their healthier counterparts,” she says. “While there isn't an exact reason why dental health has an effect on fertility, researchers believe periodontal disease releases an inflammatory chemical that may hinder a fertilized egg from implanting itself into the uterus.”
In fact, Allen says her dentist recommended she get dental cleanings every three months during her pregnancies, instead of the usual six-month span.
“Today, six months after my daughter’s birth, I've shed the extra weight and feel comfortable in my skin,” she says. “It wasn't easy, and the pounds didn't just melt off by breastfeeding, but through hard work and eating right. To this day, I still indulge in the occasional sweet and glass of wine, but I keep everything in moderation. One look at my little ones, and I know I want to be on this Earth as long as possible.”
• Belci Encinosa, Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies
• Christine Englestad, Palm Beach County Health Department
• Science Daily
• Wiley Online Library