While the Lunar New Year may have just started a few months ago, some aspiring parents have already set their sights on 2024 as it marks the auspicious Year of the Dragon. The only mythical creature in the Chinese zodiac, the Dragon symbolises courage, wisdom and success. As these are qualities any parent would hope for their child, it’s no wonder that many plan for a “dragon baby” every time the auspicious occasion comes around.
Planning for parenthood however, requires a lot more than just jumping into the process of baby-making. If you’re hoping for a “dragon baby” of your own, here are some tips to give you the best chances of having a healthy pregnancy and baby next year.
Start with a pre-pregnancy health check
A preconception checkup is a good idea, even if this isn’t your first pregnancy. This usually involves a health review of you and your partner, where the doctor will screen you for any chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension. If you’re currently on birth control, your doctor may also advise you on how best to stop this to prepare for pregnancy. According to the Malaysian Ministry of Health, these health screenings should be carried out at least three months before you’re planning to conceive.
“It’s important for us to understand a patients’ family histories, and past pregnancy experiences as well,” explains Dr Chong Kuoh Ren, Consultant Obstetrician & Gynaecologist, Fertility Specialist of TMC Fertility. “This gives us a holistic view of both partners’ health statuses to understand their chances of conceiving and what they need to ensure the pregnancy goes well.”
Dr Chong adds that couples can further opt for genetic counselling if they are concerned about potentially passing on genetic disorders to their future offspring. “Genes that cause genetic medical conditions such as thalassemia can be identified with a simple blood test. Having this knowledge can help you make better decisions about your pregnancy,” Dr Chong says. TMC Fertility, for instance, offers two different genetic tests — the Fertility GeneCode and My GeneCode — which not only screen for genetic diseases, but also assess how patients’ genetic changes may be affecting their fertility.
Work towards a “baby-ready” body
While there’s no foolproof diet or exercise plan that will help you conceive, a well-rounded diet and ideal body weight can have an impact on your pregnancy. A balanced diet filled with fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains will not only benefit you, but also provide essential nourishment for your future baby.
Multivitamins are also a great way of providing this nourishment, especially folic acid. A form of vitamin B9, folic acid aids in the formation of red blood cells and helps tissues grow. In pregnancy, folic acid is crucial in preventing neural tube defects, which refer to birth defects of the brain, spine, and spinal cord. More importantly is vitamin D deficiency which is surprisingly common in Malaysia, despite having sunlight all year round; we usually shy away from the sun. Current research shows that vitamin D is important for improving the quality of both egg and sperms. In pregnant women, vitamin D can prevent premature delivery.
Meanwhile, regular exercise will not only strengthen your body, but also help you manage your body weight sustainably. “You don’t have to do anything extreme, just focus on having some physical activity throughout the week. Simply doing 30 minutes of moderate exercise, such as brisk walking or gardening, can go a long way in helping you stay fit,” says Dr Chong.
Reconsider your unhealthy habits
You don’t have to wait until you’re pregnant to kick any health-related vices to the curb. “Smoking especially can adversely impact your chances of conceiving as it is linked to fertility issues in both men and women. I’m sure many of us are aware of how dangerous smoking can be while you’re pregnant, but newer research has shown that secondhand smoke can increase foetal risk factors too,” says Dr Chong.
Excessive drinking can also negatively impact your fertility, with studies linked heavy alcohol consumption to lowered sperm counts and abnormal eggs. Of course, going cold turkey on such habits can be difficult. Fortunately, many healthcare providers can offer you help with this, and guide you towards tools that can help you quit smoking or excessive drinking.
Track your cycle
It might feel strange to schedule sex like a business call, but tracking your menstrual cycle can help you identify your most fertile period — and in turn, help you get pregnant faster.
A woman’s eggs can only be fertilised for about a day after ovulation, which refers to when an egg is released from the ovary. Meanwhile, sperm can last up to five days after sex. Piecing these two facts together, the ideal window of opportunity for conception is the three days leading up to, and including, ovulation. Usually, ovulation occurs about 14 days before a woman’s period begins.
If all this sounds overwhelming, start simple: record when your period starts and ends from month to month. This will give you an idea of how long your cycles are. While the average menstrual cycle is around 28 days, many doctors say the healthy range can be anywhere from 21 to 35 days.
“Cycle tracking can be trickier for women who have irregular periods in the first place, Dr Chong concedes. “Broadly speaking, the general advice is to keep having sex every two to three days so you don’t have to do all these calculations. I’d strongly advise consulting a specialist in these cases though, as irregular bleeding might be a symptom of more serious underlying issues.”
Dr Chong adds that couples should also not shy away from communicating with health professionals and each other if they continue to have problems conceiving. “The topic of fertility may seem ‘taboo’ but it really doesn’t have to be,” says Dr Chong. “By practising healthy habits, and getting the right medical help, anyone can increase their chances of having their dream child in the upcoming Year of the Dragon.”