The Importance of Preconception Care
If you were going to run a marathon, you would train beforehand to prepare, just like if you had an exam, you would (hopefully) do the study prior to going in. Then why isn’t it standard that we prepare for pregnancy, one of the biggest events the human body is likely to undertake?
Australian data shows an alarming 30- 50% of pregnancies are unplanned, which means no preconception care. Good preconception care for both the mother and fathers (that’s right, you guys don’t get let off the hook this time), not only reduces the risk of miscarriage and improves pregnancy outcomes and the health of the baby, but it also reduces the risk of chronic disease later in life.
Evidence shows that a good state of health and nutrition before pregnancy can reduce the risk of diseases such as asthma, cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
Seeing as we all start out as two cells, the women’s egg and the male’s sperm, it makes perfect sense that preconception care is important for both parties as these cells determine the future health of the child. Seeing as sperm formation can take up to 116 days and an egg takes about 90 days to mature, Naturopaths generally recommend that preconception care starts about 3-4 months before conception begins.
About 1/3rdof infertility is caused by male-related factors, which is why a preconception program for the father (to-be) is important. Paternal preconception smoking, obesity, toxin exposure, drug and medication use have been associated with low birth weight, congenital cardiac and other malformations, infant cancers and neural tube defects.
Primate studies have shown that maternal diet changes prior to conception has the ability to affect genetic changes in both the mother and infant. We have all hear the saying “you are what you eat” and diet plays a fundamental role in setting you up for a healthy conception, pregnancy and baby. A Mediterranean diet that is high in wholefoods, fibre & antioxidant rich fruits and vegetables, lean protein and essential fats from fish and plant oils, and low in sugar, processed foods and bad fats is a good starting point during pre-conception. A Mediterranean diet reduces inflammation and focuses on increasing micronutrient intake through unprocessed whole-foods. A low glycaemic version has been associated with increased chances of fertility. The only modification is the alcohol allowance. Whilst a traditional Mediterranean diet includes the occasional glass of red wine, this is generally not recommended during the preconception phase for either party.
Studies have found that couples who had more than 4 drinks per week during the preconception period had a 21% reduction in live births, than those who consumed less than 4 standard drinks. Now that is an incentive to give up the grog a few months prior to conceiving!
Studies have shown a link between caffeine consumption and miscarriage. Women who drank more than 2 caffeinated beverages a day had an increased risk of miscarriage. What was also interesting was that the partners of men that had the same amount of caffeine in the preconception phase, also correlated with increased miscarriage risk.
Some of the nutrients we may consider supplementing include:
- Zinc– for embryo function, implantation, fertilization and development. Low zinc levels have also been associated with increased miscarriage risk.
- Iodine– an iodine deficiency is the most common cause of preventable mental retardation. Low iodine levels are also associated with miscarriage, behavioural issues, motor problems and infertility. Add to this about 30% of women of child bearing age are deficient in iodine.
- Selenium– low levels are associated with SIDS, neural tube defects, first trimester miscarriage.
- Vitamin D– common deficiency in pregnant women. Vital for gene regulation, hormone synthesis, foetal brain and immune development and reduction of allergies and autoimmune conditions.
- Iron– common deficiency in pregnancy, if low prior to conception it can derail ovulation and affect fertility.
- Essential Fatty Acids– required for brain and nervous system development, reduces premature birth and postpartum depression.
- Folate and B12– to reduce neural tube defects, miscarriage risk and promote healthy nervous system development and DNA repair.
Stress management and reducing toxin exposure are also important during the preconception phase to promote fertility and healthy embryo development.
So, if you and your partner are considering conceiving, why not make an appointment to get you both in the best state of health for healthy conception, pregnancy and baby.