You and your partner have decided that you are ready to have a baby. Congratulations! You are both so excited and just can’t wait to plant the seed. However, what you may not realize is that nourishing the soil, or the home of that little seedling, is an important step in optimizing your chances of conceiving, having a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.
I recommend preconception planning at least 3 months or ideally 6 months before trying to conceive. Did you know it takes over 3 months for an egg to mature and over 3 months for sperm to develop? This gives enough time to get you and your partner in optimal health to improve your fertility, and the health of your egg and sperm, and thus the health of your baby. Preconception planning can reduce the risk of miscarriage, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and postpartum depression, as well as increase your chance of having a healthy baby. Whether it’s your first or third pregnancy, the following steps are recommended as part of your preconception plan;
1. Stop Your Hormonal Birth Control at least 3 Months Preconception
It may take time to regulate your menstrual cycle, especially if you have a history of irregular menses. Birth control pills can also cause liver congestion and nutrient deficiencies, such as magnesium, zinc and B-vitamins, including folic acid. There are many naturopathic treatments that can help to regulate your period, restore nutrient deficiencies and optimize liver health.
2. Implement the Following Lifestyle Changes:
- Quit smoking, as it increases infertility by 60%
- Reduce alcohol intake to no more than 4 drinks per week for women and 7 drinks per week for men.
- Limit caffeine to no more than 1 cup of regular coffee or caffeinated tea per day. One study showed that women who consumed less than one cup of coffee per day were twice as likely to become pregnant compared with moderate coffee drinkers (2-4 cups per day).
These changes apply to both women and men, and as they do take time to implement, it is best to start early.
3. Optimize Your Nutrition
Did you know that your nutrition in the months leading up to pregnancy is just as important as your nutrition during pregnancy, if not more so! Newer studies show that the Mediterranean diet improves fertility, even when compared to a whole foods diet.
The Mediterranean diet consists of good fat (25-35% of total calories), typically from fish, poultry and olive oil, and is low in saturated fats. The diet is high in fresh vegetables, fruit, legumes and nuts, and has a low to moderate consumption of whole grains, dairy products and wine. It is also advised to eat organic food and avoid processed, packed, and sugary foods, as they contribute to oxidation that can damage the egg and sperm.
4. Optimize Digestive Flora
Your gut flora is one of the most important things you pass onto your children. A baby gets its bacteria from the mom before birth and during, if it’s a vaginal birth. Dysbiosis or imbalance of digestive flora has been linked to risk of allergies, autoimmune disease, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, mood disorders, and more.
Naturopathic doctors can guide you through the following steps to optimal digestive health: remove foods that are inflammatory to you; clean out microorganisms that are pathogenic (parasites, certain bacteria and yeast); replenish with probiotics; repair intestinal tract lining and support digestive function.
Probably one the most important things to do, 6-12 months before conception, is a supervised detox or cleanse. Our bodies accumulate chemicals and toxins from food, water, hygiene products, makeup, cleaning products, plastics, etc. A lot of these chemicals can be passed on to the baby and possibly contribute to the development of childhood illness, such as autism, ADHD, cancer, asthma, allergies. Preconception cleanse will support detoxification pathways through the liver, kidneys, lymphatic system and skin.
6. Achieve Your Ideal Weight
Obesity has been shown to have a negative impact on fertility for both women and men. One is considered obese when BMI is over 30kg/m2.
Obese men generally have lower sperm counts (up to 50%), poor sperm morphology, and lower sperm concentration and motility. Weight loss in men leads to an improvement in testosterone levels and sexual function, as well as better quality and quantity of sperm.
Obese women have lower pregnancy rates when undergoing IVF or trying to conceive naturally. Approximately 90% of obese women will resume ovulation if they lose more than 5% of their pretreatment weight, and 30% will conceive. The risk of miscarriage doubles when their BMI is greater than 35 kg/m2 and they are more likely to suffer from pregnancy complications, such as gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia, birth defects, and they are double at risk of having a stillbirth.
7. Stress Management
Deciding to have a baby is big decision, which can be accompanied by additional stress. Exposure to high levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, can impact your fertility, postpartum recovery, increase your risk of postpartum depression and affect your baby’s development in-utero. High levels of stress can inhibit ovulation, as well as decrease sperm count and testosterone production in men. Thus, stress management should be part of your preconception plan to help increase fertility. Enjoy this time in your life and make time for activities that help you feel relaxed and at peace, such as writing a journal, exercise, meditation, yoga, massage, epsom salt bath with lavender, etc.
In my next article I will cover how to choose a good prenatal supplement, recommended preconception screening and steps to understanding your cycle.
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