By Leila DiQuinzio
Planning to conceive a baby in the near future? Let’s get you prepared. Preconception care is about education, empowerment, and providing a great platform to begin the journey of bringing a new life into the world. By addressing any health issues and optimising wellbeing before conceiving, we give ourselves the best chance at a healthy pregnancy and a child with a healthy constitution.
Preconception care isn’t just for the egg bearers, sperm providers have their part to play too. An egg takes around 100 days to mature, and sperm takes approximately 74 days. This means planning for at least 4 months preconception care is recommended to get our baby ingredients in the best shape possible!
Conceiving a healthy child involves many components, it mainly comes down to genetics and lifestyle choices. This is a big topic with lots of factors to consider and is best discussed with your health care practitioner for personalised care, here is an overview of a few major aspects to take into account.
First, are you ovulating?
It’s best to begin as early as possible to sort out any hormonal issues and ensure that you’re ovulating. Not only does ovulation provide us with balanced hormones which are important for general wellbeing (here’s looking at you, moods!), some period irregularities can take time to straighten out.
A healthy cycle is between 25 and 35 days and there are some handy tell-tale signs of ovulation to observe, including basal body temperature (BBT) and cervical mucous. When progesterone increases at ovulation, so does our BBT. Monitoring our daily BBT can help us to track ovulation. There are handy devices out there that make tracking fertile days super easy – check out Daysy, which can also be used for contraceptive purposes. Or, you can start by keeping records of your cycles. There are multiple apps available that make this easy, my favourite is Kindara, which provides handy graphs for all of us visual people.
Also note the presence of cervical fluid (i.e., vaginal discharge), which helps the sperm swim through. The more like egg white it is, the closer you are to ovulation. Pop this info in the app to have it all at a glance.
The influence of stress hormones on ovulation is well known. Psychological stress has been shown to influence hormone levels, impacting fertility, pregnancy, delivery, and birth weight. The innate intelligence of the body understands that being in survival mode is not a good time to conceive, and ovulation can often shut down when the nervous system is under too much pressure.
Using deep breathing exercises, mindfulness apps, counselling, acupuncture, herbs, and nutrients can all be helpful for calming the nervous system. Let’s not forget the simple techniques like carving out time for relaxation and fun! This might include nature time, dancing, drawing, cooking, watching comedies, and time spent with family and friends.
Exercise improves mood and energy and can be an excellent tool for stress reduction too. It also helps balance weight, which is important as being either under or over-weight can impact ovulation. Studies have shown that regular physical activity reduces the risk of infertility.
Reduce your toxic load
Our bodies are being bombarded with toxins in one form or another: pollution, food additives and preservatives, pesticides, plastics, cosmetics, cleaning products, alcohol, recreational drugs, and cigarette smoke are regular features in our modern world.
Endocrine disruptors are chemical compounds like phthalates that can interfere with hormone production. These can be found in cosmetics, cleaning products, and plastics.
The Environment and Reproductive Health (EARTH) study found women’s use of personal care products (PCP) including lotion, cosmetics, and perfume, was correlated with high urinary phthalate levels. Higher urinary concentrations of phthalates were connected to lower chance of pregnancy and increased risk of pregnancy loss.
They also tested these urinary phthalate metabolite concentrations in men and found them to be associated with lower semen quality and decreased chance of implantation and live birth. Another study showed men who consumed fruit and vegetables with high pesticide residue had 49% lower total sperm count and 32% lower percentage of structurally normal sperm.
We can help reduce this toxic load by opting for organic produce, particularly when eating the “dirty dozen” most sprayed fruit and vegetables, and choosing plant-based alternatives to skincare and cleaning chemicals. Also avoid smoking, recreational drugs, and consuming food and drinks in plastic containers, especially when heated.
Does your diet need a makeover?
This is an important time to optimise nutrition to meet the demands of pregnancy and beyond. A diet diary can be a good place to start. This involves noting what you are eating and the time of day for 3-7 days. As naturopaths, we often use these to get a good picture of what our clients are consuming. As an individual, it can be a great practice to get perspective on everything you are (sometimes mindlessly) consuming throughout the day. Once we have the info, we can highlight any habits that aren’t conducive to conception, or any additions that could be helpful to fill in nutritional gaps. Major nutrients we are looking for in your preconception diet include omega 3, iodine, iron, calcium, vitamin D, and
selenium. Avoiding, or at least limiting caffeine intake, and avoiding alcohol are also advised for preconception.
We work together to create a plan with the most benefit, without being stressful. Because as you know, stress is counterproductive! It’s a team effort. This preconception phase is also when both parties are advised to check in with their
General Practitioner for a pre-pregnancy screening and if necessary, a medication review. You’ll want to square away any required dental work like X-rays and fillings as well.
Naturopathy, nutrition, herbal medicine, acupuncture, yoga, pilates, osteopathy and emotional support therapies can all play a wonderful part in holistic healthcare to prepare for the big changes ahead – and a healthy baby!
Leila is a qualified naturopath based in Melbourne. She specialises in chronic digestive conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth and leaky gut, and is passionate about eating a well-balanced diet, while still enjoying food. She believes living well doesn’t have to be a chore, and is keen to show us all how to manage our health – and enjoy it, too.