I am so grateful to have Kate from Lifespark Nutrition as my Guest Blogger this month to talk about Pre Conception Care. Kate has a wealth of knowledge on this topic and is sharing her key findings with us.
Not all pregnancies are planned but if you are planning to start a family, you need to get your body ready, not only to help with conceiving but to give your baby the best start possible and to reduce the number of health concerns associated with pregnancy. Pre Conception Care gives the opportunity to influence your baby’s long term health.
What does the Research say?
There is a rapid increase in the prevalence of allergic and metabolic disorders with growing evidence linking poor nutrition in early life to an increased risk of disease in adulthood. Research has identified vulnerable time periods both prior to conception and during early development where exposure to environmental factors, including nutrition, can trigger adaptations in the growing foetus (Jan H, Serra C. 2014), leading to adverse outcomes in childhood and later life including greater risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes and allergies (Prescott S, Saffery R, 2011). Therefore maternal and paternal behaviour from food to environment to stress are important for healthy pregnancy outcomes and the longer term health in your offspring.
Pre Conception and weight
Overweight and obesity in women in their reproductive years (20-39) is of increasing concern – with around 60% of women in New Zealand now overweight or obese. Obesity reduces fertility and affects the health of the human oocyte- unmatured egg (Robker RL, 2008). Women who are overweight before becoming pregnant are also more likely to develop gestational diabetes when pregnant which in turn increases the risk of diabetes and obesity in your kids. Even losing 5-10% can increase your chances of fertilisation. Plus having a healthy body weight pre conception also means an easier pregnancy carrying less excess weight, so movement and sleep is less affected. In addition, paternal obesity (on the male’s side) can lessen the chance of you becoming pregnant, linking it to problems with embryo and foetal development and miscarriage.
Reduce toxic foods and drinks
At least 2-3 months out BEFORE trying to conceive, best to reduce or eliminate foods and drinks that have a negative effect on the body. This includes alcohol, soft drinks, juice, sugar, too much caffeine, or any processed foods. Mothers with high blood sugar levels have increased risk of developing gestational diabetes, which has been linked to infant risk of diabetes and metabolic disorders e.g. infant weight gain.
For both parents make sure your bodies are functioning optimally, including your thyroid and digestive system. It is important that you are feeling happy and healthy with a lot of energy as pregnancy can be very taxing to the body, especially morning sickness. Pregnancy will be a lot harder if you are trying to cope with tiredness, grumpiness, anxiety, fatigue which can caused by vitamin deficiencies plus you need extra vitamins and minerals for healthy foetal development. It is important to get a blood test from your GP to know your levels of B12, iron, zinc, magnesium, vitamin D, folate and iodine so it gives you a baseline of what supplements to take and how much.
Aim to take a quality pregnancy multi vitamin that contains iron, B12, iodine and folic acid. These are very important for the body’s ‘energy cycle’ and a healthy central nervous system for both mum and foetus, reducing the risks of spina bifida or other neurological conditions. Take between 400-800ug of folic acid at least 2 months prior to conception and for the first trimester. Along with eating plenty of folate containing foods including leafy green vegetables (spinach, silverbeet, kale, etc), broccoli, asparagus, avocado, citrus fruits, beans, peas and lentils. Aim to have at least 5 handfuls of a range of vegetables every day and 2 pieces of fruit.
A severe lack of iodine has been linked to pregnancy loss and impaired mental and physical development in the foetus as it affects the thyroid. Iodine supplementation of around 150mcg daily is recommended BEFORE getting pregnant. However women with pre existing thyroid conditions should seek advice from their Doctor before taking supplements as those who eat a diet rich in iodine from seafood and seaweed can lead to excess iodine if combined with a supplement. Best to get it tested prior.
Get Diet Right and Balanced
It is important to make sure your diet for both parents is one abundant in many antioxidants, healthy fats (fish, avocado, olive oil, nuts and seeds), vitamins and minerals, helping both parents conceive and give their child the best start to life. Having a diet rich in wholesome unprocessed foods and fiber is associated with a healthy gut flora. An imbalance of gut flora with constipation, bloated, abdominal pain, IBS has been linked to increased incidence of allergies and obesity in children. If you have any digestive concerns best to address these prior to conception.
Vitamin D has emerged as a major role in the incidence of allergies, impaired immune system and neurological disorders. Many New Zealanders are actually Vitamin D deficient especially those with darker skin. It is also important for reducing post natal depression. Get the test done along with your other bloods, although you do have to pay extra for this. More about that on my next blog on Pregnancy nutrition.
Exercise for at least 30mins daily as part of your pre conception routine. We all know the benefits of exercise, aim for cardiovascular activities like, cycling, swimming, walking, to weight training including pelvic floor exercises.
Look at work and home environment. Is this causing emotional stress or increased anxiety? Elevated cortisol levels can reduce chances of pregnancy as your body is not in a relaxed healthy state. You may need to change your routine to reduce the load.
Reduce environment toxins such as kitchen and bathroom sprays, go for natural alternatives for these along with no paraben soaps, shampoos, conditioners and moisturizers, even check makeup. The less toxins you breathe in or apply to your skin the better.
Lastly think about the changes that having a baby will bring before you get pregnant. Having a child will affect everything in your life — your career, your finances, and your relationship with your spouse or partner, among other things. Nine months can be a pretty short time to figure all of those issues out, so your doctor may be able to give some advice that will help get you ready!
Jang H, Serra C. Nutrition, epigenetics and disease. Clin Nutrition Res 2014; 3 1-8
Singhal A. The Global epidemic of non communicable disease; the role of early life factors. Nestle Nutr Inst Workshop Ser 2014; 78: 123-32
Bammann K, Peplies J, De Henauw S et al. Early life course risk factors for childhood obesity: The IDEFICS case control study PLOS One 2014 9: 1-7
Ministry of Health New Zealand; Diabetes; 2013 Available at http://health.govt.nz/your-health/conditions-and-treatments/diseases-and-illnesses/diabetes
Allergy New Zealand. Food allergy; 2014 Available at http://allergy.org.nz/news++events/food+allergy+awareness+week.html
Robker RL, Evidence that obesity alters the quality of oocytes and embryos. Pathophysiology 2008; 15: 115-21