2011 marks the start of my 4-month preconception period and I couldn’t be more excited. We are going to start trying for a baby in May!!
From a very young age, I knew without a doubt, that I wanted to be a mom. I’ve been dreaming about pregnancy for years and unlike the majority of women I meet, I’m really looking forward to giving birth! It is such an honour for me to be able to support women in labour as a birth doula and I feel so grateful, that I too will be able to experience this empowering event myself one day. Getting here, to a place where I feel confident that I can conceive and carry a healthy baby has been a long road but I’ve finally arrived! I gave you a sneak peak into that journey last week and I promise to share the rest of my story with you soon.
In the meantime I want to educate you about some important information regarding preconception health that your doctor likely won’t tell you. My husband and I recently went to see a new doctor (that didn’t know anything about our health history or that I’m a nutritionist.) Our doctor moved out of the province so we were meeting this doctor for the first time. I was curious what the general public is being told when they visit their doctor and tell them that they are going to start trying to conceive.
My doctor recommended 3 things:
1. Stop smoking and drinking (if we do)
2. Start taking folic acid (she handed me a sample of a prescription prenatal)
3. She told me that I needed to get the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps, rubella) even though I was already vaccinated as a child. She was getting ready to walk out the door to go get it when I declined her offer and told her that I’d like to think about it and do my research before making a decision. Baffled by my reaction, she proceeded to try and instill fear in me about the dangers of contracting these illnesses during pregnancy to try and change my mind. I agreed to a blood test which will determine whether I still have immunity to these diseases from prior immunizations.
Needless to say I was very frustrated that the topic of nutrition (real food!) and the importance of reducing your exposure to toxins wasn’t brought up. The focus? Simply preventing birth defects through the intake of synthetic vitamins and minerals, not on optimizing health and your ability to conceive.
I believe that the first opportunity you have to optimize your child’s health is in the preconception period. Paying special attention to this time can also help boost natural fertility, which could conceivably save you months or years of heartache when you are ready to have a baby. Unfortunately, medically unexplained infertility is on the rise and I think that our high stress lifestyles, nutritionally deficient diets and overwhelming amount of environmental toxins are to blame. By starting to make changes over the 6-12 month period before conception you can ensure that you are creating the best possible environment for a baby to grow and thrive.
Farmers and gardeners understand the importance of preparing, tilling and fertilizing the soil long before they plant their crop. They understand that the nutrients contained within the soil provide nourishment for the plants whole life cycle, not just germination. This analogy is a great example of why preconception health is so important. It should be considered a component of preventative medicine, beginning up to 12 months prior to women consciously trying to become pregnant. Creating a safe and nourishing home for that little seedling to grow will help ensure its survival from germination to maturation and enable it to thrive.
Did you know that it takes over 3 months to mature the egg to be ready for ovulation and over 3 months for men to produce a new batch of sperm? During this time they are extremely sensitive to nutritional deficiencies and exposure to toxins – so much so that if the quality of the egg and sperm are low enough you may not be able to conceive! The good news is that better quality sperm and eggs lead to increased fertility, reduced risk of miscarriage and healthier babies.
Already pregnant and didn’t prepare in advance? Don’t fret. Applying these preconception tips during pregnancy will also have a positive effect on the health of your baby.
I recommend taking a minimum of 6-12 months to prepare your body for pregnancy. Why so long? Because we don’t live in the same world that our grandparents and parents grew up in… our diets now revolve around packaged and processed convenience foods that are severely devoid of nutrients and our homes and personal care products are filled with toxic chemicals. I feel a strong pull now, more than ever to follow the guidance of our ancestors and go back to traditionally prepared real food to create a healthier generation of children.
Where should you start? The first step is to create a positive mindset and intention for the changes you want to make. Focus on gradually creating a healthier lifestyle through small changes over a period of time and before you know it you’ve set up a great foundation for a healthy pregnancy! The more time you can give yourself to integrate these changes, the better! Remember that it takes approximately 120 days for our cells (eggs, sperm, red blood cells etc.) to change from dietary and lifestyle modifications. It’s definitely worth your time to take at least 4 months to prepare your body for pregnancy.
- Stop taking hormonal birth control at least 6-12+ months before you want to conceive. They are known to deplete your body of the very same nutrients that you need for fertility and to nourish a growing fetus during the first trimester. It can also take months for your hormones to find their natural balance and for your body to start ovulating again, which is essential for conception.
- Detoxify your body 6-12+ months in advance. I recommend that you do this with the help of a qualified health care professional to ensure that it is the right approach for you. Look for a naturopathic doctor, acupuncturist or holistic nutritionist who specializes in preconception health care for support. (I do not recommend that you focus on extreme weight loss or intense cleansing in the 6 months leading up to conception or when you are breastfeeding because the toxins being released from your tissues can be damaging to the fetus.)
- Focus on building your nutrient reserves! This is even more important for subsequent pregnancies. Both pregnancy and breastfeeding require a lot of additional nutrients and if you are not getting them through your diet your baby will take them from your body (ie. if you are not getting enough calcium it will be taken from your bones.) This can leave a mom very deficient and struggling to conceive the next time around. Since many women experience nausea and lack of appetite during their first trimester it’s even more important to ensure you have adequate nutrient stores going into your pregnancy. The key to building your nutrient reserves is QUALITY. Choose nutrient dense foods (not low calorie foods!) such as: organic grass-fed meat and liver, eggs from pasture-raised chickens, nourishing bone broth, organic whole milk yogurt and cheese, wild fish and seafood, unrefined fats and oils such as butter, ghee, virgin coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, organic vegetables that are mostly raw or fermented, leafy greens, sprouted grains and soaked nuts/seeds.
- Reduce environmental toxins. Eat foods without labels. Buy certified organic meat and produce. Switch to natural skin and hair care products. Use only natural household cleaners. Can’t afford to buy all your fruits and vegetables organic? The Environmental Working Group has found that people can lower their pesticide exposure by almost 80 percent by avoiding the top twelve most contaminated fruits and vegetables (or buying them organic) and eating the least contaminated instead. They’ve also put a really great Cosmetic Safety Database where you can find safer alternatives for all your skin care products. Don’t forget to check out the 2010 Sunscreen Safety Guide as well.
- 3-4 months before conception… act as if you are already pregnant. What would you absolutely do or not do if you found out you were pregnant? Since stress is probably the number one fertility killer, looking at ways to reduce your levels of stress and incorporating relaxation techniques into your daily schedule can go a long way in helping you achieve your goal of conceiving a healthy baby!
Next week I’ll continue to share with you the specific steps I’ve taken to get to where I am today and what I plan to do during my 4-month preconception period. I look forward to sharing my journey with you!
I’d love to hear from you! Sometimes I feel like I’m all alone on this journey!