Preconception Care – Enhancing Your Fertility and Baby’s Health
What is preconception care?
Preconception care is an extremely important and often greatly underestimated step in preparing to conceive a baby. It is an opportunity for you and your partner to improve your health and correct any nutritional deficiencies in the 3-4 months prior to trying for a baby. There are many studies that recognise that nutritional deficiencies, illness, toxin expose and other factors influence the health of the egg and sperm. By taking action now before pregnancy, you can prevent many future problems for yourself, your ability to conceive, your growing foetus and eventually your child. You may be thinking, “my diet is pretty good, I exercise, I don’t smoke, what more can I do to improve my health and why would this benefit me?” But with fertility issues affecting 1 in 6 couples (according to The Fertility Society of Australia) preconception care should not just be considered as a last resort when months of trying to conceive are unsuccessful.
How can preconception care enhance your fertility and the health of your baby?
Preconception care is based on the concept that by addressing the health of the parents from a nutritional and lifestyle perspective, you can modify the final stages of gamete (egg and sperm) production to optimise fertility. While a woman is born with all her eggs, it is the 100 days during the maturation process of the oocyte (immature egg) that has significant impact on the success of conception and the health of the foetus and baby. The male on the other hand must wait approximately 74 days for spermatogenesis (production of mature sperm). It’s important to recognise that fertility is something to work on together with your partner. Remember it is both of you each providing half the genetic information and nutrients to produce a healthy baby. The male’s health in the 2-3 months prior to conception is just as significant as the female’s to ensure the best information is passed on through his sperm.
Environmental and lifestyle influences on fertility
The environment that you live in and the lifestyle that you lead can have significant influence on your reproductive health. Environmental pollution, poor nutrient levels in soil and foods, pesticides used in farming, polluted water, heavy metal exposure, toxic cleaning products, skin care products, poor diet, recreational drugs, smoking, lack of exercise, obesity and many other factors influence your fertility health status. Sadly statistics show these factors to significantly impact the rates of miscarriage, stillbirth, infertility, premature birth and other fertility related issues. You and your partner with the help of an experienced practitioner can identify and address any lifestyle changes that may be required to improve your fertility.
The top 5 essential nutrients for fertility, pregnancy and beyond
Your nutrient status is essential for optimal reproductive health and wellbeing. In particular the following 5 nutrients are highlighted for their important role in fertility. One size does not fit all when it comes to nutritional supplements. It is important to seek advice from a qualified health practitioner to assess your individual nutrient status and requirements.
- Folic acid – is a B vitamin well known for its importance in preventing neural tube defects. It is essential for healthy DNA and RNA synthesis. You may require the active form of folate known as folinic acid dependant on your ability to activate folate (relating to MTHFR genetic polymorphisms – this topic will be explained in an upcoming article).
- Zinc – optimal zinc status is essential for numerous functional pathways in the body including reproductive (egg and sperm health), immune health, neurotransmitter production and is the single most important nutrient for a pregnant women.
- Vitamin D – enhances male and female fertility, and immune health. It plays an important role in sperm production and transportation.
- Iodine – ensures that your thyroid is functioning optimally. Thyroid hormones are essential for sperm and egg maturation. Sufficient iodine levels ensure the cognitive development, hearing and vision of your child is optimal.
- Iron – adequate levels of iron prior to conceiving is important to allow enough iron reserves for the increased requirements during pregnancy, and for healthy development of the infant’s brain and neurocognition.
If you or your partner are even mildly deficient in any of these essential fertility nutrients, this can significantly impact your ability to conceive successfully and maintain a healthy pregnancy and baby.
The fertility diet
Eating to enhance fertility is certainly not a new concept, and is really quite simple. A diet rich in a wide range of (ideally organic) wholefoods including good quality protein, an array of fresh fruit and vegetables, essential fatty acids and complex carbohydrates has significant impact on your reproductive health. Likewise a diet high in processed foods, sugar, trans fats, alcohol and caffeine can have detrimental effects on your fertility.
It is important to remember that you do have choices in how you go about planning for a baby. Taking the time to work on your preconception health as a couple should be a priority for the long-term benefits of not only a healthy, happy bub, but also two healthy, happy parents. Remember a healthy body is a fertile body.
The Mindd Foundation is an excellent resource for locating Naturopaths experienced in providing advice on preconception care.
Written by Claire Cavanagh ND BHSc.
Preconception Care – Enhancing Your Fertility and Baby’s Health Tip Sheet
- Allow a minimum of 3-4 months to focus on preconception care as a couple
- 100 days for oocyte (immature egg) maturation
- 74 days for spermatogenesis – production of mature sperm
- Enlist the assistance of an experienced health practitioner such as a naturopath to guide you on your preconception journey
- Assess and address the following aspects to optimise your fertility:
- Lifestyle: exercise, weight, stress, chemical exposure, recreational drugs, smoking, alcohol, heavy metal toxicity and so on
- Nutritional status: in particular folate, zinc, vitamin D, iodine and iron
- Remember a healthy body is a fertile body
- Allen L. (2000). Anemia and iron deficiency: effects on pregnancy outcome. Am J Clin Nutr. 75(9):1280-1284. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/71/5/1280s.full.pdf+html
- Dissanayake D et al. (2010). Relationship between seminal plasma zinc and semen quality in a subfertile population. J Hum Reprod Sci. 3(3): 124–128. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3017327/
- Ebisch I et al. (2007). The importance of folate, zinc and antioxidants in the pathogenesis and prevention of subfertility. Human Reproduction Update. 13(2):163–174.
- Glinoer D. (1997). Maternal and fetal impact of chronic iodine deficiency. Clin Ob & Gynecol. 40(1):102-116.
- Mazza D, Chapman A. (2010). Improving the uptake of preconception care and periconceptional folate supplementation: what do women think? BMC Public Health. 10 (786):1-6. https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2458-10-786
- Pludowski P et al. (2013). Vitamin D effects on musculoskeletal health, immunity, autoimmunity, cardiovascular disease, cancer, fertility, pregnancy, dementia and mortality – A review of recent evidence. Autoimmunity Reviews. 12(10):976-989.
- Sharpe R. (2010). Environmental/lifestyle effects on spermatogenesis. Phil Trans R Soc. 365:1697-1712. http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/royptb/365/1546/1697.full.pdf
- The Fertility Society of Australia. 2016. http://www.fertilitysociety.com.au/