How important is it to prepare your body for pregnancy before you conceive? Well that depends on who you ask! As a holistic nutritionist and prenatal wellness coach I believe that the first opportunity you have to optimize your child’s health is in the preconception period. It also helps to 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 small 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.
Nourishing the Soil
Let’s take a look at this concept of nourishing the soil before you plant the seed. 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.
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! Knowing this, I’d like to suggest that you “Act pregnant now, to get pregnant later” which Gabriela Rosa, a fertility expert in Australia highly recommends. 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.
Preparing for Pregnancy
If you have the time, 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.
5 tips to get you started
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 weight loss or cleansing/detoxing 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. 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, pasture raised eggs, 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 and sprouted grains.
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… RELAX and 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!
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