By Dr. Shawna Darou, ND
Supporting a healthy pregnancy begins with your care pre-conception. The idea that we can take steps preconception to improve the health of our future children is truly incredible, and with the enormous rise in childhood illnesses such as allergies, autism, asthma and ADHD, it has become essential.
The good news is, that there are many steps parents can take, preconception to reduce the risk of childhood illness.
One of the most important things to do in the year prior to conception, is a supervised detox or cleanse. Our bodies accumulate many chemicals and toxins, many of which can be passed on to our future children during pregnancy and breastfeeding. A combination of a liver-focused cleanse, and regular saunas is the most effective way to reduce this load.
2. Optimize digestive flora balance
Our microbiome, or balance of organisms in the body is passed on to our babies during childbirth. The newborn baby’s gastrointestinal tract is first ‘seeded’ with bacteria through vaginal birth, and maternal balance of flora is very important to a newborn’s health. Dysbiosis or imbalance of digestive flora has been associated with type II diabetes, obesity, inflammatory bowel disorders, mood disorders, among others. Supporting digestive health can also reduce the risk of allergic disease in children. We can optimize this balance through a digestive cleanse and probiotics in the months preconception.
3. Come off oral contraceptives or other hormonal birth control at least 3 months pre-conception
First of all, it may take some time to regulate your menstrual cycle, especially if you had any issues with irregular periods in the past. There are many naturopathic treatments that can help to regulate your cycle if needed, ranging from diet changes and herbal supplements to acupuncture.
Hormonal birth control depletes B-vitamins, as well as zinc and magnesium. Most of us aware of the enormous need for folate in pregnancy to prevent neural tube defects in babies, so going straight from a nutrient-depleted state to pregnancy could increase your risk. Another reason this is important is that many women (up to 30%) carry defects in their methylation pathways, which affects how they utilize folate, and how they absorb folic acid. Read more about methylation here. These women are at particular risk of folate deficiency in early pregnancy. During this wait, start a high-quality prenatal vitamin to replenish all of your nutrients.
4. Clean up your diet and lifestyle
Give yourself sufficient time to reduce alcohol and caffeine, to stop smoking if necessary, and to optimize your nutrition. Did you know that your nutrition in the months leading up to pregnancy is just as important as your nutrition during pregnancy, if not mores so! Alcohol is best eliminated before conception, and if you do drink keep it moderate (no more than 4 drinks per week for women, and 7 drinks per week for men). Caffeine should be reduced to no more than one cup of coffee or caffeinated tea per day. Emphasize lots of vegetables, consider switching a mostly organic diet, include healthy fats and oils, and make sure you are getting sufficient protein.
5. Balance your blood sugar and insulin levels
There are two issues related to blood sugar levels and insulin resistance: 1) a higher risk in pregnancy of gestational diabetes, and a large baby; and 2) passing on the susceptibility to type 2 diabetes to your child. The good news, is that beginning a nutrition and exercise program pre-conception can help to stabilize blood sugar levels and reverse insulin resistance. This is followed by a careful nutrition plan in pregnancy to actively prevent gestational diabetes. Improvements in your health preconception can have a great impact on your baby’s future weight and health issues related to blood sugar levels.
6. Begin a high quality prenatal vitamin at least 3 months pre-conception
Due to the high nutritional demands during pregnancy, a prenatal vitamin should be started in advance to correct any deficiencies. Optimal intake of folate is also required for 3 months pre-conception to reduce the risk of neural tube defects. It is important to recognize that not all prenatal vitamins are of good quality – many contain lower amounts of key nutrients, are poorly absorbed, and most do not contain methylated folate, the more active and higher absorbed form of folate. You can read more about prenatal vitamins and download my prenatal vitamin comparison chart here.
7. Start tracking your cycle
There are so many hormonal clues we can learn from cycle tracking, even if you’re simply noting basic data such as: cycle length, number of days of menstrual flow, any premenstrual spotting, and signs of ovulation (change in cervical fluid, cramping). Learn more about what your period signs mean here: http://darouwellness.com/your-period-is-trying-to-tell-you-something/.
Remember that there are many steps we can take preconception to optimize our babies’ health, and these steps will also improve your chance of conceiving. Even small changes now can make a big impact later.