Recent research has shown our ‘modern’ twentieth century lifestyle and living conditions are adversely affecting our reproduction in many ways. Conversely, many studies conclusively show that if prospective parents improve their general health and avoid many common lifestyle factors and environmental hazards in the months preceding conception, they can greatly improve their reproductive outcomes.
Preconception care for both parents is the key ingredient in ensuring optimal reproductive health. By taking all the necessary steps to ensure a beautiful, bright, healthy baby, you will also improve your fertility and be much more likely to have a healthy full term pregnancy, a short and straightforward labour without medical intervention and no difficulty breastfeeding your child.
This involves ensuring that there is an adequate supply of those factors which are essential to the health of eggs and sperm and for foetal development, plus an absence of all those things which have been shown to be harmful. Because it takes sperm up to 116 days to form and ova are susceptible to damage during maturation – approximately 100 days before ovulation, it is important that these preventative and curative measures are in place for at least four months prior to conception. Some of the following recommendations may take some time to implement, as may the appropriate treatment of a pre-existing condition, so the more time you give yourselves for your preparation, the more effective it is likely to be.
At least four months before you plan to conceive, both partners are advised to:
- Eat a good wholefood diet that is free of potentially hazardous additives. Eat organic produce where possible. Nutritional supplements are required in conjunction with dietary changes.
- Eliminate alcohol, caffeine, smoking and all but absolutely necessary medical drugs. This also includes over the counter medications such as cold and flu preparations and pain killers. Check that any medication you may be taking is not contraindicated in pregnancy.
- Use Natural Family Planning (fertility awareness) with abstinence or barrier methods during your fertile periods in the preconception phase. You will then be familiar with the technique for post-birth contraception.
- Learn timing techniques to ensure fresh, health sperm and eggs for your conception attempt.
- Detoxify. Have mineral analysis done (hair and/or urine) and follow the programmes of supplementation and cleansing as indicated. Retest as advised and do not conceive until the toxic metals have been cleansed and the levels of essential minerals optimised.
- Use a water filter.
- Check for rubella status, allergies malabsorption, cytomegalovirus, toxoplasmosis and candida albicans. Treat is necessary. Clear up any allergies by dietary manipulation if possible.
- Check for a comprehensive range of genitourinary infections and seek treatment if necessary (for further information see The Natural Way to Better Babies, by Fancesca Naish and Janette Roberts). If there is infection present your partner should also be treated. Always retest after treatment.
- Seek treatment for reproductive or hormonal problems or any health issue.
- Get fit – start a regular exercise program.
- Address stress – learn appropriate relaxation techniques.
- Avoid, as far as possible, exposure to: toxic metals (lead, cadmium, mercury, aluminium), chemicals (in the home, work place or garden), ionising radiation (X-rays) and non-ionising radiation (VDUs, etc)
- Avoid the use of, or exposure to, organophosphate pesticides or materials treated with pesticides.
BOTH parents need to be involved.
Some of these measures can be implemented on your own, but others will need to be supervised and guided by a health practitioner. This is particularly important for the treatment of any reproductive problems such as endometriosis, polycystic ovarian disease, lack of ovulation, history of miscarriage or low sperm counts,
Considerable commitment and motivation is required to make these lifestyle changes, so support is essential. It is also important that prospective parents do wait until effective treatments have been completed before making a conception attempt. There are now a number of health practitioners in New Zealand practising with these methods – see the end of the article for details.
- Normal healthy, fertile couples who want to do the best for their babies.
- Couples who have general infertility with or without known cause, including problems with sperm count, motility and anovulation.
- Couples with single or recurrent spontaneous abortions.
- Couples with a previous history of malformation, prematurity, low birth weight, stillbirth or sudden infant death syndrome (cot death).
- Couples preparing for a healthy baby and also hoping to increase the chances of conception where the success rate is already low (25% at best for IVF).
- Older couples including women over 40 years, especially for help in preventing Down’s syndrome.
- Couples where one or both of the partners has a malformation or chronic health problem, such as epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, myalgic encephalomyelitis, asthma or migraines.
It is strongly recommended that both of you eat a healthful and wholesome diet during the pre-conception phase. Whilst a good diet is very important, for at least four months prior to conception (and or the mother, during pregnancy and lactation), dietary supplements should be taken. Please note – do not take single nutrients in isolation unless indicated by your hair trace mineral analysis or other clinical markers and do not take large doses of nutrients unless under the supervision of a practitioner trained in nutritional therapies.
- Fruit: Fruit intake is best limited to two to three pieces daily (due to the high sugar content) and should be organic where possible. Juices are included in this and should be diluted with water. Due to their high sugar content, dried fruits should be avoided or eaten only in small amounts.
- Vegetables: Try to eat a good variety of organic and fresh vegetables that are in season. Vegetables should make up 40% of your total food intake. Eat them raw where appropriate, or juiced. If cooked, they are best lightly steamed, quickly stir fried or dry oven baked – not micro-waved (there are studies which show that food which has been cooked in a microwave oven suffers molecular damage, and when eaten caused abnormal changes in human blood and immune systems). It is important when preparing food to keep nutrient loss to a minimum.
- Whole grains: Organic if possible – wholegrain bread, wholemeal pasta, brown rice, oats, rye barley or millet.
- Protein: It is important to have an average serving of a protein-providing food a least twice a day. This should be a food which gives you either an animal protein which is a complete (or primary) protein, or the appropriate combination of plant (or secondary) proteins. Complete proteins contain all the essential amino acids which are needed to build and repair tissue, muscles, organs and hair. They are also necessary for the formation of semen, for the optimum functioning of the testes and for the manufacture of digestive enzymes. Protein also buffers against excessive acidity – an environment which is too acidic is hostile to sperm.
- It is important to use as little cow’s milk and cheese as possible as it creates mucous in the fallopian tubes and can cause malabsorption of other foods. If you do eat these products, choose low fat varieties only. Natural acidophilus yoghurt, goat’s milk and soya milk are fine. Red meat should be consumed in moderation and all fat trimmed. Unless organically fed, it is best to avoid meats such as offal, mince and sausages. Offal contains high levels of pesticides and chemical hormones. Only eat chicken that has been organically fed, as battery fed chickens tend to be fed large amounts of antibiotics and hormones.
- Fats: Use only olive or canola oil for cooking and stir-frying. Both are monounsaturated and thus less susceptible to chemical changes cause by high temperature. Use lots of cold pressed oils such as olive, sunflower, safflower and flax seed on salads and vegetables. Use butter very sparingly and avoid margarine. Try using avocado, banana, hummus or nut spreads instead.
- Water: Try to dink 10-12 glasses of filtered, purified or bottle water daily. Use this for cooking and boiling also. This is important to avoid ingesting toxins such as heavy metals and chemicals which may be present in tap or rain water tanks.
- It is recommended that you buy organically grown (or fed), unprocessed produce which is in season. It best eaten whole, freshly prepared and raw.
- Products containing white flour or sugar: A large proportion of essential vitamins and minerals are removed form the food in the refining process which creates white flour and sugar. Furthermore, vitamins and minerals are leached form your body’s stores upon consumption of carbohydrates such as white flour and sugar as the are required for their metabolism. Chromium, zinc and folic acid are the main nutrients lost – zinc and folic acid are tow of the most important nutrients for preconception. To achieve this you will need to become an avid label reader – look out for glucose, fructose, corn syrup, honey, dextrose or sorbitol. Even fruit contains large amounts of fructose, which is preferable to sugar, but in large amounts may cause problems. Also a diet high in sugar will have a depressant effect on the immune system. Avoid green potatoes – they are toxic.
- Fats and fried foods: You need to avoid saturated fats (animal fats and fats or oils which have been heated). Saturated fats upset the metabolism of essential fatty acids and hence your hormone balance. Margarine should also be avoided for it contains saturated and heated fats – butter in moderation is far preferable, because while it doe3s contain saturated fats, they have not been heated.
- Foods that contain additives: Most foods that come in a can, packet or bottle have some sort of chemical added to stabilise, preserve or help retain colour, flavour, smell or texture. Your body uses a number of essential nutrients to help detoxify these chemicals. Some people will find that they may be sensitive to additives in their diet. It is also best to avoid all delicatessen or processed meats such as salami, as they are usually high in fat and salt as well as a group of preservatives known as nitrates.
- Foods which have been reheated or left standing: Such foods have already lost much of their nutrients and may contain moulds. If you suffer from candida it is particularly important you avoid moulds.
- Salt: Avoid, unless your diet contains absolutely no pre-prepared food at all. It is important to remember that bread is pre-prepared and contains more than enough salt for your dietary requirements.
- Tea and coffee: Replace with herbal teas, green teas, cereal coffees, freshly juiced fruit or filtered water. Caffeine has harmful effects on all aspects of reproductive health and can cause reduced fertility in women. Ingestion of caffeine with meals hinders absorption of iron. It has been associated with increased rates of spontaneous abortion and a number of congenital abnormalities. Ingestion of caffeine by a breastfeeding mother is passed through the breast milk and is a major cause of colic, restlessness and general irritability in the child. If you find abstinence difficult, especially initially, allow yourself a maximum of tow cups of weak tea daily.
- Junk foods: It goes without saying – junk foods invariably fall into the ‘do not’ categories.
- Allergens: Do not eat a particular food that you think or know you are allergic to, even if it is nutrient rich.
- Alcohol: Should be avoided. Foeto-alcohol syndrome is traced to pre-conception consumption by BOTH parents. Alcohol drains nutrients, which results in small, malnourished babies. It is also toxic to the growing foetus.
- Important note: Avoid all fad diets. Do not fast – except for a one day juice fast under supervision and only if you are definitely not pregnant.
Avoid conception for at least four months while doing the following:
- Be tested for and eliminate any hidden genitor-urinary or other infections
- Be tested for and eliminate excessive toxins in the body
- Eat organic (pesticide free) foods, including fruits, vegetables and grains
- Drink filtered or bottle water
- Be tested for vitamin and mineral levels and take supplements as recommended
- Chart your temperature and mucus changes
- Try to conceive the day before ovulation and every other day until ovulation is over
What to avoid to increase the chances of having a healthy baby
- Avoid ejaculation three to five days before trying to conceive
- Avoid alcohol, cigarette smoke (even passively) and caffeine
- Avoid cooking with aluminium cookware
- Avoid environmental hazards such as lead paint and insecticides
- Avoid excessive stress
- Avoid excessive exercise or physical training regimes
- Avoid anything you are allergic to