Preparing to Conceive
I love working with expectant mothers to help boost their nutritional status and naturally treat or prevent the common complaints of pregnancy. But what thrills me even more is when a woman-or better yet, a couple-comes in to see me because they are planning to conceive in the near future.
The health and well being of both parents prior to conception can significantly impact not only fertility, but the quality of woman’s pregnancy and the health of her baby. Ideally, preconception care should begin a minimum of four months prior to conception to allow for development and maturation of healthy sperm and eggs, a process that takes about 4 months. It is during this time period that I work with patients on all of the following that pertain to them:
• Optimizing nutritional intake by balancing the diet with adequate high-quality protein, healthy fats, and complex carbs. Whenever and wherever possible, I advise buying organic foods, and grass-fed meats and eggs with no-hormones/antibiotics added. If patients haven’t done so already, this is the time to start exploring the world of whole, nutritious, health-building foods: → leafy green, deep orange and other brightly colored vegetables → low to medium-glycemic fruits, such as all types of berries → whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa and amaranth → healthy fats from avocado, nuts/seeds, olive and coconut oils, and low-mercury cold-water fatty fish or high-quality fish oils. → High-quality protein from lean meats, fish (as above), beans, eggs, whey protein, tofu/tempeh, and cheese and dairy in moderation, if tolerated.
• Ensuring that digestion, absorption and elimination are working well. Taking the “you are what you eat” adage one step further, it’s more accurate to say “you are what you absorb!” If a woman has digestion problems before conceiving, she may not be absorbing all the nutrients she is working so hard to get into her diet, so neither her nor her unborn child will be fully benefiting from them. Also, weak digestion prior to conceiving can cause a lot of misery during one’s pregnancy. Proper elimination is vitally important to move toxic waste out of the body. I believe chronic irregularity can be a major contributor to female hormone imbalance and a variety of other conditions created by a toxic burden on the system.
• Start with a Detox Program: an ideal way to open the channels of elimination and support the organs of detoxification is to start with a detox program. I offer both a 3-week and an introductory ten-day detox plan that incorporates a dietary protocol and supplement regimen. These programs help patients to break unhealthy dietary and lifestyle habits while eating highly nutritious whole foods, which allows them to have more energy, sleep better and feel great.
• Working on the process of eliminating habits that are not compatible with a healthy pregnancy: high intake of caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, simple sugars and junk foods that are devoid of nutrients.
• Incorporating or improving upon lifestyle habits that are consistent with healthy pregnancies, such as regular exercise (both aerobic and weight training are important), optimal sleep and stress reduction. Yoga is wonderful for building strength, flexibility and mental focus but is also a great form of stress reduction.
• Avoiding toxic chemical exposure from pesticides, harsh household cleaners, “health and beauty” products, and second-hand smoke. It is also important to limit exposure to electromagnetic radiation by keeping cell phones away from the body and not resting laptops directly against oneself.
• Minimizing xenoestrogen exposure: these estrogen-like compounds from the environment are found in pesticides, plastics, and unfortunately, many other sources. Due to the additive effects they have with the natural estrogen our bodies make, they encourage a state of hormonal imbalance. As a start, I strongly advise patients to trade in their plastic water bottles for stainless steel ones, and to not heat anything in plastic-including the “microwave safe” containers. For those times when the microwave must be used, heat in glass, and store in glass, as well. Xenoestrogens are thought by many to be a contributing cause of early puberty in girls and the rise in female conditions marked by hormonal imbalance: uterine fibroids, ovarian cysts & polycystic ovaries, PMS, irregular menstrual cycles, etc.
• Beginning a high-quality supplement regime: Even the best diets may need a bit of help filling in some nutritional gaps. One reason is that our soil quality is not as rich as it used to be, so the food grown in it contains lower levels of nutrients. In addition, the fast pace, stress and pollution levels of our modern world put a greater nutrient demand on our bodies. Although supplement recommendations vary according to individual need, the following two are universal. → A high-quality prenatal multivitamin/multimineral that is rich in folic acid (800 mcg) and all the B vitamins, zinc, selenium and vitamins C & E. These nutrients play major roles in at least one of the following: the prevention of neural tube defects, the production of genetic material, sperm production and quality, and antioxidant protection that may prevent chromosomal breakage and miscarriage. → Essential Fatty Acids: these fats have a profound effect on every system of the body, including the reproductive system and healthy hormonal functioning, and are important for both male and female fertility. Further, a specific type of essential fat known as DHA is crucial for fetal brain/central nervous system development.
• Tracking one’s menstrual cycle and ovulation: this becomes particularly important when a woman has irregular periods or is unsure about when she ovulates. There is only a small window each month in which to conceive, so knowing when you ovulate can result in a much quicker conception. I recommend Toni Weschler’s book “Taking Charge of your Fertility” as an invaluable aid in achieving pregnancy. When hormonal imbalances and irregular cycles do occur, I use the the steps above in conjunction with specific herbal medicines to achieve balance and regularity.
The quality of DNA in sperm and eggs is the direct result of the environment in which they mature and develop. When couples take the time to work on improvements in their diet and lifestyle, they provide an optimal environment for strong and healthy genetic material, and therefore, a strong, healthy and happy baby.J