Why is pre-conception care important?
Amazingly, it takes just two cells to build a baby and what most of us don’t realise is that these two cells contain all the energy and nutrition needed for your growing baby for the first 4 weeks of its life. It’s at this point that the foetus, which has been nourished by the egg sack during those first 4 weeks, begins to be fed directly from the blood supply of its mother. So making sure you have the healthiest, most nutrition-packed eggs and sperm makes a lot of sense when you think about this crucial developmental period.
To give you an idea of what happens in these first 4 weeks, take a look at a few of the milestones the foetus hits it this short period:
- At day 7 the embryo attaches to the uterus.
- During the next week, the basic placenta develops.
- By the end of the 3rd week, the rudimentary digestive system has developed.
- At 22-23 days, the heart begins to beat.
- By the end of the 4th week, the neural tube has closed. It is an abnormality here which leads to spina bifida and related conditions. Fortunately, adequate nutrition in the pre-conception period has been found to reduce the occurrence of this condition.
So, how long should we allow for a pre-conception program?
This question may be influenced by factors related to your unique situation, but in most situations, we would allow 3-6 months for preparing your body for conception. Why so long? Well, sperm need at least 86 days to mature and eggs mature over a period of 90 days before ovulation. Thus, this is the length of time we have to influence the quality of your genetic blueprint and see the difference in terms of healthy lifestyles on the sperm and egg. Sometimes, a program for improving your diet, lifestyle, and supporting egg and sperm quality will happen alongside actively trying to conceive, but in the ideal scenario, this would happen some months earlier.
It’s not just all about the ladies…
It makes total sense that healthy men pass on the best genetic material to their babies. Having a nutritionally replete diet means better stats in terms of conceiving, placenta development and having a healthy baby. There are even studies that show a link to reduced risk of cancer and diabetes genes with proper pre-conception care! The basics are the same for both partners – lots of fruit and vegies, limiting saturated fats, topping up on fish, exercising, sleeping well, maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding toxins (such as chemicals, drugs, and alcohol) and taking a good quality pre-conception multivitamin designed especially for men. In addition, because sperm is sensitive to heat, wearing loose clothing and avoiding saunas and hot tubs in the pre-conception period is a good idea. Small studies suggest carrying a mobile phone in your pants pockets can influence sperm health too. For this reason, we suggest storing your phone away from your body as much as possible.
Maximum nutrition for making babies
It makes sense to eat foods with the highest nutritional benefit, as these foods give you the most bang for your calorie. Weight maintenance is important in preparation for conception and eating high-quality foods is a great way to ensure you are maintaining a healthy diet.
What are the best foods to eat for fertility?
- Fish is an excellent source of clean protein and 3-5 serves a week gives you a rich source of omega 3 fatty acids. Eat larger fish such as tuna, swordfish and shark only occasionally (maximum of once every 2-3 weeks) to avoid potential mercury contamination. For convenience tinned sardines can be a good choice and also provides you with a source of calcium. Wild salmon is also an excellent choice. Check out my blog on the humble sardine here, for some ideas on including them in meals.
- Fresh seasonal bio-dynamic/ organic fruits & vegies where accessible and affordable, increase your access to essential vitamins and minerals and reduce the toxic load on your body.
- Lean organic meats, organic eggs and organic dairy. Animal products are more likely to have pesticide residues stored in fats, so it is particularly important to choose organic where possible. The lean products also help you minimise saturated fats and support your fertility.
- Good fats and oil such as those found in seeds and nuts, flaxseed oil and avocados provide vegetarian sources of omega 3 oils.
The basics of nutrition for making healthy babies is the same as being healthy yourself. In fact, couples embarking on a pre-conception program often find they feel the best they have ever felt, full of energy and vitality, well rested and exercised with their eye on providing the best start they possibly can for themselves and their baby.