As you start to think about expanding your family and having your first, second, third or fourth child it is important to think about how to maximize your health. The most powerful thing you can do to ensure your baby’s health is to make sure your health is optimal.
Physiologically, eggs take about 100 days to mature, and sperm take up to 116 days to generate. During this growth and development phase eggs and sperm are susceptible to nutrient deficiencies and toxicities (ex. Environmental toxins). Therefore, the health of both parents at least four months (or longer) prior to conception is important and ideal. There are many things you can do regularly to improve your health during this period: the preconception stage. Here are some tips and guidelines you can follow to ensure your health is optimal during the preconception stage and in general.
Consume High Quality Nutrient- Dense Food
A high quality nutrient dense diet provides a lot of essential vitamins and minerals such as zinc, folate, selenium, iron, bioflavonoids, antioxidants and much more! All these nutrients enhance sperm parameters and egg health. Consuming quality foods will also nourish the uterus providing a great living environment. Lastly, it will help you maintain or lose weight and decrease inflammation in the body.
What do these foods look like? These foods include “foods that have been processed or refined as little as possible and are free from additives or other artificial substances.”
Tip: Consume unlimited vegetables and fruits. Begin with 3 cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit per day and work up from there, focusing more on the vegetable intake. The more dark greens, reds, blues, purples and oranges you add into the diet the more antioxidants, vitamins and minerals you consume. Include vegetables like: collard greens, kale, spinach, bok choy, endive, rapini, asparagus, artichokes, beets, carrots, lemons, squash, onions, garlic, leeks, mixed greens, watercress. Focus on your dark fruits like blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, pineapple or papaya.
Ensure you Stay Active
Being physically active is important as it will help you achieve a healthy and ideal weight for pregnancy. Studies have shown that women who are physically active before and during her pregnancy will have greater chance of having an easier delivery and healthy baby. Tip: If you do not regularly exercise start off with 20 minutes of walking each day. Increase your activity to about 30 minutes per day. Tip: Use a tool to help you track your physical fitness. For example devices like the Fitbit, or phone apps like My Fitness Pal can help you achieve your physical activity goals. Be careful not to overdo the exercise if you are actively trying to conceive, as overtraining syndrome can induce the stress response which can affect fertility.
The reality of the 21st century is that most of us are on the wheel: work wheel, family wheel, social wheel, etc. The impact of stress on our body is very real. When we are stressed, the body produces steroids called glucocoticoids. When glucocorticoids are produced the body reallocates its resources to give your body energy to mount the necessary stress response – which leads to the body putting reproduction on hold, as the resources are no longer directed there. The bottom line is, when we are chronically stressed, we are chronically suppressing reproductive function.
Clinical studies have demonstrated that chronic stress causes decreased sperm production (steroidogenesis, and spermatogenesis) and decreased ovulation. High stress during pregnancy can also affect the baby themselves. It can potentially cause a preterm baby or low birth weight in a full term baby.
Tip: If stress is an issue seek professional help to help you learn skills to cope with it. Tip: When you catch yourself in the stress response:
- Find a comfortable place to sit or lie down. Place one hand on your abdomen and the other hand on your chest.
- Gently exhale the air in your lungs through your mouth.
- Inhale slowly through your nose pushing out your abdomen slightly and concentrating on your breath (4 counts)
- Hold for 4 counts
- Slowly exhale through the mouth and gently contract your abdominal muscles to completely release the remaining air in the lungs (8 counts).
- Repeat this until you feel the stress response calm down.
Certain steps can be taken to optimize your health outcomes and pregnancy health outcomes. At the Insight Naturopathic Clinic located at Bayview and Eglinton, we provide health promotion, screening and interventions for women and men to reduce risk factors that may affect future pregnancies. We implement certain care and support systems which allow women and their families to become healthier. All these are implemented to increase the chances of healthy conception, pregnancy, birth and baby; provide alternatives or work with ART procedures (IUI, IVF, ET), improve general health and energy, help older parents or those with diagnosed fertility problems and help you gain Insight into fertility and your body. For more information visit Dr. Melissa Lee, ND, at the Insight Naturopathic Clinic.