Pre conceptual health is so important not just to increase fertility but also to ensure a healthy pregnancy and the health of the baby. We are seeing a rise in fertility problems, and an increase in childhood allergies and behavioural issues, it has never been so important to look after the health of a couple pre conception, to dramatically reduce risk factors and to ensure a healthy and happy pregnancy.
Dietary and lifestyle factors to consider for conception and pregnancy,
- Reduce toxic load (see at the end of the article, dirty dozen, list of which foods to consume organic)
- Stop eating mercury toxic fish, mercury reduces fertility and also linked to behavioural issues in children. Tuna and swordfish are the most contaminated fish. Choose fish from clean waters New Zealand, Australia or Norway.
- Dramatically reduce/avoid gluten in your diet, gluten damages the lining of the intestines and therefore reduces your absorption of essential nutrients. Gluten may also trigger an undesirable immune response and therefore affect fertility. Gluten sensitivity often goes undiagnosed but effects how your body absorbs vitamins and minerals which impacts your reproductive health. Without good nutrition, hormones cannot function optimally, which can lead to irregular periods and/or ovulation.
- Consider your own toxic load, do you have mercury fillings, if time allows consider removal prior to conceiving, ensuring you give your body enough time to detox properly before conception.
- Consider home environment, washing powders, soaps, deodorants, shampoo and perfumes. The skin is the largest organ and sadly so many shampoos and shower gels are made with a multitude of chemicals, sodium laurel sulfate perhaps being the most common one, is anything but natural.
- Choose free range/organic, hormone free chicken and grass fed meat. One way to reduce oestrogen load is to stop eating non-hormone free chicken, so pumped with hormones! This disrupts your own hormone levels, so choose grass fed meats and hormone free so your own hormones are not skewed.
- Avoid xenoestrogens, foreign oestrogens from plastics, cling wrap, soft plastics and avoid re heating food in plastics.
- Commercial no organic dairy products to avoid bovine hormone growth factor.
- Aim to reduce additives, preservatives and chemicals such as artificial sweeteners, diet drinks, processed and fast foods. These foods dramatically increase your toxic load and interfere with absorption of vitamins and minerals. They create an addictive cycle in the body so may also be hard to cut down, persevere!
- Reduce caffeine intake from tea/coffee/fizzy drinks, caffeine along with refined sugar as they disrupt the adrenals glands (your stress response hormones), which need to be nourished for conception and pregnancy, and overstimulation leads to fatigue and hormonal disruption.
- Too much undiluted fruit juice-increases blood sugar swings.
- Avoid the bad trans fats, deep fried foods and the cheap polyunsaturated fats found in sunflower oil, canola oil and safflower oil.
- Think re WIFI, and mobile phone use, for women if you are someone who likes to drive with your phone on your lap, think proximity to the uterus, and for men, phones in trouser pockets, think every time a text message comes in what the waves are zapping! Studies now show electromagnetic interference on the body, you may purchase a gadget called RADSAFE to place on phones/tablets and remember to turn off wifi at night.
- Reduce alcohol, occasional red wine, much richer in anti oxidants.
- Avoid ready to eat salads in bags-risk of listeria
- Avoid Liver and cod liver oil.
- Avoidance of raw, eggs, meat, fish, unpasteurised cheeses and peanuts.
Foods to eat in abundance, conception and fertility
- Eat plenty of vegetables- organic where possible and a portion of fruit a day, especially berries, apples, pear.
- Eat phytoestrogens, including beans such as lentils, chickpeas and linseed/flaxseeds, to assist in balancing your hormones.
- Eat an abundance of essential fats, good sources are raw nuts, seeds, and their oils. Oily fish are packed with DHA, an essential fat that helps your baby develop a healthy brain and nervous system. The best sources are salmon, mackerel and sardines. Use coconut oil in cooking and olive oil over salads.
- Drink plenty of water, herbal teas and fresh homemade vegetable juices.
- Increase your intake of fibre, think oats, not wheat more non gluten grains, such as millet, buckwheat and quinoa.
- Increase all vegetables, especially dark green leafy vegetables for magnesium
- Eat foods rich in zinc, zinc is the mineral of fertility, free range/organic eggs, pumpkins seeds, hormone free chicken.
- Eating eggs rich in choline or adding non-gmo soy lecithin to smoothies is a great way to boost choline, neurotransmitters, all part of brain development.
Nausea can be debilitating for some pregnant women and not just morning sickness it often lasts all day. However it is a good sign too, showing that hormone levels are high. It is crucial with morning sickness to aim to balance your blood sugar as blood sugar worsens the nausea. That means ensuring you always eat protein with carbohydrate. Eat little and often so aiming for 4-5 small meals a day, and avoid eating too late at night. Keep hydrated, ginger reduces nausea so making a hot lemon and ginger may be soothing also peppermint aids digestion. Citrus and the smell of citrus may also be helpful. Caffeine and sugar make nausea worse. Eating foods rich in B vitamins may also be helpful brown rice, green vegetables; cabbage, broccoli and walnuts supplementation are all good sources, a B complex may also be advised. Rest when you can.
Weight Gain And Cravings
By the end of pregnancy you may have put on around 12.5kg. It’s natural and healthy to put on weight during pregnancy. Your body needs to change to accommodate your growing baby, and to give the baby the best nutritional start in life. To prevent unwanted weight gain and blood sugar cravings it is vital to keep your blood sugar balanced and to avoid the highly refined sugary, trans fats foods.
The aim is to avoid the dips and troughs of the roller coaster ride of unbalanced blood sugar, which leads to sugar cravings, if you eat whole grain, non-processed foods, such as oats, brown rice with protein you avoid having cravings. Think raw nuts and seeds with oats for breakfast and lean meat, fish (especially oily fish) , beans or pulses with brown rice for lunch and dinner. By eating protein and slow releasing carbohydrate you avoid the surge in blood sugar, which leads to excess sugar being stored as fat. Snacks, the same applies, think “2 hand rule” protein and carbohydrate, hummus and crudités is a good example, piece of fruit with raw nuts or nut butter with oatcakes. The age-old adage of eating for two is misleading and often leads to a philosophy of eating what you want, when you want, that it doesn’t matter! Eating excess sugars impacts blood sugar, mood and reduces energy as you keep putting yourself on a hormonal roller-coaster, which is neither good for you or the baby. Also leads to excess weight gain and risk of gestational diabetes. Keep up a healthy exercise routine.
For the breast-feeding mother the same guidelines apply, eat good sources of protein, balance blood sugar avoid the refined sugars and stimulants and ensure adequate rest and fluid intake. Hydration is key, and increase water intake to produce enough milk. Stress, fatigue and dehydration directly impact milk production. Concentrating on the essential fats to boost mood, hormones and the babies developing brain. Zinc is still a focus as it pours out of the mother whilst lactating, this can lead to post natal blues so eating zinc rich foods for mood is key.
Breast feeding is not the time for crash dieting, the body needs to be well nourished your milk reflects your nutrition, and so by eating well you are in turn boosting the babies developing immunity, not just growth.
The Dirty Dozen
Produce that should be purchased organically:
- cherry tomatoes
- hot peppers
- nectarines (imported)
- sweet bell peppers
… plus collards & kale… plus summer squash & zucchini (courgettes)
The Clean Fifteen
Produce that is safe to purchase conventionally:
- sweet peas (frozen)
- sweet potatoes
Susie Rucker, Rucker Nutrition.