Preconception Care

10 Jul 2019
Kaitlin bump

A Q&A with Nutritionist and Natural Fertility Educator, Kaitlin Wapshott, on Preconception Care

What is preconception care?

Preconception care looks at how we can affect the health of a baby (and mother) prior to it being conceived, and optimising the likelihood of conception.

It can be said that it takes 12 months to make a baby. 3 months to prepare, and 9 months of baking the little bundle. Ideally, we would spend between 3-6 months preparing our body for conception to take place as it takes 90-120 days for sperm to generate and eggs to mature.

If you are keen to give your baby the best start to life, preconception care is the best preventative health tool as it can impact on conceiving a healthy baby, improve outcomes through pregnancy and birth, and even potentially influence the health of subsequent generations. Best results can be achieved when preconception care is carried out by both parents.

What if I have been told I have poor egg quality?

Even though you were born with all your eggs, it is very possible to influence their quality in the 3-4 months leading up to conception. So although you’ve been told you have poor eggs or are worried your earlier years of partying may impact on your ability to conceive a healthy baby, improving your diet and lifestyle can greatly affect your egg quality. This is because chromosomal abnormalities mostly occur just before ovulation; they don’t accumulate over the years.

What about men’s health – is it important for fertility?

Absolutely – men make up 50% of the baby, and 50% of the placenta! It is paramount for men to be involved in preconception care, particularly as male infertility is a real factor for couples trying to conceive. Sperm rates are dropping, and have continued to do so for the last few decades. Adopting some simple diet and lifestyle recommendations can improve these parameters, and not only positively affect conception and pregnancy outcomes, but support women in the process!

What are your top diet recommendations during preconception?

We need a balance of the macronutrients; carbohydrates, protein and fat, and an abundance of vitamins and minerals like iron, folate and calcium to build our nutrient stores prior to conception. My top 5 dietary recommendations are:

  • include fresh fish 2-3 times/week from deep sea, cold waters e.g. mackerel, Alaskan salmon, sardines, King George whiting and choose small fish due to the lower mercury content
  • eat 2-4 handfuls of vegetables per day, particularly green leafy veg like silverbeet, kale, spinach and broccoli 
  • lower your caffeine consumption
  • include a variety of healthy fats (eg olive oil, avocado, coconut milk) for optimal hormone health
  • avoid sugar and ultra processed/packaged foods

Are there any lifestyle tips I can do to improve my chances of conceiving?

It is now commonly accepted that the lifestyle we lead can significantly impact our fertility and the resulting health of your baby. My top 5 lifestyle recommendations are:

  • Move your body in ways that make you happy, for at least 20-30mins/day. This will assist in hormonal regulation, mood stabilisation and mental health benefits.
  • Alcohol, smoking and drugs are linked to reproductive, pregnancy and poor foetal health and should be avoided, via their roles in nutrient depletion, negative affects on liver detoxification and more.
  • Reduce stress – it affects all aspects of female and male fertility. Massage, acupuncture, counselling, yoga, walking in nature, meditation, laughter etc. all help. Nutritional supplements can also be very useful in stress reduction programs and should be discussed with your Nutritionist as part of your preparation plan. 
  • Healthy weight management – being either overweight or underweight increases your risk of fertility and pregnancy problems.
  • Avoid plastic use which can interfere with hormonal health; all plastics leech chemicals, regardless of whether they are BPA free, so use stainless steel or glass drink bottles. Never heat food in plastic containers or covered in plastic wrap – use ceramic or glass containers instead and beeswax wraps to store food.

What nutrients are important during preconception and pregnancy?

Your Nutritionist will generally recommend a high quality prenatal supplement to support the increased need for nutritional support during preconception, pregnancy and breastfeeding. 

  • Folate is an important vitamin to take prior to conception, as the neural tube forms in the very early weeks of pregnancy (around weeks 3-4). 
  • Vitamin D is important for immune and bone health 
  • Iron is essential in carrying oxygen around your body and to baby, especially as your blood volume increases markedly. These stores need to be built up months in advance.
  • B12 is required for cell division and nerve health
  • Calcium is needed to grow all those little bones 
  • Iodine – deficiency is common, yet it is critical for the growth and healthy development of the baby’s brain and central nervous system
  • Essential fatty acids are vital as the body is unable to synthesis them. They contribute directly to the normal development of the brain and nervous system

Your Nutritionist will recommend that you visit your GP for a full health check, to identify any abnormalities or deficiencies that may affect fertility. This could include testing for certain infections, thyroid function, iron levels, B12/folate, vitamin D and immune issues. It is also advised you have a recent pap-smear and both potential parents have genito-urinary screening. 

Make an appointment with Kaitlin to discuss your fertility goals, whether you are planning on conceiving soon, or in a year’s time, optimising your health now will set mother and baby up with the best possible health outcomes in pregnancy, birth and beyond.

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