In Australia, fertility rates have fallen. While an increasing number of couples are choosing to have children later in life or opt to live child-free, many others are trying to fall pregnant for years with no success. Apart from the changes to the age of couples trying to conceive (with this happening much later in life than previously so) stress, diet and lifestyle are all major players in the baby making game. A holistic approach to pregnancy considers not just the 9 months of pregnancy, but the months prior to this to focus on preparing the body, the mind, the heart and the home. This preparation time is for both partners to be involved in, this is a two-player game.
It takes a total 90 days to get the egg ready for conception, and it takes 3 months for new sperm to develop. This gives a minimum of 6 months. However, it’s encouraged to take at least 1-2 years to get things in order. The baby you both make will be given many of your traits and characteristics. This includes the bacteria of your microbiome and that of your pets and from around the home, your mitochondrial DNA, your hormones as well as genetic predispositions from generational lines. This is largely due to a little something known as epigenetic’s.
Our genes can be thought of as tiny light switches being turned ‘on’ or ‘off’. How we live, eat, think, love and move can influence the genes within ourselves and also our offspring. Research has shown that within males consuming a high-fat, high sugar diet (that which is similar to a typical ‘western’ diet) actually increases the chances of their children developing type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune condition. Correlations exist between characteristics of nutritional quality during pregnancy and the risk of the child developing a range of diseases in adolescence and adulthood. These include cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, osteoporosis, and mental health disorders. The diet of both mum and dad before conception and the diet of the mother during pregnancy will determine to a very large extent the physical health, the appearance as well as mental and emotional well-being of the child. A malnourished or depleted body needs time to recover, and that recovery should take place before, not during your pregnancy.
Focusing on a wholefoods approach, eating seasonally and organic (where possible) is key. Additional micronutrient supplementation may be warranted, but this would depend on the individual and must be prescribed by their chosen healthcare practitioner. When nutritionally depleted, fertility shuts down and specific nutrients can influence sperm motility and morphology. Macronutrients are important and in the right amounts as deficiencies or excesses can both influence fertility, the pregnancy, the risk of complications and the size and health of the foetus even into their adolescent and adult years. The following micronutrients are important and should be considered;
Vitamin A is needed for genetic expression and sperm development
Vitamin D for foetal development
Vitamin E for antioxidant and effects on cardiovascular system
Vitamin K2 for bone, teeth and nervous system development
B Vitamins for healthy methylation
Vitamin C for ovarian health and function
Choline for brain development
Iron for DNA synthesis
Cholesterol for membrane structure
EPA and DHA fatty acids also crucial elements for cell integrity and brain development
Probiotics are a crucial element for both partners to consider supplementing with and also to consume a variety of fermented and fibre-rich foods. This will help lower the baby’s risk of atopic allergens and skin conditions, but also help reduce mums’ risk of pre-eclampsia, post-natal depression, and thrush during pregnancy.
Coffee…should pregnant women be drinking it? It has been said that less than 200mg of caffeine per day is ‘safe’ to consume while pregnant. That’s about one cup of espresso coffee or two cups of caffeinated tea. But when it comes to bring new life into the world I personally wouldn’t want to take the chance. Consumption of coffee by women early in their pregnancy has been viewed as a potential for increasing the risk of miscarriage, low birth weight, and childhood leukemias. During the preconception period it’s a wise move to eliminate caffeine, refined sugars, alcohol and cigarettes. This allows your body adequate time to detoxify and eliminate stored toxins that can accumulate in fat cells. Never take on any detoxification protocol while pregnant. The toxins are released into circulation and dumped into the placenta.
If you think you’ll miss coffee, why not try swap out regular coffee for Organic Swiss Water Decaf. Many studies show that decaf coffee still has many of the protective antioxidant benefits of regular coffee. Please be sure to source your beans well, choosing organic and mould-free when possible and make sure that the coffee isn't chemically processed.
Take the time to assess your environment – where you live, work, play and spend time. Consider previous renovations or painting that’s occurred, cleaning products you use and cosmetics you apply to your skin. Switch to natural products, vinegar and essential oils can be used to clean, and essential oils can be used instead of perfumes. I would recommend you jump on over to Alexx Stuarts website Low Tox Life for more information. There are also multiple options when it comes to natural makeup and Emily Banks from Depths of Beauty has detailed reviews and some of her top picks on her website.
Another big thing to place emphasis on here is the use of oral contraceptive pills. These synthetic hormones put your body into a pseudo-menopausal state and shut down ovulation. There have been numerous studies now confirming the nutrient depletion that’s caused by these pills and this is not to be taken lightly. Working with a healthcare practitioner to reinstate healthy ovulation and appropriately detox is encouraged before you embark on your journey to parenthood.
Plastics are another concern. These contain harmful BPA or BPBs that are able to get into the system and even cross over into the placenta. Avoid these by using recycled glass jars to store foods, avoid microwaving or heating food in plastic containers, limit processed and packaged foods and drink from your own glass or stainless steel water bottle. Small changes make a big difference.
Any stress – physical, mental or emotional will trigger the same physiological response, and that response will shut down fertility. Cortisol, our stress hormone is made from the same precursor that our sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone and testosterone) are made from. So, in a stressed-out state hormones can get out of whack. Unfortunately in our modern world, exposure to stress is inevitable. But how we cope with it can change. Eating a nourishing diet that’s rich in quality protein and fats along with ample magnesium, B group vitamins, and Vitamin C can help with hormone production, adrenal stamina and nurture the nervous system. Lifestyle practices like regular exercise and incorporating a meditative or mindful practice is also ideal. Even something as simple as taking regular breaks in your day or when you feel yourself being overcome with stress – just stop and breath. Long, slow, inhale and exhale. And repeat.
There is a balance here, movement is a great way to de-stress, it has benefits on cardiovascular health and reduces your risk of chronic disease, it benefits the brain, movement, digestion and more. However, over-exercising (particularly women) can throw off the intricate hormonal dance. With too much muscle mass and not enough fat mass there can be an imbalance between estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone that can reduce your chances of having a healthy pregnancy. Fat is fertile, remember that. But too much fat can also have negative impacts on fertility. “Female obesity is associated with significant alterations in reproductive health and fertility. Not only does obesity decrease the likelihood of ovulation, but it also significantly reduces the chance for pregnancy in women who ovulate regularly. This data is of particular concern given the ongoing obesity epidemic and its effects on reproductive-age women. Furthermore, women on the extremes of body mass spectrum suffer from sub-fertility, implicating nutrition in cases of both underweight and overweight women.” 1
The take home points of all this is, take the time to prepare your body for your pregnancy. This is a huge transition and one beautiful, miraculous, life changing experience. Take the time to detoxify and nourish your body, to rest and to plan. In doing so, you give you, your partner and your bub the best possible chance at life and the support that you need to get through this time of rapid growth, increased physical needs and emotional shifts.
Written by: Brittani Kolasinski (BHSc Nut, AdvDip NutMed, ANTA acc.)
1. Shaum, K. M., & Polotsky, A. J. (2013). Nutrition and reproduction: Is there evidence to support a “Fertility Diet” to improve mitochondrial function?. Maturitas, 74(4), 309-312.
Disclaimer; all of the information provided in this blog are the thoughts and opinions of Brittani Kolasinski