Some of you might think that preconception health care is a brand new idea, the flavour of the moment, the latest buzzword, but nothing could be further from the truth. Both the Ancient Greeks and Romans knew that alcohol, taken before and around the time of conception had an adverse effect on foetal health and they banned its consumption by young women and newlyweds. Many traditional tribes fed special diets to their young women (and young men) of childbearing age. Stock-breeders, veterinarians and farmers have always practiced preconception health care, so the idea of attending to the health of both prospective parents before they conceive a child, has been around for a very long time. However, preconception health care is now receiving renewed scrutiny, and its practice is becoming increasingly popular for very good reasons. Current statistics show that reproductive and infant health is seriously compromised.
One couple in six is infertile, one woman in five will suffer a miscarriage (some authorities say this figure is as high as one in three). One woman in every five undergoes a Caesarean section, one baby in ten is born prematurely and one baby in thirty is born with a congenital abnormality. Some degree of postnatal depression affects one woman in every three and only one in ten breast feeds her child beyond his first birthday. One child in every ten is affected by a learning or behaviour problem and one child in five suffers from asthma. These are very depressing statistics and they cost the health system countless millions of dollars every year. They also strain the physical, mental and emotional resources of huge numbers of families. But the news isn’t totally bad. The conditions that these statistics represent are largely preventable if both partners are in excellent health before they conceive a child.
The word ‘both’ is really at the basis of preconception health care. Prospective parents are definitely in this quest for a very healthy baby together! After all, there’s a direct extrapolation from optimally healthy parents to optimally healthy eggs and sperm, and from these to an optimally healthy child. More specifically, since ova are particularly susceptible to damage for 100 days before ovulation and since sperm formation takes approximately 116 days, the pre-pregnancy preparation for both partners should be for a minimum period of four months before they plan to conceive.
So exactly what do prospective parents need to do?
- Optimise nutrition
- Avoid common social poisons e.g. cigarettes, alcohol, caffeine, other drugs
- Avoid environmental toxicity (this includes heavy metals, chemicals and electromagnetic radiation)
- Establish a regular exercise routine
- Reduce stress and maintain a positive attitude
- Treat existing conditions such as infection, allergy and reproductive problems.
It doesn’t sound too complicated, and in fact a great deal of what’s involved in preconception health care is really only common sense. But because so little attention has been paid to the practice in recent years, couples often question the need for this sort of preparation before a pregnancy. They respond with remarks to the effect that ‘well, babies have been coming into the world for a very long time without too much trouble’. However, what they frequently overlook are the profound changes that we have made to our diet, our lifestyle and the environment over the last 200 years. Almost all of these changes have some effect on fertility and general reproductive health, and unfortunately the cumulative effects are significant. Have another look at the earlier statistics if you’re in any doubt. But they aren’t meant to deter couples from having children, simply to make them aware that it’s important that they take whatever steps they can to ensure that they (and their baby) don’t become one of those depressing statistics.
Future articles will deal with every aspect of preconception health care in more detail and will give clear guidelines and lots of positive steps for couples planning a pregnancy. For the moment, I’ll just briefly mention good nutrition, which is the most important area that couples need to attend to before conception. This is really where it all begins and it’s also a logical place for couples to start since all other aspects of preconception health care depend on it to some extent. The importance of both parents having optimal nutritional status before they conceive can’t be over–emphasised. The basic building blocks, that are critical for every aspect of reproduction, don’t just materialise out of thin air. Couples often aren’t aware that an adequate supply of all the vitamins, minerals, essential amino and fatty acids are necessary for the whole reproductive cycle to proceed smoothly.
Think about some of the things that the various nutrients have to do during reproduction. They’re needed for the formation of healthy, vigorous sperm and for the maturation of the ovum. They’re needed to manufacture all the reproductive hormones, to ensure the Fallopian tubes and the uterus and placenta are healthy. They’re needed in optimal amounts for embryonic and foetal development, and if they’re not there in sufficient quantities, that development is going to be compromised in some way. All those nutrients are needed to ensure that the ligaments and muscles relax fully at the end of pregnancy and that the uterine contractions are strong and effective. Finally, there must be plenty of them present if there’s to be a good supply of really nutritious breast milk.
So a really ‘good diet’ is of critical importance both before conception (and during pregnancy and throughout the full period of breast feeding as well).
Preconception Dietary Considerations
Foods to Eat
- Whole unrefined grains
- Nuts, seeds, legumes.
- Fish, chicken, meat
- Dairy foods (only if allergy is not a problem)
- Mono-unsaturated oils (olive, canola)
- Wherever possible, all produce should be organically grown or fed.
Foods to Avoid
- Refined (white) flour products
- Sugar containing foods
- Saturated fats
- Processed, packaged, additive containing foods
- Hormone, antibiotic containing foods
- Allergenic foods
If couples follow the recommended dietary guidelines they might think there is no need for nutritional supplements. Certainly, vitamin and mineral supplements cannot take the place of a healthy diet and lifestyle, but they can make up for some of the deficits that are a legacy of twentieth century living.
Reasons for Supplementing
- Old, nutrient depleted soil (especially Australian soil)
- Non-organic farming methods
- Essential nutrients are used by the body for detoxification
- Lifestyle factors – cigarettes, alcohol, caffeine, other drugs (esp. oral contraceptives) deplete nutrients
- Malabsorption – allergies, candida, infestation
- Biochemical individuality
- Reproductive needs are critical
Supplementation for both partners should be comprehensive and fall within the following dose range
||10,000 iu, or beta-carotene 6mg (or mixed carotenes if available)
|Vitamin B complex
- B1, B2, B3, B5 - up to 50mg each
- B12 - 400mcg
- B6 - up to 250mg
- Biotin - 200mcg
- Choline, inositol, PABA - 25mg
||500 - 1,000mcg (0.5 - 1.0mg)
(1mg daily if you have had a previous miscarriage, if there is a history of neural tube defects in your family, or if you are over 40 years of age).
|Vitamin C & Bioflavonoids
||2,000-3,000mg (2-3g) vitamin C
(Upper levels if you are suffering from infection)
||800mg daily (twice the amount of magnesium)
||400mg daily (half the amount of calcium)
||15mg daily or as potassium chloride cell salt
||15mg daily with ferrum phos. cell salt
(Supplement should be organic and chelated, but should only be taken if need is proven)
||20-60mg (depending on result of ZincTaste Test. Take separately on an empty stomach, last thing at night).
||100-200mcg daily (upper levels for those with sugar cravings).
||100-200mcg (upper levels for those exposed to heavy pollution - you will need a prescription in Australia)
||75mcg daily (or as kelp - 150mg daily)
|Evening primrose oil
||500-1,000mg three times daily
|Max EPA (deep sea fish)
||500-1,000mg three times daily, especially if your diet contains little deep sea fish
|Acidophilus and Bifidus
||½-1 teaspoonful of each, once or twice daily (upper level for those with candida problems)
||2,000-5,000mg (upper levels for those exposed to toxins)
||1-2mg (only if zinc status is adequate)
|Hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes -
||for those with digestive problems.
This article has given a very brief overview of the dietary and supplementation guidelines for couples planning a pregnancy.