10 Tips for Preparing for a Healthy Conception
When preparing to conceive a baby, who doesn’t want to do everything possible to increase their chance of falling pregnant and growing the healthiest baby possible? Being a major health nerd, I did as much research as I could to prepare for this moment in my own life. As a disclaimer, I want to say that whilst I am an exercise professional I am definitely not a medical professional, therefore, all of the information in this post is based on my research, not expertise.
The first thing I did to prepare for conception was to stop taking the pill six months before wanting to start trying for a baby. This is recommended by Dr Nat Kringoudis, one of Australia’s leading natural fertility experts. Stopping the pill enables you to repair the damage the pill does to your gut and recover healthy nutrient levels. Research shows that if you conceive as soon as you stop taking the pill, there is an increased risk of birth complications and more trouble breastfeeding.
After stopping the pill, there is plenty you can do to prepare your body for making a baby. I focused on the following list in the six months before I started trying for a baby, and for the next couple of months that it took me to conceive.
1) Cut back on caffeine. The National Infertility Association notes that high caffeine intake can hinder fertility. Plus, once you are pregnant, the World Health Organisation recommends you limit your daily caffeine consumption to 200 mg per day, so you may as well start to cut down on your daily caffeine intake now.
2) Improve your gut health. The reason for this is that the gut health of the mother is passed on to her baby. Studies have suggested poor gut health in the mother and therefore the baby may increase the risk for certain health problems. 70-80% of our immune system is located in the gut. The majority of our serotonin (our ‘happy’ hormone, crucial for good mental health) is produced in our gut, too. You can improve your gut health by avoiding antibiotics (unless absolutely necessary), stress, sugar, refined flours and seed oils, and by consuming fermented foods, exercising regularly, and by taking a daily pre-natal probiotic (ask your local health store staff member for a recommendation). Strictly avoid gluten if you are gluten-intolerant or have celiac disease as gluten sets off a reaction which causes damage to the lining of the gut, leaving it unable to absorb the nutrients from your food.
3) Increase nutrient levels in your body. Your baby is formed from what is available in your body. Optimal nutrient levels will ensure that these building blocks are as healthy and available as possible. Poor nutrition is right up there with stress as being one of the biggest causes of fertility issues in couples. Eating a healthy wholefoods diet will ensure you consume plenty of protein and fats (which is important because our hormones are made from protein and fats!)
Focus on eating a wide variety of unprocessed nutrient-dense foods such as vegetables, fruit, meat, eggs, fish, full-fat dairy, nuts, seeds and natural oils, e.g. coconut, macadamia and olive. Limit non-beneficial foods like sugar, soy and seed oils, e.g. canola, sunflower, vegetable.
Here are some more specific nutrition tips I came across:
- To ensure you receive enough iron, schedule in eating red meat with vitamin C-rich foods at least twice a week. This is very easy and delicious to do: grilled lamb chops one night and scotch fillet steaks another night, eaten with an orange, kiwifruit, strawberries or capsicum.
- Supplement with a prenatal multi-vitamin which includes the recommended intake of folate (400-800 mcg) to help prevent against birth defects.
- Take a good quality fish oil (omega-3) supplement when pregnant to boost the baby’s immune system amongst many other health benefits.
4) Stress less. This is one of the biggest factors which can affect an otherwise healthy women’s chance of conceiving. Stress decreases fertility by up to 50%.
5) Minimise toxins in your body. While you won’t always be able to control aspects like pollution in the air and the chemicals in your drinking water (though a water filter can help), you can help to minimise your toxic load by choosing natural skincare, makeup and cleaning products, cooking with safe non-toxic cookware and buying as much organic food as possible.
Fortunately for us, we have an organ in the body whose primary job is detoxification. This is the liver. To help the liver detoxify toxins and excess oestrogens (which may build up especially if you have recently come off the pill), you can make sure to:
- Eat heaps of cruciferous vegetables, e.g. broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, silverbeet, kale, brussel sprouts, watercress and asparagus.
- Eat antioxidant-rich foods like fruits and vegetables.
- Eat cumin, ginger, lemon, mint, chlorella (little green tablets) and activated charcoal to help the liver detox efficiently.
- Drink plenty of water to help your kidney flush out toxins.
To help the liver with its detoxification process, you should also avoid sugar, refined carbohydrates and alcohol.
6) Spend 15 minutes in the sun every day. It does depend on the person and location but generally 15 minutes is long enough to get adequate vitamin D and not long enough to get sunburnt. Vitamin D deficiency is very common and associated with many health problems. It is also common in pregnant women. Low levels have been linked to the development of many physical and mental illnesses. A newborn baby’s vitamin D levels are the same as that of its mother. It is one of the few vitamins that is only found in low amounts of food, so the best way of getting it is straight from the sun.
7) Get to a healthy weight. This is the weight your body naturally comes to when you are eating healthy food and are regularly, physically active. Reduced fertility is associated with both obesity and having a very low body mass index (BMI). When trying to fall pregnant, it is not the time to be dieting. Your body needs all the nutrients it can get, so I do not recommend you be in a calorie deficit at this time.
8) Get adequate sleep. A lack of sleep affects your reproductive organs and hormones. In my research, I keep coming across how important sleep is for fertility. It is absolutely essential to prioritise sleep if you want your body to be functioning at its peak!
9) Move your body daily. Your body was designed to move regularly: to stand, to walk, to carry things, to pull things, to push things. If you are not doing some form of movement for 30 minutes (at the very least) each day, your body is not going to be ‘normal’. Some people, such as mothers to young children, teachers, hairdressers and nurses, naturally lead very active lives. On the other hand people who sit down for eight hours a day at work need to be intentional with finding ways to get active every day.
10) Cut out alcohol and nicotine.
There is strong evidence that high alcohol intake and smoking negatively affect fertility.
If all this advice is a bit overwhelming and you’re thinking, ‘How can I remember to do all this?’, I recommend you just focus on the one area which you think you are most lacking in. Then, when you feel like you’ve really got on top of that habit, pick another health area to focus on.
I hope you found the results of my fertility research interesting and useful.
Holly is a qualified personal trainer and secondary teacher from Perth. She is currently a stay-at-home Mum to her 1-year-old daughter and blogs about fitness, wellness and motherhood. Find out more at @holly.brownlie and www.hollybrownlie.com
Dr Chris Kresser. See his podcasts on fertility and pregnancy on ‘Revolution Health Radio’.
Dr Natalie Kringoudis, blogger, author of ‘Fertilise Yourself’, and featured by The Wellness Guys.
Dr Sherill Sellman, author of ‘Hormone Heresy: What Women Must Know about Their Hormones’. She also did a podcast with the Wellness Guys.
Dr Jennifer Barham, author of ‘Well Adjusted Babies’.
Francesca Naish and Janette Roberts’ ‘Natural Way to Better Babies’ book.
Government of Western Australia Department of Health Community Midwifery Program.
Resolve: The National Infertility Association