As an integrative family physician, I believe that the first opportunity you have to optimize your child’s health is in the preconception period.
By making meaningful changes in the 6-12 month period before you conceive, you can ensure that you are creating the best possible environment for a baby to grow and thrive.
Nourishing the Soil
Farmers understand the significance of preparing, tilling, and fertilizing the soil long before they plant their first seed. They understand that the nutrients contained within the soil not only support germination but also provide nourishment for the plant throughout its whole life cycle.
This is a great analogy in respect to preconception health. Nourishing your body in order to provide an optimal physiologic environment for your little seedling to grow will help ensure its survival from germination to maturation and beyond.
Preparing for Pregnancy
If you have the time, take at least 6-12 months to prepare your body for pregnancy.
Where should you start?
The first step is to create a positive frame of mind and intention for the changes you want to make. Focus on creating a nourishing lifestyle. Take inventory of what you put into your body, what you put on your body, and the amount of stress in your life.
Some tips to help get you started
Focus on building your nutrient reserves
Choose nutrient dense, organic foods- mainly plants. Try to eat 10 servings of fruits and vegetables each day in a “rainbow of colors.” The deep, bold colors of fruits and vegetables are jam packed with health-building phytochemicals and antioxidants. If you eat animal products, always choose organic, grass-fed/pasture raised meat and eggs. Avoid sugar, packaged foods, or processed foods. Aim for a diet that consists mainly of whole, plant-based foods.
Take a quality pre-natal vitamin. This ensures that you are getting adequate iron, folate, and all the other basic nutrients you and your baby need to thrive during pregnancy. In addition to a prenatal vitamin, you should take a calcium supplement to bring your total calcium intake to 1000 mg per day. Once pregnant, your calcium needs increase to 1500 mg per day. Omega-3 essential fatty acid supplements are also important because EPA and DHA promote fetal brain development and decrease overall inflammation in the body. Take a well-sourced omega-3 essential fatty acid supplement of at least 400 mg of DHA and EPA daily.
Reduce environmental toxins.
Eat fresh, whole foods.
Avoid processed and packaged foods. Buy certified organic produce. If you can’t afford to buy all organic, steer clear of “dirty dozen.” The Environmental Working Group has found that people can lower their pesticide by almost 80 percent by avoiding the top twelve most contaminated fruits and vegetables (or buying them organic) and eating the “clean fifteen” instead.
Avoid mercury-containing foods.
Choose fish with low levels of mercury. The major concern with fish is its methylmercury content. Methymercury is a contaminant from coal-fired power plants and other industrial sources that pollutes the waters and gets into the food chain. The FDA recommends that pregnant women eat no more than 12 ounces of fish per week. Check out the consumer guide to mercury in fish to determine what fish is safe to eat.
Switch to natural skin and hair care products.
In May of 2011, the Canadian Heavy Metal Hazard report demonstrated that heavy metals including cadmium, arsenic, lead, thallium, nickel, and selenium were found in a random sampling of cosmetics. Forty-nine makeup items were tested, including a variety of brands of foundation, concealer, powder, blush, bronzer, mascara, eyeliner, eye shadow, lipstick and lipgloss. None of these products listed heavy metals in their ingredient list.
The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep website is a great resource for safe cosmetics.
Use only natural household products.
Chemicals are widely used as ingredients in household products. These products can release dangerous chemical compounds while you are using them, and, to some degree, when they are stored.
Studies by the Environmental Protection Agency found levels of about a dozen common pollutants to be 2 to 5 times higher inside homes than outside, regardless of whether the homes were located in rural or highly industrial areas. Additional studies indicated that while people were using products containing chemicals, they exposed themselves and others to very high pollutant levels, and elevated concentrations can persist in the air long after the activity is completed.
Here is a great resource for safe, non-toxic household products and strategies.
Living in today’s busy world is stressful, and there is no question that trying to conceive can be stressful. Stressful situations produce a hypermetabolic state in the body, with increased oxygen consumption, heart rate, and blood pressure. Incorporate a mind-body practice such as yoga, deep belly breathing, or meditation on a regular basis into your daily routine. Relaxation practices help restore your body to a state of calm by releasing a host of health-promoting chemicals, decreasing your heart rate and blood pressure and allowing you to truly focus on your wellbeing.