Importance of Pre-Conception care
Pre-conception care is a 3-4 month time period whereby the health of both the female and male is optimised to reduce the risk of adverse health outcome in the mother and baby.
During the pre-conception period treatment focuses on optimising nutritional intake and correcting any nutrient deficiencies, reducing exposure to harmful environmental toxins, reducing stress, maintaining a healthy weight and regulating hormones for conception if necessary.
The reasons Naturopaths are so adamant that you should do pre-conception care is that we now know that environment factors (ie stress, nutrients, toxins) impact the way our genes express. This is known as epigenetics. Amazingly, scientific evidence suggests that these modifiable environmental factors are responsible for 70-90 per cent of illness.
Conditions related to modifiable environmental prenatal factors:
Neural tube defects
Small for gestational age infants
Key nutrients for pregnancy
It is very important to correct any nutrient deficiencies you may have PRIOR to conceiving to ensure the fetus receives adequate nutrition throughout pregnancy. Specific nutrients requirement for pregnancy include:
Testing for iron before pregnancy and supplementing accordingly is essential to help prevent iron deficiency during pregnancy. It is important to test iron levels as supplementing with iron when levels are already adequate can be damaging to the body. Vegans and vegetarians are at particular risk of being low in this important nutrient.
Iron is important to support the formation of fetal blood, brain, eyes and bones and is also important for the mother as it helps prevent post-natal depression.
Iodine is one of the main minerals that is often deficient in Australian people. Testing for iodine before pregnancy and supplementing accordingly is essential to help prevent iodine deficiency during pregnancy.
Iodine is essential for healthy thyroid functioning and the development of the fetus’ central nervous system. A deficiency in iodine can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, mental retardation and cretinism.
Folate is one of the most important nutrients for pregnancy as it is required for healthy cell division and growth of the fetus. Couples that have are having trouble conceiving or have had a miscarriage might not have enough folate or they might have a common gene mutation known as the MTHFR gene that prevents them from utilising their folate. If you do have this gene there is no need for great concern as it can be treated to ensure you have adequate amounts of folate for pregnancy.
Like folate, Vitamin B12 is essential in pregnancy as it is also required for healthy cell division and growth of the fetus. This important nutrient only comes from animal protein (red meat, eggs, chicken, fish) so vegans and vegetarians are often very low in this important nutrient. If you are vegan or vegetation it is essential that you test your B12 levels and supplement accordingly.
Vitamin D is another important nutrient to test during preconception to prepare for pregnancy as not matter how much sun you get, you can’t guess that your vitamin D levels will be okay. Vitamin D levels are influenced by the colour of your skin, fat metabolism, well as kidney and liver function.
Research suggests that vitamin D deficiency may be associated with first trimester miscarriage, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, preterm birth, higher rates of emergency caesarean delivery, small for gestational age infants and maternal postnatal depression.
DHA is an omega 3 essential fatty acid that can only be obtained via diet or supplements. The highest sources of DHA come from seafood. Due to the widespread contamination of seafood with environmental toxins including mercury it is often more favorable to rely of supplemental forms of DHA for preconception and pregnancy.
Children born to a mother with inadequate DHA have been linked to central nervous system disturbances, poor sleep patterns, lower IQs and impaired blood pressure control in later life. DHA can also prevent preterm births and postpartum depression in women.
TAKE HOME MESSAGE is that it can take months to correct nutritional deficiencies before pregnancy so make sure you get tested and onto a naturopathic preconception plan 4 months before conception to ensure you have a healthy pregnancy and baby.
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