Preconception Care & Nutrition

What is preconception care?

With global fertility rates declining and 1 in 6 NZ couples struggling with fertility, it has never been more critical for potential parents to prepare their bodies and minds for pregnancy. Preconception care is where couples are supported to become the healthiest they can in order to optimise fertility, to have a healthy pregnancy and the birth of a healthy baby.

Ideally, a qualified naturopath, nutritionist or naturopathic doctor will guide couples through preconception care. This should begin at least 4 months prior to planned conception,  allowing 120 days for eggs to mature and become ready for ovulation and 80 days for sperm to reach maturation. Couples are provided with fertility and pregnancy focused lifestyle and nutritional recommendations as well as herbal medicine and supplementation specific to their needs.

During preconception care couples boost nutrient stores and antioxidant status, balance blood sugars, reduce toxic load, correct any hormonal imbalances and manage stress levels. This blog post focuses on the foods to eat to prepare your body for conception.

Preconception Nutrition

Pregnancy is a period of immense growth. During the first trimester alone the embryo/foetus increases in size 2.5 million times and develops organs including the brain and spinal cord. To support this growth and  healthy eggs and sperm, sufficient reserves of nutrients are required. The antioxidant status of both partners is also important for counteracting oxidative stress that can damage the DNA of sperm, lower sperm count and motility and affect egg quality.

Rather than waiting to become pregnant before eating a whole-food based, antioxidant rich, nutrient dense diet, preconception care ensures that you begin this in advance, to avoid deficiencies and postpartum depletion.

Foods to include during preconception:

~ Egg yolks from pasture raised hens for brain nourishing choline, cholesterol and omega-3 fatty acids as well as vitamin D, vitamin A, iodine, B vitamins and antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin.

~ Dark green vegetables including spinach, collard greens, rocket, broccoli and brussel sprouts for their folate and antioxidants. Green leafy vegetables provide fibre, helping to clear toxins and hormone metabolites.

~ Organic beef and chicken livers are one of nature’s most nutrient dense foods. Matched in weight to beef muscle meat, beef liver has triple the iron, almost 20 times the vitamin D, 60 times the B12, 30 times the folate and an insanely high 1335 times the vitamin A.

~ Wild caught cold water fish including sardines, salmon and anchovies (avoiding bigger fish like tuna which is high in mercury). These are high in cholesterol, which is the precursor to our sex hormones. They also contain omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin A and vitamin D.

~ Organic berries are loaded with antioxidants like anthocyanins that can improve sperm motility. Blackcurrant berries also provide a good dose of vitamin C, that is a potent antioxidant, lowers stress hormones and supports the production of collagen for mum and bubs connective tissues.

Food and drinks to avoid during preconception:

~ Processed foods, refined grains and refined sugar. These foods are nutrient deplete, inflammatory and contribute to dysregulated blood sugar levels, impacting your hormones and ovulation.

~ Industrialised vegetable seed oils and trans fats including canola, sunflower and soybean oils and margarine and vegetable shortening. These oils are inflammatory and contribute to oxidative stress.

~ Alcohol intake of 4 drinks a week increases your risk of infertility. Chronic alcohol use can impact ovulation and menstrual cycle regularity. It also overburdens the liver, contributing to hormonal imbalances and may lead to lower testosterone levels and sperm production in men.

On top of making dietary and lifestyle changes, consult with a natural health practitioner about starting on some quality prenatal supplements that are low in excipients and contain nutrients in their most absorbable form.

Written by Shaz Andrew, Naturopath & Holistic Nutritionist