The earlier you start to prepare your body for future pregnancy, the better. Even if babies aren`t on your agenda for the next ten years, if you know that you would like to raise children one day then you need to listen up and get your nutrients store tip top.
If you have recently come off of hormonal contraceptives then it`s even more important to pay attention. Those pesky synthetic hormones have been studied to show that they are responsible for all sorts of minerals and vitamin depletions that are essential for fertility and a healthy pregnancy.
This advice isn`t just for your health or to achieve optimum fertility, but for the health of the baby you are going to bring in to this world. Simply put, your baby is made of… well… YOU!
What you have in your nutrient stores will affect the long- term health outcomes of the baby that you grow. Ensuring that your body is well-nourished will help you to have the healthiest children that you possibly can.
It`s easier to stay nourished than fix deficiencies further along the line. The amount of nutrients stored in your body up to a year in advance of pregnancy will affect the type of pregnancy that you have.
Here I go with my analogies again… think of baking a cake. You need eggs, milk, flour and butter. If you don`t get the mix right, your cake can flop, be a slushy mess or just taste pretty bad.
The cake is the baby (you`ve heard the old saying a ‘bun in the oven’ right?!) and the ingredients are what you are using to grow this baby. It needs to be right.
Long-term nutrition will help to ensure that the child is neurologically as developed as possible, whilst also limiting the risks of autism, ADHD, obesity and heart disease amongst other conditions. Your baby treats your nutrients as a pantry whilst it`s growing inside of you. What you have stored up in your there will affect how much nutrition the baby will be able to extract from you.
The other reason to plan ahead and replenish your nutrients is for your own sake. Mother Nature knows that the most important thing is to focus on the procreation of humanity and will put the baby’s needs before the mother. You are the lowest priority in her book. The baby will get as much as it possibly can at the detriment of the mother, if you aren`t stocked up enough to provide for the both of you!
This can mean that the baby will take vital nutrients and leave you very depleted after pregnancy. Think about it… how many women have you heard say that they had no health problems until they`d had a baby? Sound familiar?
Pregnancy is very taxing on the mother and nutrient deficiency will show up in all sorts of chronic fatigue symptoms and autoimmune disorders post pregnancy.
So if you have come off of birth control, or are just wanting to maximise your fertility, then read on…
First and foremost…
Yes, I can see you cringing at the mere mention of the word fat. Some of you may even have shut the laptop or closed the page but it`s so important.
You know that your body doesn’t just pop out hormones whenever they are needed… it has to MAKE them. Like the aforementioned cake, hormones are made of a list of ingredients. One vital ingredient is Cholesterol and where do we get cholesterol from?
You`ve probably heard of runners and athletes losing their periods. One of the reasons is that the intake of fat that athletes have in their diet is so low that they just can`t make the hormones that are responsible for a healthy reproductive system. Under-eating and over-exercising creates an environment where your body is stressed on a physical level and perceives a threat. Something called hypothalamic amenorrhea can occur - where your body will stop menstruating as it feels it is unsafe to become pregnant.
Now, not all fat is created equal and some of it is in my opinion the single most probable cause for cellular inflammation in the body. I`ll do another post all about good fats and bad fats at another time but for now, the message that goes with this is that saturated fats in the form of butters, coconut oil and fats from grass-fed animal products are the most stable and nutrient dense fats that we consume. For decades, this type of fat has been hailed as unhealthy, but the evidence points in the opposite direction.
For healthy fertility and pregnancy, your body needs fat. Fat not only makes the cholesterol for hormones, but is a fuel for energy and is needed to coat every single cell in both the mother and the babies body. Every single cell in your body is made of a phospholipid membrane. They are 50% fat! Your brain and that of your baby is also dependent on fat. The highest concentration of cholesterol is found in the brain, where it plays an important role in memory and serotonin regulation. Low cholesterol levels are associated with depression and anxiety.
Zinc and Magnesium
Most of the population has far less magnesium and zinc in their diet than they should have. Both of these two minerals are vital for achieving pregnancy, and maintaining it.
Magnesium is mostly found in plant matter and the amount that is consumed is far less than it should be. That coupled with the fact that our soils are massively depleted in magnesium these days due to modern farming methods, puts most of us at risk of deficiency. Magnesium can be found in dark green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds and whole meal grains.
Zinc can be found most plentifully in shell fish, an acquired and expensive taste. Not many of us will have a regular amount of oysters, muscles or clams each week. Zinc is available in red meat and poultry and as a plant based option, in pumpkin seeds. The problem is that plant based zinc is hard to absorb and so vegetarians and vegans are more at risk of a zinc deficiency and would benefit from supplementing. If you are happy eating liver, then a piece of liver each week will offer you a great serving of zinc to meet your needs.
It has been well-researched that contraceptive hormones deplete the body’s natural stores of B6. B6 is needed for a regular cycle and for the development and functioning of the nervous system. There has been research that suggests that B6 might play a role in the prevention of pre-eclampsia in pregnancy. It may also play its part in preventing pregnancy nausia. B6 is available in lots of foods, including meat, poultry, starchy vegetables and non citrus fruits. The problem is that unless you are eating a good amount of raw food then you are probably not getting enough as B6 is very sensitive to being heated in the process of cooking and becomes less viable.
Vitamin A and D
Vitamin D is critically important in forming your baby’s bones, teeth, kidneys, heart and nervous system. It helps us absorb the right amount of calcium and phosphate.
The problem with Vitamin D is that it is not readily available in food. It is only in small amounts in certain foods (oily fish and eggs are one of the best sources). We get most of our vitamin D from the sun but if you live in the Northern hemisphere like me, during October until March, it is almost impossible to absorb vitamin D, even on the sunniest of days. This is due to the way that the earth tilts, blocking the amount of UVB rays that can actually reach us.
Vitamin A is essential for conception. It is a fat soluble vitamin that is found in nutrient dense animal fats, especially liver, cod liver oil and egg yolks. It is needed for fertility and for foetal development but be careful… once pregnant, excessive amounts of vitamin A can be damaging to the foetus, so always check with a professional regarding this vitamin. Beta Carotene is the plant based version of vitamin A. It is less absorbable than animal based vitamin A though, so again, vegans and vegetarians are at risk of deficiency and should consider supplementing.
Vitamin A and D work together as a team. One without the other in adequate amounts will affect the absorption of its co-partner. It is important to have both in your diet or supplement at the same time.
Folate is a type of B vitamin that your body needs to make DNA and other genetic material. It also needs folate for your cells to divide and to make red and white blood cells in your bone marrow. During periods of rapid growth, it`s essential to have adequate amounts of folate. This is especially true of pregnancy, both for the mother and the baby.
Folate is the food version of folic acid. It is available in leafy green vegetables, lentils, eggs and certain fruits. If possible, it is better to eat natural folate as certain individuals struggle to process folic acid and you may not know if this is you! By all means supplement with folic acid but at the same time, increase your food sources of folate to cover your odds in case you are someone who can`t metabolise folic acid.
If you aren`t getting regular cycles at the minute then one of the reasons may be that your body doesn`t perceive that you are ready for pregnancy.
If you haven`t got all the ingredients for the cake you are baking, you wouldn’t turn the oven on! It`s the same principle. Your body doesn`t want you to have an unhealthy pregnancy. It wants to ensure the survival of the human race and wants to create a healthy offspring. If its surveillance systems detect a lack of nutrition, then it won`t allow you to be fertile.
If you are in a place where your cycles are irregular or missing then I urge you to have a think about your diet, lifestyle, exercise habits, stresses and sleeping patterns and stock that pantry of yours up with as many nutrients as possible.
It goes without saying that if you intend on taking any supplementation then you should seek the advice of a qualified professional first.
Here`s a little corner of the world where I discuss life, our bodies, natural remedies and nature.
Clinical Nutrition and Naturopathic Health
BA hons. NT. FNTP. AMNNA. Soc Nat
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