Preconception Care and Fertility
Whether you’re ready to bring a baby in to the world now, in a few months or even a few years, preconception care can improve your chances of a healthy conception and a nourished pregnancy, to optimise the growth and development of your baby.
Although most of the focus is placed on preparing the mum-to-be, it’s important to remember that the health of your future children is determined equally, based on the genetics of both parents. Preconception care should include both parents. Spending time to enhance your partners overall health and nutrition and improve the quality of his sperm, is just as important as supporting your own hormone and egg health, to lead to a healthy conception.
How Soon Should I Start Preconception Care?
Preconception care should ideally start at least 3-months before trying to conceive as this will allow for new egg and sperm maturation. If you have longer, then 6-months is ideal as this will also provide the opportunity for both parents to undergo a detox – I’ll talk more about why this is important shortly.
Why is Preconception Care Important?
Nourishment and nutrition during preconception care doesn’t just play a role in boosting the mothers egg health, it builds up nutritional reserves in her blood, organs, tissue and bones to prevent her looking and feeling depleted as her baby grows – remember, nutritional deficiency states in mothers can occur months or even years post-pregnancy. To include some of these nutrients in your diet see this easy-to-make and absolutely delicious recipe by nutritionist Lucy Stewart for Fertility Freezer Fudge in this article further below.
Preconception – Getting Started
If the preconception care period is 6-months or longer you can focus on a detox plan to enhance the removal of toxins from your body through gut, kidney and liver health – we don’t want those floating around during conception.
Foods that Support Detoxification
Foods that support the bodies natural detoxification process include: cooked cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and kale – these are also great for hormone balance and clearing out excess estrogen. Herbs like parsley and coriander and great for helping to detox from heavy metals. Rosemary, turmeric and ginger also provide additional liver and anti-inflammatory support. Fermented foods like sauerkraut and kefir, as well as bone broth will keep the gut healthy – your baby will take on the gut blueprint of both you and your partner.
The preconception period is also the time to adopt a ‘low tox’ lifestyle and minimise toxin exposure. Toxins disrupt for cells mitochondria – the energy powerhouse within each cell – and can also deplete the body of fertility supportive antioxidants.
- Reduce hormone disruptive chemicals in plastics, skin care products and fragrances.
- Drink filtered water.
- Reduce intake of trans fats and ultra-processed foods.
- Safely remove amalgam fillings.
- Protect against EMFs.
- Reduce stress. Mindfulness, deep belly breathing, yoga and meditation will help to lower cortisol (our stress hormone) levels – cortisol interferes with the production of important reproductive hormones.
- Reduce alcohol and caffeine consumption – neither serve fertility well.
The nourishment phase of preconception care is designed to optimise fertility and build up the reserves of key nutrients, including:
- Folate prevents neural tube defects – the neural tube develops into the brain and spine three to four weeks after conception, before most women even realize they’re pregnant. It also plays a role in all stages of pregnancy from egg development to ovulation and foetal growth, as well as development throughout early childhood too. Folate is found in green leafy vegetables (the world comes from the Latin ‘folim’ meaning leaf), organic liver, kidney beans, nuts, beetroot, cauliflower, oranges and strawberries.
- Up to 10x times the level of iron is required prior to pregnancy. There are two forms of iron, heme iron which is found in animal products and non-heme iron which comes from plant sources. The heme form is better absorbed by the body than the non-heme form, so it’s important that anyone following a vegan or vegetarian diet get their iron levels tested. Some good vegetarian sources of iron include: leafy greens, mushrooms, kidney beans, lentils, organic fermented soy and dried apricots. Red meat, chicken, liver, fish and mussels are the best sources of heme iron – favour those from ethically raised animals if you can. Animal products also contain synergistic nutrients, like copper and vitamin A, that help create iron stores and transport iron around the body.
- Vitamin A doesn’t get the attention it deserves in preconception and pregnancy. Most women are aware of how too much vitamin A can cause birth defects, but vitamin A is actually critical for reproductive health and foetal development. It plays a role in producing fertile sperm protective mucous – so the sperm can meet the egg, and thyroid gland – poor thyroid function can interfere with ovulation. Sufficient levels of vitamin A in preconception have also been shown to reduce the risk of miscarriage and still birth. When it comes to vitamin A, it’s important to understand that there are two forms – formed vitamin A, retinol, which the body will use straight away, and pro-vitamin A, betacarotene, which the body needs to convert. Good sources of retinol include organic chicken liver, wild caught salmon and egg yolk. Betacarotene can be found in carrots, sweet potato, broccoli and red capsicum.
- Iodine deficiency can increase the risk of miscarriage and still birth, as well as cause irreversible mental retardation and cretinism in babies. Seaweed is the best source, dairy and eggs contain a small amount.
- Vitamin D receptors are found in reproductive organs of both mum and dad-to-be, so optimising those levels is important for fertility health. Our best source of vitamin D comes from the sun, through safe bare skin sun exposure. Organic liver, egg yolk, wild caught fatty fish and dairy are all good food sources.
- Zinc is an essential element for male fertility. Zinc’s antioxidant properties help to protect sperm from free radical damage. Low zinc status or deficiency is associated with low testosterone levels, poor sperm quality, and an increased risk of male infertility. Good sources of zinc include: oysters, red meat, pumpkin seeds, chickpeas, cashews and almonds.
Food alone however isn’t sufficient to meet nutritional needs during preconception and pregnancy. A high-quality supplement with well absorbed forms of nutrients is recommended, in consultation with a qualified naturopath or nutritionist to ensure you’re getting the best supplement to suit your needs. Blood tests will also allow you to understand where any deficiencies may lie and what needs extra attention.
Fertility Freezer Fudge
The key ingredient in this deliciously creamy freezer fudge recipe below is Maca – a plant that has a long history of culinary and medical use in Peru as a wonderful fertility superfood and tonic. This fudge is also full of plant-based protein, fibre and nourishing fats – and a little cinnamon to keep blood sugar levels balanced – so you’ll only need a small slice to feel completely satisfied.
Fertility Freezer Fudge Recipe
(vegan, gluten free, dairy free)
Prep time: 10 minutes
- 1 cup raw cashews*
- 1 cup (250ml) coconut cream
- 1 Tbsp raw cacao powder
- 2 Tbsp almond butter*
- 2 Tbsp pure maple syrup
- 1 Tbsp hulled tahini
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- 1/3 cup roasted almonds*, to garnish
*Due to their high fat content, nuts easily absorb pesticides, so favour organic or spray free where you can.
- Line a loaf tine with baking paper.
- Soak cashews in filtered water for 4-hours or overnight in the fridge.
- Drain and rinse cashews and add to a high-powered blender with coconut cream, almond butter, hulled tahini, pure maple syrup, tahini and cinnamon and process until smooth and creamy.
- Pour half of the mixture in to your lined loaf tin.
- To the remaining mixture, add cacao powder and process until combined – you only need to do this step if you want you fudge two-toned, add the cacao at the beginning if not.
- Pour the mixture in to your loaf tin, smooth down the top and sprinkle toasted almonds, if using.
- Place in the freezer to set overnight and slice in to bars or squares.
by nutritionist Lucy Stewart.
Share this Recipe
If you have friends or family who might like to try this delicious Fertility Freezer Fudge we would love you to share this recipe with them.
If you have tried this recipe let us know what you think in the comments below.
* Please consult your medical practitioner for nutritional advice specific to your needs. This article is information only.
Like what you see? Read more on our Pregnancy & Parent Blog at: www.harryhoot.com.au/blog
Harry Hoot – bump to baby gift hampers