Preconception Care

Publisher: Wellness Magazine, Aug 2016

SAJNMM question:

My husband and I have made a conscious decision to switch to all things natural. We would like to prepare for pregnancy and want to boost our chances. I just need to know if we self medicate, can we take any combination of natural products and say any number of herbal remedies together? Can I take Vit D, Vit C, CoQ10, Echinacea tablets, Cranberry powder and add some superfood powders and other herbal tinctures of my choice to the mix? We were thinking of making a list of all our ailments and go to the healthshop and just buy whatever we need, and take it all! This way we can sort out all of our problems and I can focus on getting pregnant with the next round of pregnancy supplements from the health shop. I think that sounds like a fantastic plan. There is so much info on google and its easy with natural products as you don’t have to concern yourself with contraindications and side effect.

JEANNE VAN ZYL replies FOR THE COLLEGE OF NATURAL HEALTH   

Although herbal remedies and nutritional supplements can be extremely useful and beneficial in preparing your body for a healthy pregnancy, I suggest that you work alongside a natural health practitioner for various reasons:

  • To prevent interactions between the herbs / supplements and medication you’re currently on (if at all)
  • To avoid ‘overdoing’ it with supplementation
  • Most women find out they’re pregnant a few weeks after conception has occurred. Therefore, it is best to avoid supplements and herbs that may be harmful during pregnancy.
  • Information on the internet isn’t necessarily accurate and may even be contradicting, which can be very confusing and even point you in the wrong direction.

I have made some suggestions below for preconception care, for both you and your husband. The health of both parents at conception can greatly influence the baby’s health of the baby during pregnancy and also throughout his/her life. Preconception care should ideally occur between 3-6 months prior to conception, to ensure optimal health of both parent.

Organic food and personal care products may significantly reduce exposure to harmful toxins and chemicals, which may have undesirable effects on male fertility and on foetal development.

Chronic stress may disrupt various hormones in the body involved with conception and a healthy pregnancy. Strategies to support the body’s innate resilience: Deep breathing exercises, yoga, a nutrient-dense diet, spending time in nature, taking a relaxing bath in Epsom salts and in some cases it may be useful to see a life coach/counsellor. It makes sense that conception prevalence is generally higher during the holiday seasons!

Your gut environment, particularly the balance between beneficial and harmful bacteria, directly influences the baby’s gut environment and immune defences during and after pregnancy. If you’ve taken oral contraceptives and/or antibiotics in the past, it may have disturbed your microflora balance. Microflora balance can be achieved through fermented foods (sauerkraut, kefir, etc.) and a high quality probiotic supplement (15-50 billion units per day).

Dietary suggestions for preconception care:

  • Organic fruit and vegetables ensure an adequate intake of nutrient-dense whole foods, with minimum exposure to environmental toxins. It also provides the body with antioxidants, which may support fertility and protect against sperm damage.
  • Dark green leafy vegetables are extremely helpful for preconception care – these foods are naturally rich in folic acid, magnesium and various other nutrients supportive of hormone balance, conception and pregnancy. Sources: Kale, broccoli, Brussel’s sprouts, spinach, etc.
  • Healthy fats to include regularly: organic cold-pressed virgin coconut oil (for cooking, baking, frying or added to smoothies), avocadoes, organic chia seeds, extra-virgin olive oil (over salads), flax seed oil / ground flax seeds, soaked nuts and seeds (especially almonds and sunflower seeds).
  • Carbohydrate sources should preferably be low glycaemic foods to stabilise blood sugar levels. Sources: fruit, vegetables, brown rice, quinoa, legumes and beans.
  • B-vitamins, vitamin E and zinc aid conception and implantation (mother), as well as sperm quality (father). Food sources: leafy greens, free range eggs and poultry, sunflower seeds, almonds, sesame seeds, grass fed beef, mushrooms, cruciferous vegetables, figs, beans, quinoa and shellfish.
  • Avoid sugar, coffee, alcohol and refined starches, vegetable oils, artificial sweeteners, processed foods and pre-packaged foods.
  • Useful supplements:
    • A food based, high quality prenatal supplement with a broad range of vitamins and minerals, especially methyl folate (the active form of folic acid) to reduce the risk of neural tube defects, which develops in the first 28 days of pregnancy.
    • Purified omega 3 supplement (to ensure minimum exposure to heavy metals): Omega 3 is essential for a healthy pregnancy and may reduce risk of post-natal depression. Dosage: 400-500mg EPA and DHA per day.

Additional strategies to support the father’s sperm production and quality:

  • Avoiding alcohol, cigarette smoking and excessive caffeine
  • Avoiding excessive heat (hot baths, saunas and a laptop on his lap)
  • Avoiding lubricants (may be toxic to sperm)
  • Daily omega 3 supplement
  • Vitamin D influences sperm quality and egg penetration. If your husband is not exposed to regular direct sunlight, food sources include oily fish, high quality dairy products and whole eggs.

The best way to ensure a healthy pregnancy is to be pro-active during the preconception stage and ensure the foetus is exposed to a healthy, nutrient-dense and stress-free environment within you.

JEANNE VAN ZYL is a Nutritional Consultant and a Lecturer at CNH (College of Natural Health), which trains students across South Africa for successful careers in natural health, and offers Short Courses in a range of natural therapies. www.collegeofnaturalhealth.co.za