Having a baby may be just around the corner for you or not even on your radar. Regardless of what stage of life you are in, you might want to read ahead for some helpful tips on how to prepare for pregnancy. The majority of information out there is focused around what to do once you become pregnant. I wanted to touch on how to prepare your body for pregnancy. Unfortunately, it is quite common for children to experience an array of medical conditions that are only increasing in incidence. These common conditions have been linked to an increase in toxins in our environment and consist of asthma, allergies, autism, ADHD, Type 2 diabetes, cancer and more. It can be scary to think about so here are some steps to consider to ensure you are in optimal health before bringing your baby into this world.
Identifying your Food Sensitivities and Healing your Gut:
This is important because if you are eating foods that you are sensitive to, it can trigger your immune system to react in ways that may trigger the same sensitivities in your baby. Once you have identified these, there are steps to take to heal the damage to your digestive tract that those foods have generated. After you have followed the steps to heal your digestive tract, you may potentially be able to reintroduce those foods and consume in moderation. Part of healing your gut is maintaining a good digestive flora (meaning “microbiome”) and balancing inflammation. More on this under supplements.
Detoxify your Liver:
We hear a lot about cleansing and detoxing these days. The main difference between a cleanse and detox is that a detox generally includes supporting the liver and kidneys to flush our system of toxins. Our environment is full of toxins that can build up in our liver and fat tissue. Toxins such as; BPA, phthalates and phenols, find themselves into our food chain through manufacturing waste, pesticide use, and water contamination. They have been known to disrupt our endocrine systems and therefore can mimic estrogen and other hormonal actions. It doesn’t just stop there; it all comes down to DNA methylation and epigenetics. Epigenetics is where gene expression can be triggered through environmental exposures. This can be described looking at two children with the exact same genetic code but only develops asthma (for example). Maternal heavy metal exposure has been shown to alter the epigenetics of the fetus. The heavy metals of concern are: cadmium, arsenic, mercury and lead. Once we are pregnant, the mobilization of these toxins is increased and therefore can be passed on to the baby in utero.
There are urine tests to find out the amount of heavy metals stored in your tissues that may indicate a need to follow a chelation protocol prior to becoming pregnant. Detox programs can also be individualized depending on your health history.
Exercise and Optimal Body Weight:
Optimal weight is important because women who enter pregnancy overweight are at higher risk for prenatal and birth complications. There is also an increased risk that the baby will have health issues including, diabetes, eczema, allergies and even heart disease later on in life. Managing your weight before you get pregnant can decrease your chance of developing gestational diabetes (GDM). There has been research shown through analysis of both infant cord and maternal blood of an alteration in the leptin gene (Leptin is a hormone that tells us that we are full), and as a result can lead to metabolic issues for the infant later in life. This isn’t meant to scare women who have struggled with their weight throughout their lives, and I almost left this information out, but then realized that would be unethical. I believe that knowledge can be power, but it can also be detrimental and cause unwanted stress. If you have been diagnosed with GDM in the past or are concerned with your weight and want to get pregnant, please don't let this information discourage you. Epigenetics is a large field of study and this is just one piece of information and it isn’t a definite outcome of the future health of your child.
Choose organic to lessen the toxic burden. Eat mainly vegetables and focus on colorful options to increase antioxidant and polyphenol content. Make sure you are consuming at least a cup of dark leafy greens to ensure proper vitamin and nutrient intake. It has been shown that eating more of a Mediterranean diet due to its higher content of plants and fish and lower content of animal foods proves to have more antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. This can be important during pregnancy and prior to.
Supplements (some are important pre-pregnancy but I also added some bonus info to refer to during pregnancy):
Prenatal multivitamin containing methyl folate (this is a form of B9 or also known as folic acid). A large percentage of people can’t properly methylate folic acid and therefore aren’t receiving the much-needed prevention of neural tube defects in the fetus.
A probiotic may be indicated to ensure you have established a strong microbiome to pass on to your baby. Research is still being conducted on which strains are specific but it is known that the passing of mothers bacteria to baby can determine the babies immune and metabolic system. According to The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, there have been positive results showing perinatal administration of probiotics and to infants post delivery have been mostly focused around preventing atopic dermatitis (AKA Eczema), but also balancing blood glucose control, decreasing respiratory infections and reducing gastrointestinal symptoms. Where there are some positive results, more research is still required to define the mechanisms and physiology behind the transmission from mother to offspring.
Our western diets are unfortunately very low in omega 3 fatty acids, which is why I mentioned under nutrition to follow a Mediterranean diet. Sometimes it is also important to supplement. Here’s the bonus information on the importance of supplementing with omega 3 fish oils during pregnancy and in the first 3 months of breastfeeding. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, supplementing with Omega 3 Fatty acids, due to the content of Docosahexaeonic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (AA), during pregnancy has been shown to increase the infants IQ measured at age 4. It has also been shown to reduce infant eczema because of its inflammatory modulatory effects and improve social behavior due to an increase in neural development.
For a more detailed pre-pregnancy plan that is individualized for you. Please contact Sardis Naturopathic Medical Clinic at 604-858-7422 to book an appointment with Dr. Heather Iverson, ND.
Helland, Ingrid B., et al. "Maternal supplementation with very-long-chain n-3 fatty acids during pregnancy and lactation augments children’s IQ at 4 years of age." Pediatrics 111.1 (2003): e39-e44.
Hibbeln, Joseph R., et al. "Maternal seafood consumption in pregnancy and neurodevelopmental outcomes in childhood (ALSPAC study): an observational cohort study." The Lancet 369.9561 (2007): 578-585.
Innis, Sheila M. "Dietary omega 3 fatty acids and the developing brain." Brain research 1237 (2008): 35-43.
Mueller, Noel T., et al. "The infant microbiome development: mom matters." Trends in molecular medicine 21.2 (2015): 109-117.
Perera, Frederica, and Julie Herbstman. "Prenatal environmental exposures, epigenetics, and disease." Reproductive toxicology 31.3 (2011): 363-373.
Sanz, Yolanda. "Gut microbiota and probiotics in maternal and infant health." The American journal of clinical nutrition 94.6 Suppl (2011): 2000S-2005S.