Evidence suggests ~50% of pregnancies are unplanned. So even if you are not actively TTC, this article on preconception nutrition may be useful to you.
Preconception includes (technically) the 3 to 6 months before conception /pregnancy/ fertilisation occurs. Although some (including me) argue it starts earlier than this. And I mean both parties here, the sperm and the egg makers.
Oocyte and sperm cells mature over ~3 months. And sure, sperm are freshly made to order while eggs are present from the moment people with a uterus are in-utero in their own mums.
But health behaviours have an impact on cell structure and the surrounding environment, which impact cell maturation and formation.
Trans fatty acids, for example, have been found in seminal fluid (sperm). Higher amounts of trans fatty acids are associated with poorer sperm health. Now, the body doesn’t make trans fatty acids, so they can only be introduced from dietary sources. Meaning those trans fats found in sperm came from food. I don’t write this to create fear, I write it to highlight the impact nutrition has on cells and their surround environment (the body).
My Masters research looked at preconception diets, and we found fertility plans did not have a significant impact on nutrition choices. And spoiler alert, those nutrition choices did not include enough veggies, fruit and other essential prenatal foods.
But there are many other reasons to prioritise preconception nutrition. Even if a prenatal supplement is started early, establishing and building nourishing food routines and relationships early sets you up for fertility, to pregnancy, to postpartum and breastfeeding, to feeding babies, then toddlers, then teenagers and so on.
Let’s talk about a few more reasons why we should prioritise preconception nutrition.
1. Nutrient Deficiencies
Catching and addressing nutrient deficiencies early is exceptionally important for pregnancy, but also for fertility. Micro and macronutrients play a key role in healthy fertility, and pregnancy -and beyond.
A prenatal blood test can provide an idea of your current iron, vitamin B12, vitamin D and folate levels.
Dietary analysis will find nutrition gaps by assessing your macronutrient ratio and dietary intake of essential pregnancy nutrients like calcium, iodine, zinc, selenium, choline and so forth.
2. Morning Sickness
“I’ll eat better when I’m actually pregnant”
Pregnancy can be a great motivator for change. But trimester one, and perhaps 2 and 3, can come with some big hurdles. Namely food aversions + nausea & vomiting. It is very common and it can become very debilitating.
Weight loss in trimester 1 related to feeling incredibly unwell is not uncommon. Safe to say, nausea can make eating a nourishing diet very challenging.
Nutrient deficiencies can also increase the risk and severity of nausea, so if you needed a reason to get on top of your nutrition early, it’s that!
3. Pregnancy Health
Setting up a good foundation will lead to better long-term health and a reduced risk of health complications.
Building habits and routines supportive of positive food relationships, good nutrition, sleep and fitness habits will transfer through to pregnancy + postpartum and beyond.
When pregnancy occurs, there is a lot to do, plan, learn, understand and change. The evidence is pretty clear that when people are overwhelmed, a tendency to give up can occur.
If you’re already on top of your diet from preconception planning, it’s one less thing to learn, do, worry about when pregnancy occurs.
4. Role Modelling Good Nutrition
Related to the previous point, positive health habits established preconception will filter to children.
Research has shown parental health behaviours have a strong influence on eating patterns amongst their children.
Evidence also shows parental nutrition role modelling is more beneficial than attempts at dietary control when looking at eating behaviours in children. This loosely translates to children eating food they see their parents eating, not foods their parents just provide.
5. Elevated Food Exposure
Allergy prevention, taste preference & epigenetics
Now this is a loaded point. I wrote an article about allergy prevention in babies and pregnancy nutrition here read here>>> which will provide more detail.
But to keep it succinct here, evidence does show prenatal and pregnancy diets play a role in baby’s taste preferences, food allergies and epigenetic programming.
There are many other factors at play here too from genetics, to food access and barriers, environmental factors and so forth.
But nutrition exposure is shown to impact DNA methylation which can alter gene expression, and flavour amniotic fluid which can influence baby’s future taste profile – wow.
6. Manage Health Conditions
Preconception, or a delay to fertility, can becomes a trigger to diagnosis for many health conditions.
Nutrition can play a role in helping to manage these from endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), metabolic concerns and so forth.
Where and how to start
If pregnancy is on the cards for you, I recommend booking a consult with your GP for a prenatal check up.
You can also book an assessment with a prenatal and fertility dietitian to look at the quality of your diet.
The below tips are general advice only. They’re not intended to replace your healthcare providers’ prescription. But as a start, you want to make sure you’re eating:
- Plenty of fruits of veggies every day. The more colour on the plate, the better
- Whole grains like oats, barley, rice, quinoa
- Antioxidant rich foods like fruits and veggies
- Nuts & seeds
- Herbs & spices
- Marine based omega-3s like oily fish
- Lean and plant protein like tofu, edamame, lean poultry and red meats
- Mono and polyunsaturated fats (otherwise known as ‘healthy fats’) like extra virgin olive oil
- Calcium rich foods like dairy, boney fish & leafy greens
- Folate rich foods like legumes & spinach
- Water and probably more water
You may want to adjust your intake of:
- Saturated and trans fats
- Highly added sugar foods
If you have questions or would like personalised advice, book a 1:1 consult any time 😊