Five Ways to Optimize Preconception Health (Even if You’re Not Trying to Conceive)
Lately, I’ve had the great fortune of working with more and more “Preconception” Clients, individuals who are working to enhance their health prior to and while trying to conceive.
I cannot tell you how excited I get about working with this population!
In my opinion, it’s never to early to begin the work of preparing for preconception health. Oftentimes, I find it to be even more important for those clients who already have little ones at home.
Motherhood, postpartum recovery, breastfeeding and generally adapting to parenthood can be depleting. Not only of energy reserves, but of nutrient reserves. This coupled with physical changes to one’s body, relationships and routine can make optimal health in successive pregnancies more challenging.
“Science continues to reveal that the rising rates of infertility, mechanized childbirth and infant chronic disease are caused by a combination of stress, environmental factors and personal health choices. Evidence for a preventive and integrative approach continues to mount (1).
I’m not at all shy about sharing how important it is to be as fit, as strong and as healthy as possible prior to conception to set yourself up well for a healthy and strong pregnancy, not to mention, baby, labor/delivery and postpartum recovery.
So, what can we do? There are lots of ways to optimize your health in this preconception phase, but today I will just share my top five:
Get Moving & Keep Moving: Establishing these routines, habits and patterns of regular movement pays off in big ways! If a routine is well established prior to pregnancy, it will be that much easier to continue on (even if modified and/or reduced) in the first trimester.
The benefits of exercise in pregnancy have now been well established and are research backed for labor and delivery as well. Regarding labor difficulties, in Exercising Through Your Pregnancy, James F. Clapp III writes, “The women who continued to exercise had a striking increase (more than 30 percent) in the incidence of uncomplicated, spontaneous delivery, and, the duration of active labor was much shorter.”
Find movement that you love, that brings you joy…and do it! That might be dance, walking, weight lifting, running, pilates, zumba…
To me, the important thing is that you love it! If you love it, you will look forward to it, over time as a habit is created, you will crave it and it will just become what you do.
So, what do you love? Start there and practice patience as you begin to create this new habit.
Eat Organic: I know, this can be expensive! It may not be feasible to eat 100% organic, but you can and should make strides to get the bulk of your food from organic sources. Check out the Environmental Working Group (EWG) list of “Clean 15” and “Dirty Dozen” to prioritize your selections.
Why is this so important? Well, the statistics were alarming in a 2009 EWG press release:
“Laboratory tests commissioned by Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Rachel’s Network have detected bisphenol A (BPA) for the first time in the umbilical cord blood of U.S. newborns. The tests identified the plastics chemical in 9 of 10 cord blood samples from babies of African American, Asian and Hispanic descent. The findings provide hard evidence that U.S. infants are contaminated with BPA beginning in the womb. Additional tests conducted by five laboratories in the U.S., Canada and Europe found up to 232 toxic chemicals in the 10 cord blood samples.” To learn more
Drink Plenty of Filtered Water: Many of us are in a chronic state of dehydration prior to pregnancy…this does not set us up well for the extra demands of a developing fetus once pregnant. We need adequate hydration to flush the body of daily cellular toxins as well as to support the rapid cell division that occurs in pregnancy.
But not just any water will do! Be sure to drink filtered water to reduce your exposure to a variety of toxins including lead and chlorine. Stainless steel, glass bottles or BPA free bottles are better choices than disposable water bottles. Learn more here.
Reduce Exposure to Toxins: Environmental toxins can include everything from the air we breath to our cleaning products, body products and workplace chemicals (and in fact, the list is much longer than this)!
Start by thinking about how you can make changes within your home and begin with one thing at a time. Perhaps you can try by swapping out of your conventional cleaning supplies for a homemade version? It’s actually much simpler than it seems! Here’s an amazing guide that will help you get started from one of my favorite local resources, Holistic Nourishment.
Maybe you can purchase an air purifier or at the very least open the windows at times of low traffic to get fresh air flow?! Remember, start small!
Minimize Stress & Establish Wellness Routine: Research shows that during times of extreme stress, our bodies perceive that conditions are suboptimal for conception and as a result, prioritize our own survival. A cascade of hormones trigger this alert system as the release of adrenaline signals that conditions are less than ideal. This then inhibits the use of progesterone (necessary for fertility) and also causes the pituitary gland to release excess prolactin (can interfere with fertility). It probably goes without saying that chronic stress can also contribute to a reduction in sex drive…not super helpful when trying to conceive!
Conversely, positive emotions can have a great impact:
“Positive maternal emotions have been shown to advance the health of the unborn child…thoughts which infuse the developing baby with a sense of happiness or calm can set the stage for a balance, happy, and serene disposition throughout life.” says Thomas Verny, MD, author of Pre-Parenting, Nurturing Your Child from Conception.
There are numerous ways to reduce stress, so like exercise, find what works for you. Establishing a mindful practice of diaphragmatic breathing can truly set the foundation for daily calm. I witness a sense of renewed energy and peace transcend right before my eyes as clients practice this breath!
Other ideas include yoga, reading for pleasure, spending time in nature, journaling, practicing daily gratitude. What resonates with you?
Where to begin? Begin with one thing at a time. Fight the temptation to do it all at once, begin with one thing and once that’s well established, move on to the next! Research shows that our ability to make change depreciates dramatically when attempting to change more than one thing at a time. Despite all the 21-Day programs out there, it can take quite a bit longer to create new habits and lasting change.
So, stick with it and please reach out for support!
I called upon some pretty amazing resources, professionals and organizations to write this blog post. Primarily, I was inspired by an article written by James Goodlatte of Fit for Birth as well as my completion of the Preconception Program through The Integrative Women’s Health Institute. I’ve done my best to list the sources below and am so grateful for the education and insight provided.
2. A 2012 EEA report covering disease and infertility that these chemicals can be found in “food, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, household products and cosmetics.” http://www.eea.europa.eu/media/newsreleases/increase-in-cancers-and-fertility
4. Clapp, James F. III. Exercising Through Your Pregnancy. Originally published in 2002, Dr. Clapp’s research revolutionized what we thought about the pregnant body; the only problem is that the message hasn’t yet reached the ears that need it most.
5. Integrative Women’s Health Institute, Nourishment from a Lifestyle Perspective: Rodriguez, H. C.H., C.M.T. (2012) Stress and Your Fertility. Retrieved via http://natural-fertility-info.com/stress-and-your-fertility.htm Sanders, R. (2009). Stress Puts Double Whammy On Reproductive System, Fertility. University of California at Berkeley. Retrieved via: http:// www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/154116.php
6. Healthy Habits Happy Moms, 12 Ways You’re Sabotaging Your Weight Loss Efforts…and How to Fix it. http://www.healthyhabitshappymoms.com