6 Tips To Consider Before Conception

Photo credit:  Negative Space

Photo credit: Negative Space

Now that you’ve decided to expand your family, there are a number of things you can do to prepare for your pregnancy and get started on the road to conceiving, and birthing a full term, healthy baby!

This stage of conception is called periconception and it’s an important time because there are certain nutritional measures you can take to optimize conceiving, pregnancy and the growth, development and health of your baby.

The periconceptional period starts one to three months before conception, and lasts from one to three months after conception, so it’s great that you are starting off on the right foot now, before you become pregnant.

Folate and iron are two important nutrients to consider during this time. If you don’t have enough folate, there is a greater risk for the development of birth defects like those involving the neural tube (resulting in spina bifida for example). Neural tube defects can develop within 21 days of conception or even before you know you’re pregnant. It is recommended therefore that you take a folate (not folic acid) supplement in addition to the folate you get from your diet.

Iron deficiency prior to pregnancy can increase the risk of iron deficiency anemia for you, and can lead to your baby being born low iron stores. If you are iron deficient you are also at greater risk for having a preterm baby. The good news is that it is easier to build up iron stores before you become pregnant as opposed to after. You can make sure you have enough iron by having your levels assessed, and by eating the right foods.

Getting ready for pregnancy also requires building healthy bones, and if there is not enough calcium in your diet, your developing baby might pull the calcium out of your bones for her own needs and this will put you at greater risk for osteoporosis later in life.

Weight loss and/or undernutrition in you and your partner can have negative effects on fertility. In women, being underweight can lead to lower levels of important hormones that are necessary for the proper functioning of the female reproductive system. In men, a low calorie diet can lower sex drive, and have negative effects on sperm viability and motility. Being overweight also negatively affects fertility in both women and men.

It’s possible that if you are having difficulty conceiving, you and/or your partner may have low levels of antioxidants. For example, vitamin E and selenium can improve sperm quality in infertile men, and vitamins C and E can increase sperm number and motility. Zinc is also important for reducing oxidative stress in men and it can improve sperm quality and the production of testosterone. When it comes to antioxidants and minerals, it is better to get them from your diet instead of from supplements. We always start with diet.

Alcohol can decrease testosterone levels and have negative effects on the normal functioning of the testes (which can affect sperm production). In women, alcohol consumption can have negative effects on the fetus during pregnancy, and if you aren’t pregnant yet, it may even lead to possible birth defects in the baby once you become pregnant, so if you are trying to conceive, it’s best to stay away from alcohol.

Tips for healthy conception:

  1. Make sure you are getting enough nutrients from the foods you eat including folate, iron, vitamins, antioxidants and minerals, start with a healthy diet, and get professional guidance for supplementation

  2. Eat a whole, real foods, anti-inflammatory diet

  3. Maintaining a healthy weight is important for both you and your partner

  4. It’s best to eliminate alcohol from your lifestyle

  5. Exercise regularly

  6. Manage stress

For women, it’s best to begin these practices up to 3 months before you conceive and continue to maintain them throughout your pregnancy. For men, it is also recommended to start paying attention to these factors up to 3 months before conceiving. 

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Steegers-Theunissen RP, Twigt J, Pestinger V, Sinclair KD. The periconceptual period, reproduction and long-term health of offspring: the importance of one-carbon metabolism. Hum Reprod Update. 2013;19(6):640-55. Doi:10.1093/humupd/dmt041. Epub 2013 Aug 19.

Cetin I, Berti C, Calabrese S. Role of micronutrients in the periconceptional period. Hum Reprod Update. 2010;16(1):80-95. Doi:10.1093/humupd/dmp025.

Rumball CWH, Bloomfield FH, Oliver MH, Harding JE. Different periods of periconceptional undernutriton have different effects on growth, metabolic and endocrine status in fetal sheep. Pediatric Research. 2009;66:605-613. Doi:10.1203/PDR.0b013e3181bbde72

Nutrition Before Pregnancy. University of Rochester Medical Center, Health Encyclopedia. https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=90&ContentID=P02479. Updated January 9, 2016. Accessed January 15, 2016. 

Gropper SS, Smith JL. Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism, 6th Edition. United States: Wadsworth Cengage Learning; 2005.