Falling pregnant, and maintaining your health (and sanity) throughout a pregnancy is already a mammoth task. But who knew preparing for pregnancy was also a thing? Health professionals recommend preparing the body for pregnancy at least 3 months before trying to conceive- to grant your body the best chance at success.
Fertility Nutritionist Kelly Benton of Feeding the Bump shares her top tips for preconception preparation, so when it comes time to trying, your body is ready to share you around.
What is preconception preparation?
Good preconception care is becoming increasingly recognised by women and health professionals as playing a critical role in shaping the long-term health and wellbeing of our offspring.
A study by the Harvard School of Public Health found making 5 or more diet and lifestyle changes prior to conceiving improved fertility by 69%.
How can we prepare our bodies for pregnancy?
- Starting to prepare your body (and your partners, it takes 2 to tango so they are not off the hook here) between 4-6 months out from conception can set you up for increased chance of success, build up stores of key nutrients ahead of the 1st trimester (when we know around 70% of women suffer morning sickness, so do not eat the ideal diet) and reduce the risk of complications during pregnancy.
- Ensuring you are in a healthy weight range is one of the first things I recommend. Research has found that a BMI between 20 and 30 is ideal for conception. As well as;
- Regular exercise (30mins a day at least)
- Reduce intake of refined sugar (found in processed foods, cakes, etc) and saturated / trans fats (found in processed foods, takeaway) which can be harmful to health and fertility.
- I would also suggest to see your GP for a preconception blood test, to check certain nutrient levels, such as iron and vitamin D (which take time to correct), thyroid function and screen for infections that may impact on pregnancy, such as chlamydia.
Which preconception diet should I follow?
Eat lots of seaweed!
Seaweed and dairy products like cottage cheese, yoghurt and milk contain a whole lot of Iodine. Our bodies requires iodine for the production of thyroid hormones, which is needed during preconception and pregnancy. Australia introduced mandatory fortification of bread and salts with Iodine in 2009 in response to a re-emergence of Iodine deficiency. Aiming for a prenatal vitamin that includes at least 200mcg iodine will ensure you are covered.
Eggs, eggs, eggs.
Less than 10% of people are meeting their needs for choline, yet it plays a very similar role to folate in preventing neural tube defects. It is not commonly included in supplements, but eggs are one of the best dietary sources of choline, with 2 eggs providing around 50% of daily requirements.
Sardines, beef, lamb, chicken for meat eaters. Lentils, quinoa, asparagus, spinach for the vegetarians.
These foods are rich in iron. And whilst iron requirements don’t increase in pregnancy until the 2nd and 3rd trimester, it is not uncommon for women to enter pregnancy with low or deficient stores. Iron is responsible for transporting oxygen via haemoglobin around the body and between mother and baby, essential to provide energy for everyday life. Where possible, mix your meat and veg with vitamin C-rich foods to maximise absorption. When taking supplements, avoid eating foods high in calcium or drinking beverages containing caffeine for at least 1-2 hours, as these can interfere with absorption.
Get in the sun
Vitamin D is important through all stages of pregnancy, but it is another vitamin that many women are lacking. We obtain the majority of our vitamin D through the sun’s contact on the skin, with a smaller amount coming from foods such as salmon, sardines and snapper and even less in milk and
eggs. It is important in the regulation of calcium in the body (therefore bone quality) and in maintaining our immune system. Even though we live in a relatively sunny climate, vitamin D status can easily be compromised during winter and in those who work indoors. I always recommend getting your vitamin D levels checked through each trimester and into the postpartum period, where
research has also found that exclusively breastfed infants are at higher risk of vitamin D deficiency, given many mothers do not consume enough so supplementation may be required.
Prenatal supplements in preconception planning
A prenatal supplement should be part of every women’s preconception / pregnancy plan. This is important to ensure that regardless of food intake, they are meeting the basic requirements of certain nutrients known to play a key role in the healthy development of their baby.
One of the most well known is folate and its role in supporting closure of the neural tube in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, preventing neural tube defects such as spina bifida which can be life threatening. Start by choosing a supplement with at least 500mcg folate.
The challenge is that so many products are available, and it can be difficult to navigate. There is also no such thing as a one size fits all approach – every woman has her own unique health history, blood work and dietary intake, so should consider working with a nutrition professional to select the right
mix of good quality supplements to meet her and her baby’s needs.