By Naturopath Kasey Willson
If you’re planning on having a baby, now more than ever is the time to address your dietary choices. By you both nourishing your body with nutritious whole foods and drinks during this preconception phase, as a team you and your partner can positively impact the overall health of your baby. According to research1, a healthy diet for both Mum and Dad- to-be, has powerfully shown to lower the risk of birth defects.
It is also an opportunity to replenish your stores of nutrients that will be required for important pregnancy processes, soon after conception takes place, for example the need for Folate to reduce the risk of birth defects effecting the brain and/or spinal cord, such as neural tube defects.
Choosing the right foods can support you in multiple ways, which I guide you through, in my preconception guide Glowing Mumma. Firstly, you can use foods to support your natural detoxification within your body and secondly, you can use them to build up your stores and nourish you with fertility and pregnancy health nutrients, such as zinc, Iodine, Folate, B12, glycine, choline, DHA, vitamin A, D E and K2.
Your (Mum-to-be) diet preconception is also important to supply your body with adequate nutrients to support your blood, bones, organs and tissues. By spending time to nourish your body during this preconception phase, you are preventing depletions of your nutritional reserves as your baby grows, during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Just an example here is the importance of building up your bone health nutrients, such as vitamin D, K2 and minerals Magnesium and Calcium. If your stores are already low preconception and baby takes what it needs throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding, this leaves you in a deficient state and could contribute to issues such as tooth demineralisation, or worse, bone density loss throughout your body.
You are (and your baby’s health is dependent on) both what you eat AND absorb. Supporting your gut health is crucial pre- pregnancy, to enhance the digestion of your foods and the absorption of their nutrients. Good gut health also allows effective detoxification within your body and promotes a balanced immune system and brain health.
Now is also the time to focus on supporting a healthy microbiota within your gut, for when you are ready to welcome your baby into the world through birth. You will be able to nourish bubs with an inoculation of beneficial bacteria when he or she enters the world through your vaginal birth canal (or is swabbed in the practise of seeding, post a caesarean delivery).
Ok, so you know a healthy diet is needed, but are you actually getting in important fertility and pregnancy health nutrients to support and nourish you and your baby Daddy, heading into conception. Lets explore this...
Being hydrated with pure water will help you to detoxify during this preconception phase, and continues to be of importance throughout your pregnancy and breastfeeding journey.
Here I’m placing an important emphasis on your water being filtered for both your consumption and bathing, particularly from the chemical chlorine and the heavy metal, fluoride which are added to most mains water supplies.
Calcium fluoride can be naturally found in our water supplies; but let's not get that confused with the health damaging form which is added, called solocofluoride. This form of fluoride has a much higher toxicity to you and once pregnant, your baby’s body. It’s actually a cheap by-product of phosphate fertiliser, aluminium and steel production which is dumped into your water ways. Not exactly preconception friendly.
Fluoride also competes with the uptake and utilisation of iodine in your body, which you and your baby need for a healthy brain and thyroid gland. Additionally, fluoride has been associated with hormone disruption, lower fertility rates and sperm toxicity.2,3,4
Among thyroid issues, fluoride exposure in adults has been linked to arthritis, bone cancer, lower IQ and osteoporosis.5
Chlorine is antibacterial, so if you're inhaling and ingesting the fumes and water, it will affect your microbiome such as the beneficial bacteria on your skin and within your gut. We know our good bugs play a major role in detoxification, digestion of your foods, building your immunity, supporting your brain and hormone health and you want to be doing everything you can to support your precious microbiome preconception, ready for passing onto your baby. When your levels are under attack, this can contribute to health conditions throughout your body.
I’ll let you in on a secret- I cant stand chlorinated pools. It has to be in a pretty impressive location for me to jump in one (this did happen last year at WA’s Lake Arglye). I think growing up on a farm, being spoilt with rainwater to shower and bathe in, having chlorine and fluoride free water) is an important priority for me.
I am extra sensitive now when I am exposed to chlorine fumes. Like when I moved up to Adelaide to study and of course travelling, it really hits me.
The gases released from chlorine are also lung irritants, can irritate the eyes and skin and also contributes to topical skin conditions such as eczema.
Chlorine also competes with the uptake of, iodine – as you know now, this is a critical mineral needed for neurological development and function, thyroid and breast health.
Preconception, you want your thyroid to be in tip top shape, as once you conceive, your baby will rely on your thyroid hormones for up to the first half of your pregnancy.
Too little iodine can also cause an underactive thyroid function and when an expecting Mums' iodine status is even mild to moderately deficient, the thyroid health of your baby is affected.
Low iodine may also contribute to neurological development and cognitive performance issues in the baby.6
Our soils are already very deficient in iodine and despite iodine fortified foods, alarmingly the iodine intake of 65% of pregnant women and 85% of lactating women in Australia and NZ is below the estimated average requirement for these critical life stages.7
A whole house filter is therefore recommended for fluoride and chlorine removal, but one that doesn’t strip your water of beneficial minerals, such as a reverse osmosis system. If you have one, opt for the remineralisation option.
Although it won’t neutralise other toxins within mains water supplies, such as fluoride, pesticides, pharmaceutical drugs and trihalaomethans, if you can’t source a chlorine filter for your bath (great for when you’re travelling), you can fill it up with hot water, leaving the room to let it off-gas for 20 + minutes and then hop in. You can also add 1000mg of vitamin C to the bath to help neutralise the chlorine and chloramines8 or supplementing with some vitamin C prior to bathing, showering or drinking chlorinated water is good practise.
Supporting your good gut bugs is integral leading into your pregnancy, to enhance your detoxification within your body, the digestion of your foods and absorption of nutrients, strengthen your immune system and support brain health among so much more. An effective way to do this is through the consumption of fermented foods.
But…. Are you thinking back to the last time you sipped on a chilled kombucha and reminiscing on the bloated feeling you had for hours after? Then not all fermented foods will be for you right now.
Throughout your preconception detox phase, wild ferments such as sauerkraut and kombucha may need to be left off of the table for some weeks. This will avoid feeding any potential overgrowth of commensal gut bugs that you might have, such as the fungus candida. In this case, it would be a cause of experiencing symptoms after cheersing with kombucha.
Candida naturally lives within a healthy gut, where it doesn’t give much benefit, nor cause any damage. Within an imbalanced gut environment and vulnerable immune system, an overgrowth can occur. Candida can also morph into a more pathogenic form (called Mycelium fungi), which travel throughout the body and penetrate the tissues, contributing to a case of leaky gut, nutritional deficiencies and symptoms of fatigue, fogginess and immune challenge such as thrush.
Fermented foods still play an important role in supporting your good gut bugs- it’s just a matter of choosing the right ones. During your preconception detox phase, this is a time to focus on certain fermented foods which won’t contribute to a candida overgrowth, but will help control the overgrowth and boost your beneficial gut bugs. Products I love and are always in our fridge, include homemade coconut yoghurt and coconut water kefir and are my first recommendation for your preconception fermented food nourishment. For my fav brand of cultures (to make your own), head over to Kultured Wellness and use code BABY to get 10% off of your cultures order.
Cod Liver Oil
It is important that you are including omega 3 and 6 fats in balance through your daily diet and an omega 3 supplement may provide further anti- inflammatory and detoxification support for both parents during the preconception phase and into pregnancy.
Having a good status preconception and throughout pregnancy can reduce the risk of premature birth,9 is beneficial to optimise your child’s IQ and protects against issues such as autism, delays in development and ADHD. This is mainly due to the DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) component of omega 3 fatty acids, which makes up approximately 20% of the fatty acids of the brain’s cerebral cortex.
Yuur body can’t produce your own omega 3’s, so once pregnant, dietary and supplementation supply is relied upon to support this normal neurological and physical growth and development of your foetus.8 Cod liver oil supplementation has specifically shown through research to increase the IQ of babies to mothers who supplemented throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding, when they were followed up at age 4.9
Providing adequate DHA through oily fish consumption and supplementation pre and during pregnancy, allows for adequate levels for the transfer of the crucial DHA from mother to baby, to help support brain and nervous system development, especially the rapid growth of baby’s brain during the third trimester.
My personal preference preconception is cod liver oil as it contains natural levels of vitamin A and D, alongside the omega 3 EPA and DHA.
Note: not all cod liver oils are the same. They differ in quality, purity and nutritional composition. I list my favs within my Glowing Mumma Preconception Guide.
Chicken Liver Pate
Another powerful source of fat-soluble vitamins A and K2 and other important preconception nutrients such as folate, choline and iron, is liver. Organ meats are much superior in nutritional value as oppose to muscle meats, such as a cut of steak.
Now before you screw up your face, have you actually tried it before? Chicken livers made into a pate, offers a palatable way of delivering these nutrients. Alternatively, you can ask your butcher to add organic liver through your mincemeat, or you can source organic freeze-dried beef liver capsules. Start by adding small amount into your diet per week (20gms) and work up to around 100gms per week.
It is important to source your liver from chooks, which are free to roam amongst sunlight, pasture and if fed grain, only grain free from sprays such as glyphosate. In other words, organic. This is for reducing toxicity exposure, as well as optimising nutritional content of the livers- such as omega 3's and K2 in pasture raised chooks.
Eggs, especially egg yolks are a powerhouse of fertility nutrients. Along with being a source of protein, they contain choline, folate, DHA and iodine.
Let’s chat about choline quickly- the nutrient which is similar to B group vitamins. Choline is critical for reducing the risk of neural tube defects and is required at sufficient levels for healthy foetal central nervous system and brain health. Focus is needed to reach recommended daily intake throughout the three trimesters of pregnancy, so it is best practise to start building up your food intake of choline now, with regular egg and liver consumption.
Another bonus of sourcing eggs form pastured chooks on green grasses is they generally create brighter coloured orange yolk and therefore contain greater amounts of pre-formed vitamin A.
Foods such as cod liver oil, liver and egg yolk are so valuable due to their fat soluble vitamin content. Your nutritional demand for fat soluble vitamins, especially vitamin A increases pre-conception for you and your partner. Vitamin A is crucial for healthy reproduction, including sperm health, embryonic and fetal development and therefore sufficient levels preconception can also reduce the risk of miscarriage.
Most commonly, vitamin A is known for it’s importance in the development of eyes and vision, but it also plays a vital role in skeletal and nervous system development, along with the prevention of deafness, internal organ displacement and birth defects.11
Interestingly, the thyroid requires more vitamin A than any other organs and glands and therefore healthy levels are crucial for thyroid health. As you know by now, thyroid health is paramount for your fertility health.
There are two sources of vitamin A -preformed vitamin A (retinol), which your body can use immediately for use, or pro-vitamin betacarotene sources, which need to be converted into retinol for your body to use as vitamin A. Retinol food and supplement sources are shown to be around six times more efficiently used by your body over the plant food sources and supplements of betacarotene (so six units of beta-carotene are needed to produce one unit of vitamin A).12 Hence the recommendation to seek out these animal sources throughout your preconception journey.
The time prior to conceiving is the perfect opportunity to set yourself up for healthy fertility and top up your nutritional reserves. Throughout your preconception detox and nourishing phase, be sure to filter you’re your tap water to nourish your body through clean pure water; feed your gut and immune system with strain specific probiotic rich fermented foods. Give your body access to Vitamin A, Vitamin K2, B12 and Zinc through super nutrition sources such as liver pate, cod liver oil and pasture raised eggs.
Now, I’m off to make up a batch of bubba friendly pate for my little one, using the recipe within my baby book, Thriving Bubba.
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