Lauren Zielinski CNM, MSN, RN is a Certified Nurse-Midwife, and the founder of a grassroots women’s health movement called New Moon Rising Events. New Moon Rising works in cities across the US to hold free, day-long workshops that foster discussion about reproductive health, political advocacy, natural medicine options, and community connections.
ed note: The views expressed in this article intend to share information and induce conversation, in an effort to empower women to be proactive in their health if and when they try to conceive. As always when it comes to matters of health, we encourage you to do your research, listen to your mind and gut, and talk with your doctor so that you can create a plan that’s optimal for you. And of course – if you’ve been pregnant in the past and didn’t necessarily follow this advice — well, that makes two of us, and you are just fine.
Preconception: the magical time frame that occurs before you conceive. The time when thoughts and dreams of a cute little mini-me and soft little baby snuggles are swirling in your head. The time you and a partner are having exciting conversations about “starting to try.” The time in which you’re deciding whether or not now is a good time to give up on the parties, the sleeping in and the whirlwind weekend vacation lifestyle you’ve spent most of your twenties expertly perfecting. This time before you start trying is actually the ideal time to start preparing your body and mind for pregnancy. Here’s why!
When you conceive a babe, you and your partner are passing down your genes and laying down the blueprint for your future kiddos health and their kids health, and their kids health and so on! Putting in the time and effort to be sure you’re living your healthiest you when you conceive is actually very important so that the DNA you pass down is primo! (kisses hand like an old Italian guy)
The center for disease control reports that rates of infertility amongst women of childbearing age are at an all time high of 12% nationally. The common current belief is that the contributing culprits to these rising rates are a mix of changes in our diet over the past 50-70 years, increased exposure to toxins and chemicals and uncontrolled stress levels.
Does that geek anyone else out? To counter that scary factoid, here’s some good news: Recent research on women of childbearing age in the UK demonstrated that women who had even the most basic preconception care (healthy diet counseling and instructions to take prenatal vitamins while trying to conceive) had lower rates of infertility, decreased rates of miscarriage, still birth, infant death and birth defects. Whoa mama! That’s impressive data.
So, when do you start preconception care?
I recommend calling your midwife or lady doc for an appointment about 4-6 months prior to “starting to try.” It takes sperm and eggs about that long to mature, so once you start implementing and maintaining your new and informed pre-conception lifestyle changes you should have strong-happy-healthy-baby-ready-sperm and eggs in about 4 months.
1. Lifestyle Changes
Avoid! Avoid! Avoid! Put down the glass of pinot and take a deep breath ladies – the very best thing you can do for the health of your unborn baby to be while you’re trying to conceive is to totally quit drinking alcohol, cut way back on caffeine AND definitely stop all other recreational drug use or smoking. Avoidance of toxins and teratogens (like alcohol and chemicals than can cause birth defects) is one of the easiest ways to prevent major health issues as well as developmental and birth defects in your unborn baby. That’s a big deal. Pay attention!
What’s the deal with drinking?
Drinking more than 2 bottles of wine per week or 14+ beverages a week can decrease your rates of fertility – more importantly though – no amount of alcohol is safe when you’re trying to conceive. Your baby is majorly developing in the first few weeks of pregnancy and is especially susceptible to alcohol during the 3rd – 8th week after conception. Weeks 3 and 4 of pregnancy are when you’re just realizing (or not realizing) you missed your period. The scariest thing about alcohol and fetal development is that often times we don’t see anything wrong with these kiddos when they’re born, however the effects can come out in the form of developmental and learning disabilities later in life. Insert crying emoji. Just say no, chicas.
Drinking more than 300 mg of caffeine per day while trying to conceive is associated with a 30% chance of miscarriage. Bummer for all the coffee addicts like me! Aim to drink less than 200 mg of caffeine per day. That’s no more than 1 ½ cups of coffee… you can do it!
Smoking while trying to conceive is associated with a 3 times increased risk of heart defects and may account for 13% of infertility cases in the US. Smoking is really really really bad for you for many reasons, so preparing for a healthy babe is another great reason to quit – if you smoke, try using a patch to quit, wean down with an e-pen, or look into getting hypnotized to quit! The time is now.
2. Eliminate Yucky Environmental Toxins
Women who are exposed to pesticides and toxins have a harder time conceiving. A recent study showed that women who ate organic fruits and vegetables with less toxic pesticides had higher rates of pregnancy success. Eliminating pesticides, chemicals and plastics that can seep into your body is a simple way to increase your chances of conceiving. This is something I recommend sticking with before, during, and after pregnancy because, ew chemicals.
3. Find Your Happy Place
Stress is toxic ya’ll! Stress hormones actually change the way your sex and reproductive hormones balance themselves, throwing off your natural flow and making it harder to get pregnant or stay pregnant. Additionally mental health imbalances and struggles can be magnified in the pregnancy and postpartum period. If you struggle with depression or anxiety, you are already at an increased risk for postpartum depression and anxiety, so you want to be sure you’re in a good place before you think about conceiving. The research also shows that cognitive behavioral therapy is as effecting as using pharmaceuticals, so you don’t need to run to meds if you’re not already using them. Start by finding a good therapist and see them regularly until you feel like you’re ready for the huge changes a baby brings into your life. Feeling as mentally stable and as grounded as possible before you add the craziness of a new babe is super important.
4. Health Yourself
Start prenatal vitamins and folic acid supplementation ASAP! 400 mcg of folic acid/day as well as a vegetarian or vegan prenatal vitamin is preferred.
Add dissolvable b12 vitamins 1-2x/day.
Avoidance of highly processed grains, sugars and starches is a great place to start if you’re trying to kick your health into gear. Carb-loading can cause insulin resistance which can in turn effect your reproductive metabolism, making it harder to get pregnant or stay pregnant.
Load your diet with as many fruits, vegetables and whole foods as possible.
Enjoy a good, hearty amount of whole fats like high quality coconut and olive oils, avocados, whole fat butter, nuts and grass-fed meats.
Add plenty of spices like turmeric, cinnamon, black pepper, cayenne, chili, coriander, cumin, cardamom and garlic to your diet.
Eat upwards of 60 grams of protein every day.
If you have irregular periods or cycles start the supplement Vitex, also known as Chaste Tree Berry. This supplement increases natural progesterone and lengthens the luteal phase of your cycle which can make getting pregnant easier.
If you’re looking for a good Naturopathic Doctor to help you along your journey towards a baby I highly recommend Dr. Jaclyn Chasse. She is available for video chat appointments and is a wealth of knowledge! Check her website here.