Have you ever wondered why we plan so long for our wedding, but not for preparing for pregnancy? It might be because we know that if we put in the time to plan the music and flowers and colors that it will actually change the outcome rather than choosing blindly and hoping that the colors match.
It might be that we don’t think we have any control when it comes to conception and pregnancy, but the empowering part is that we actually do!
We do have influence on the health process and outcomes in our lives including the lives of our future children. There are modifiable factors that can effect fertility, pregnancy and the trajectory of health of our offspring for generations.
Pregnancy complications like high blood pressure, pre-eclampsia, and gestational diabetes are all able to be influenced by lifestyle factors as well as pregnancy out comes such as preterm birth and birth weight. The health of the child including risk for asthma, allergies, diabetes, obesity and even childhood cancer can even be influenced by factors of preconception. Which then may in turn influence which genes are turned on and inherited to your grandchildren.
This is exciting to realize that the things we do now can improve fertility, pregnancy, and the health of our future families!
It is not just women; men’s health and sperm quality also play an important role. Both the DNA from the sperm and egg carry memories. Depending on the environment, certain genes can be encoded to be turned off or turned on. Stressors and toxins and nutritional deficiencies can turn on genes that increase risk for metabolic syndrome, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and maybe other neurological disorders.
The good news is that a healthy diet and lifestyle can reverse this and turn them back off again. The switches don’t take long to turn. DNA can be switched on and off in as little as one day, usually with measurable changes within a few weeks. Because the full maturation process of a sperm and an egg is close to 90 days, it is usually recommended to start this planning process 3 months prior to conceiving.
The other good news is that most of these things are not just good for our fertility, they are good for our overall health.
1. Eating style – There may not be a one size fits all approach to eating. However, a good place to start is a Mediterranean style diet that is based on lots of rainbow-colored vegetables and fruits, includes plenty of fiber and avoids processed foods and sugar. Take a prenatal vitamin with a source of folate (preferable over folic acid). Also, make sure to get enough iron, vitamin D, B12, magnesium and choline.
2. Relaxation and stress management – Practicing relaxation techniques showed improved maternal emotional wellbeing, lower hospitalization rates, lower cesarian rates, and less risk of complications after pregnancy. As well as improved infant behavior and health. Try tai chi, yoga, aroma therapy, mediation or guided imagery. Also, men who practiced Yoga prior to conception were found to have improved sperm DNA quality.
3. Sleep – Focus on duration and quality and manage sleep apnea or other sleep disorders if needed. Make enough time for sleep, sleep in the dark, and get electronics out of the bedroom as much as possible.
4. Exercise – Get up and get moving, Yoga, brisk walking or swimming work well. Just don’t overdo it. Vigorous exercise can be associated with subfertility.
5. Decrease toxin exposure – Stop smoking, minimize or eliminate alcohol and try to eat organic when possible. Also avoid heating your food in plastic, clean up your skin care and cleaning supplies, filter your water, and avoid chemical lubricants.
6. Growth mindset/Connection/Spirituality– All of these help to improve our wellbeing and decreasing stress and fear states in our bodies. Work with being more flexible, reframing your challenges so that you can feel more hopeful. Involve loved ones and or calling on a higher power.
This is a message of empowerment that we can influence outcomes and improve our health and the health of our future children. It does not mean we need to be perfect. The more we can as humans take care of ourselves, our planet and one another, the healthier we and our future generations will be.