By Dr. Annika
Many people think that if you want to have a baby, you just stop taking the pill, fall pregnant and have a happy, healthy baby. And are often left wondering why it doesn’t happen like that.
Why is preconception care important? Well, everything that has happened in the last 3 generations can potentially affect a baby. There have been studies done on men who were starved when they were teenagers, and the effects were seen on their grandchildren, who had increased levels of heart disease, diabetes, breast cancer and diabetes. The baby’s reproductive organs are some of the first to form, so what a pregnant mum eats or is exposed to can directly affect her children’s as well as her grandchildren’s health.
What about dads? The same goes for dads. If dads start smoking before the age of 11, their sons are more likely to be fat, for example.
But it’s not only nutrition that’s important. Through epigenetics (the science of how genes are switched on and off) all sorts of other things can get passed on too.
For example, there was an intriguing study performed on mice, where male mice were exposed to a particular smell (cherry ripe) and given a shock at the same time. The mice developed a strong fear of the smell. Their sperm was used in IVF (so they never met the mother mice) to impregnate female mice, and their offspring showed fear of the same smell, as did their grand-pups!
Preconception care is based on the premise that it takes two healthy parents to conceive and a relaxed, nurtured pregnancy to birth a healthy child. Makes sense, doesn’t it?
How do you go about preconception care? Both parents should start preconception care at least 4 months prior to trying to conceive (it takes 4 months to make a sperm cell). Some of it is fairly straight-forward – or at least well known, such as exercising, getting to a good body weight, stopping smoking and drinking, eating really well and start taking preconception supplements – yes, dads too! It takes some very specific nutrients to make sperm, and many men have poor sperm motility and morphology (that’s swimmers bad at swimming and not shaped right when it’s at home).
During the pregnancy, mum should be as relaxed and happy as possible, as the amount of stress hormones she releases will have a direct impact on her baby’s body. With high stress hormones the baby’s muscles are developed more, with low stress hormones the brain and the organs develop better.
Preconception, pregnancy and infant care are a very intricate dance and we would recommend seeing a naturopath prior to trying to conceive in order for you to have a healthy child. After all, you will only be expected to “deprive” yourself for a number of months so your child can be happy and healthy for life. And the fitter and healthier you are, the better you will be able to cope with a baby and toddler. And who knows, you just might enjoy feeling healthy, too!