The Important of Preconception Care

23 Jun, 2018

So, you’re thinking about having a baby.  Have you thought about your preconceptive health and how this can impact not only your ability to conceive but also the health of your baby?

Diet is now recognized as one of the major environmental factors influencing the health of the embryo, fetus and mother.  Particular micronutrient deficiencies have now been associated with preventable reproductive risks.  Studies have found that the preconception period is critical in determining fetal development and health and can prevent congenital abnormalities, fetal loss, miscarriage, premature birth and pre-eclampsia. 

Malnutrition is a state produced by an inadequate intake of a good quality diet.  This can mean intake of too few nutrients (under-nutrition) or too many macronutrients (overnutrition) or excessive amount of substances (alcohol).  Interestingly vitamin and mineral deficiencies occur in both under and overnutrition.

Mum’s-to-be are used to taking folic acid supplements during pregnancy to prevent neural tube defects but did you know that ensuring adequate calcium and magnesium levels can reduce the risk of pregnancy induced hypertension and ensuing adequate zinc levels may improve birthweights and reduce prematurity.

The process of implantation and placentation is also affected by maternal nutrition.  The function of the placenta is critical for nourishing the fetus throughout the pregnancy.  The placenta forms a highly branched structure of veins and arteries that provide nutrients and oxygen to the fetus to ensure appropriate fetal growth.  Inadequate formation of these arteries during implantation can result in decreased circulation to the placenta in the third trimester resulting in pre-eclampsia or placental abruption.

Pre-conceptional maternal nutrition plays a key role in reproductive health affecting both fertility and early gestation. Insufficient energy stores may negatively affect ovulation and menstruation and challenge the beginning of pregnancy.  Excessive fat stores may inhibit conception by affecting ovulation due to insensitivity of cells to insulin, an excess of male hormones and an over production of leptin.

Good nutrition alters the development of the placenta, which can affect the growth of the fetus into the second and third trimesters and also enhances the quality of the breast milk post-delivery. 

Micronutrients that are especially important in the preconception period:

Micronutrient

Function

Folate & B12

Involved in DNA replication and for the prevention or neural tube defects (Folate)

Vitamin B6

Involved in amino acid metabolism, blood and neurotransmitter formation

Vitamin A

Growth and differentiation of a number of cells and tissues, development of the immune and nervous systems

Antioxidants

Defense systems against free radicals

Iron

Carries oxygen to the tissues.  Low iron status found to be related to placental size (small)

Zinc

Structural functions, immune function and a co-factor for numerous enzymes.  Important for cell proliferation and protein synthesis and reducing cellular oxidative damage.  Adequate levels improve birth weight and reduce prematurity

Copper

Neurotransmission, defense from free radical damage


How long should the preconceptive period be?

The longer the better however, focusing on a healthy diet and increasing nutrient levels for at least 3 months prior to pregnancy for both Mum-and-Dad-to-be will increase the changes of a successful and healthy pregnancy.  Continuing the consumption of adequate nutrients throughout the pregnancy and during breast feeding will help to ensure a low risk and successful pregnancy and a healthier bub.

Preconceptive care is for men too

For along time now infertility has been thought of as a “women’s problem”.  However, sperm make up 50% of the baby and having good quality sperm is vitally important for making a healthy baby.  Diet and nutrient intake play a role in proper sperm formation and motility.  Some important nutrients for Dad’s to be to consider:

  • Omega 3 fatty acids found in oily fish ensure sperm have a cone shaped head full of important egg opening enzymes.
  • Vitamin C and zinc protect sperm from DNA damage, help to prevent chromosomal problems and reduce the risk of miscarriage.  Vitamin C also reduces sperm clumping and improves sperm motility.

Coffees – how many do you do? More than 3 cups daily have been found to reduce sperm concentration, count and quality. 

Sperm are also susceptible to oxidative damage and free radicals and one of the biggest causes of this damage in recent times is radiofrequency electromagnetic waves. Free-radical damage causes sperm immobility, cell death and lowers the integrity of the DNA. Keep phones out of pant pockets and avoid holding laptops and iPads directly on your lap.

Sperm like to be kept cool.  Did you know that the testicles are several degrees cooler than the rest of your body.  Keep them cool by avoiding hot baths, spas, tight underpants and clothing. 

The good news – sperm production takes 42 – 76 days from production through maturation to ejaculation so whilst some sperm are ready to go others are just in the process of formation.  Preconceptive care enables Dad’s to be to improve both the health and count of their sperm over a relatively short 3 month period.

Kerryn Odell is a nutritionist at Health Space Mona Vale and is available for appointments on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. For enquiries about pre-conception health, call 9979 8887.