A Functional Health Practitioner Shares 5 Ways to Optimize Preconception Health
by Sara Victor
We prepare for the important occasions in our lives, like planning our wedding or training for a marathon. Pregnancy is arguably the most significant time, and yet preconception health is not adequately considered in our current healthcare model.
We are told to “try” and come back after a year if pregnancy is not achieved. With many couples pursuing personal and professional goals and having children later, it becomes paramount to understand our health status prior to conception.
We are conditioned to wait until there’s a problem to address our health. Why? Wouldn’t we save a lot of time and heartache if we shifted to proactive care, instead of reactive care?
Like many new moms, having my first child changed my perspective on life. Pregnancy and postpartum are beautiful and sacred times, but also undoubtedly depleting on a woman’s body. I was surprised that nutritional counseling is not standard prenatal care aside from a recommendation for a basic prenatal multivitamin.
As I connected with more women, I learned how many struggled with fertility or dealt with debilitating symptoms/complications while pregnant or postpartum. Health issues seemed to only increase with each subsequent pregnancy.
I knew there had to be a better way.
I realized we have to redefine how we think about these stages, and prioritize addressing root causes and taking a holistic approach to our health prior to conception.
Actively preparing our body can boost fertility, promote egg quality, increase chances of a healthy conception, reduce the likelihood or severity of symptoms, decrease the risk of pregnancy complications, allow for better birth outcomes and improve postpartum recovery. It also plays a vital role in our baby’s health as they inherit our toxicity levels and gut microbiome (where +70% of our immune system lives).
Health begins in the home. We don’t have to be ready for a baby tomorrow to make lasting changes today. These are foundational tools so that when the time comes, we are ready.
Consume a Nutrient-Dense + Balanced Diet
Gut health and nutrient deficiencies play a big role in the health of mama and baby. We require specific nutrients at optimal levels to support development throughout each trimester and into postpartum. Standard prenatal care typically begins around 8 weeks gestation. Establishing these levels prior to conception is necessary as there are important functions that take place in the first 4-6 weeks (before many women learn they are pregnant) and when 1st trimester symptoms can make it difficult to consume nutrient-dense foods.
A diet rich in quality protein, healthy fats and whole foods carbohydrates is essential. Opting for organic, local, seasonal produce and organic, grass-fed, pasture-raised, or wild caught animal proteins increases nutrient-density. Adding trace minerals or electrolytes to clean water helps to promote hydration and sufficient mineral levels. Soaking grains and legumes and consuming warm foods can support digestion.
Learning how to balance blood sugar levels can help to alleviate many symptoms we think of being synonymous with pregnancy. It can also reduce the risk of gestational diabetes. Consuming 3 meals per day containing adequate protein and fat can support blood sugar and maintain energy levels.
Open Drainage Pathways
Our drainage pathways are our body’s natural detoxification systems. In our modern world, we are constantly exposed to toxins that fill our toxin bucket and block drainage pathways, increasing the risk for complications.
I love the bathtub metaphor to illustrate this concept. The tub symbolizes our body, the running water for toxins. When drainage pathways are open, water enters the bathtub and drains out. When the drain is plugged, water accumulates until it eventually begins to spill out onto the floor, causing damage. This is equivalent to an overflowing toxin bucket. When there’s an influx of toxins that our bodies cannot adequately filter out because our drainage pathways are blocked, excess toxins recirculate in the bloodstream and wreak havoc.
Daily bowel movements are essential. Quality sleep, hydration, sweating, castor oil packs over the liver, supporting lymph flow (dry brushing, rebounding, epsom salt baths, etc) are all easy ways to support natural detoxification.
Most of us would greatly benefit from a personalized detox plan prior to conception to further reduce toxin levels and promote deeper healing. All pathways must be open before a detox (from the colon to our cells), therefore it would be beneficial to work with a practitioner who can guide and support based on individual needs.
Minimize Toxin Load
Studies have shown that toxins can cross the placenta and that our babies are being born with more toxicity than our grand-parents experienced in their lifetime. This means that they start their life already more susceptible to health issues.
What we consume, breathe in, and put on our bodies all matter. It’s impossible to avoid everything; the goal is to operate from a place of empowerment (over fear) and take measures with things within our control.
Start with foods and products that are used daily, and then replace items as they run out. Follow the EWG’s Dirty Dozen/Clean 15 if buying organic is new, get a water filter and air purifier or open windows daily for air flow, and switch out for clean and non-toxic skincare, makeup and cleaning supplies to reduce overall burden.
Mindset + Nervous System Support
There can be a lot of fear surrounding pregnancy and becoming a new mom. Learning to understand our thought patterns, shifting our mindset and regulating our nervous system are critical components of preparing the body for conception.
Stress is part of life. Unfortunately, many are stuck in “fight or flight” mode which can lead to hormonal imbalances, impaired digestion, and more. A stressed body will not prioritize reproduction.
Stored emotions and traumas can impact our physiology and weaken our organs. Research has shown the effects of generational traumas and how stress impacts a baby in utero. Just as we need to release toxins, we need to release these too. Our children learn how to regulate their emotions through our ability to regulate our own.
Daily sun exposure, linking circadian rhythms, movement, time in nature, breathing techniques, community + connection, creative expression, gratitude journals, meditation, positive affirmations, and therapy are all great tools to implement.
Consider Functional Testing
We are all bio-individual. We know that blanket health protocols don’t work. We all have different health histories, deficiencies, lifestyles and genetics that influence our individual needs. This means what works for a friend or your favorite influencer may not work for you. With increasing health opinions all over social media, it can be hard to know what to do to feel our best and be our healthiest.
This is why functional testing is an extremely valuable tool to see the big picture. It allows us to see patterns relating to deficiencies, imbalances, toxicity and pathogens/infections creating dysfunction in the body and where individualized support is needed.
Working with a practitioner who can develop a solutions-driven, personalized plan to promote preconception health focused on whole foods, targeted supplementation and lifestyle practices is an invaluable investment for you and your baby.
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