11 October, 2021
Would you like to become pregnant in the next year?
Did you know that 75% of Aussies plan for their retirement, yet only half will plan for their pregnancies (Mazza et al. 2012)?
Research shows that couples frequently will only seek guidance on preconception care when they are having trouble conceiving.
And yet, the benefits of being fit, healthy and well prior to conception can have long term impact on your future child's health.
I'm repeating that because it's so important..... Your pre-pregnancy health affects your adult kids' health.
What does Preconception Care help with?
- Prevent birth defects such as the spine not closing around the spinal cord, absent brain and heart defects
- Less birthweight abnormalities (being born too light or too heavy)
- Reduces preterm labour (going into labour earlier than 37 weeks)
- Less weight gain during pregnancy
- Identify infertility earlier to start treatment sooner
- Decreased incidence of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
- Reduce incidence of colic and reflux in babies
- Minimises delays in neurological development in baby
- Prevents fragile bones in the baby
- Improves maternal health
- Decreases chances of maternal deaths due to pregnancy & birth complications
- Improves offsprings' health as a foetus, baby and throughout adulthood including obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes
- Reduces risk of gestational diabetes and high blood pressure
- Decreased stillbirths and miscarriages
- Improved chances of breastfeeding with all its benefits
Sources: (Beckmann et al 2014) (Dorney & Black 2018) (Mitchell & Milerad nd) (RANZCOG 2017) (Shenassa & Brown 2004)
How to optimise your preconception health?
Eating a healthy and varied diet is always important. During the pre-conception phase, this helps build up your stores and ensures that should you fall pregnant, that you've got plenty of wonderful nutrients to keep you and bubs healthy.
Bubs will demand lots of certain nutrients as it grows and develops. Less than a quarter of Aussies women consume enough folate prior and in early pregnancy (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2011).
Some nutrients to be particularly mindful of are:
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin B12
For some people, they require more than just a standard prenatal multivitamin. Some medication depletes our nutrients. Some illnesses prevent our absorption and utilisation of vitamins and minerals such as coeliac or diabetes. Also being overweight or having a family history may require increased supplementation levels.
It's also recommended to avoid excessive consumption of:
- Vitamin A
- Mercury containing fish
Exercise has numerous effects for both mum and future baby. It's recommended to exercise for 30 minutes on most days, or around 2.5 hours of exercise a week. Strength training should be included twice weekly and pelvic floor exercises included on most days. Essentially, during preconception, you exercise as if you are pregnant.
Healthy diet & exercise can also help control blood sugar levels. This is particularly important in diabetics to improve chances of conception as well as reduce risks within pregnancy.
Additionally, being strong pre-conception can help reduce back pain which is very common in pregnancy! Up to 78% of women complain of back or pelvic pain during pregnancy. For around a quarter of women, this persists years after pregnancy (Long et al. 2021).
Smoking, Alcohol & Illicit Drugs
Substance use can have serious consequences for unborn babies. During the preconception period, if not prior, is a great time to work on breaking addictions or reducing your consumption levels. There's no known "safe" level of alcohol during pregnancy to consume.
Being over or underweight can make falling pregnant more challenging and result in complications during pregnancy and birth. It also has long term effects on the health of the baby.
Being overweight, with a Body Mass Index (BMI) over 30, is one of the most common causes of infertility, miscarriage, stillbirths and adverse pregnancy outcomes (RANZCOG 2017).
One study showed that a 10% decrease in pre-pregnancy BMI reduced still birth risk by a further 10% (Schummers et al 2015). Every little bit helps!
In addition, our pre-pregnancy health reflects our kids' future chances of being overweight themselves, even into adulthood.
Toxins & Infections
We can be exposed to toxins and infections in a variety of settings, such as:
- Travel illnesses such as Zika virus, malaria and Bali belly
- Sexually transmitted diseases
- At work such as paint fumes
- Around the home including renovations
- Certain medications that are inappropriate during pregnancy
Our mental wellbeing can play a role in how we deal with the stresses of trying to conceive. What's more, stress impacts our ability to fall pregnant!
A previous history of anxiety or depression places mums and dads at greater risk for perinatal anxiety and depression. Yes dad's can get postnatal depression as well.
There's also research that links the mum's stress response with her growing unborn baby's.
We know Rome wasn't built in a day, so taking action in preconception is ideal. This may be seeking assistance from a psychologist, counsellor or biofeedback practitioner or doing some home practice meditation, mindfulness or a gratitude journal.
Is preconception care just for mums-to-be?
No. Our weight, substance use, nutrition, exercise, stress and toxins all affect sperm quality too. For example, smoking damages sperm DNA and increases the risk of childhood cancers (RANZCOG 2017).
It's also good to be on the health journey as a couple. You can have common goal of wanting a beautiful, healthy baby so you can help motivate and keep each other accountable.
About the Author
Dr Cassie Atkinson-Quinton - Chiropractor, Doula, Women's Health Yoga & Pilates Instructor, Spinning Babies Lover
As a Chiropractor, Doula and perinatal Pilates & Yoga instructor, Dr Cassie loves to help pregnant women keep fit, healthy and comfortable. Knowing how empowering it felt to be fit and energetic during the pregnancy of her son inspires Cassie to want this for her patients. Cassie incorporates Spinning Babies, Yoga and Pilates exercises into her prenatal and postpartum Chiropractic sessions. She's currently studying her Graduate Certificate in Women's Health Medicine through the University of New South Wales.
Similar articles you'll enjoy:
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2011). Mandatory Folic Acid and Iodine Fortification in Australia and New Zealand: Baseline Report for Monitoring. Canberra: AIHW, 2011.
- Beckmann MM, Widmer T & Bolton E (2014). Does preconception care work? Does preconception care work?Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology 2014; 54: 510–514
- Dorney E & Black K (2018). Preconception Care. Australian Journal of General Practice. 47 (7): 424-29. Accessed via https://www1.racgp.org.au/ajgp/2018/july/preconception-care
- Long G, Yaoyao Z, Na Y, Ping Y, Mingsheng T. Generalized joint laxity as a predictor of recovering from low back pain during pregnancy–A prospective study. Journal of Orthopaedic Science. 2021 Mar 9.
- Mazza D, Harrison C, Taft A, et al. (2012) Current contraceptive management in Australian general practice: An analysis of BEACH data. Med J Aust. 197(2):110–14.
- Mitchell & Milerad (nd). Smoking and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. World Health Organisation (WHO). Accessed via https://www.who.int/tobacco/media/en/mitchell.pdf
- The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG), 2017. Pre-pregnancy Counselling.
- Schummers L, Hutcheon JA, Bodnar LM, Lieberman E, Himes KP (2015). Risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes by prepregnancy body mass index: A population‐based study to inform prepregnancy weight loss counseling. Obstet Gynecol. 125(1):133–43. doi: 10.1097/ AOG.0000000000000591.
- Shenassa ED & Brown MJ (2004). Maternal smoking and infantile gastrointestinal dysregulation: the case of colic. Pediatrics Oct;114(4):e497-505. doi: 10.1542/peds.2004-1036. PMID: 15466076.