Prenatal health care is incredibly important because it lays down the foundation for the health of our future children.
However, many times women don’t think about prenatal care until they find out that they are pregnant. They might schedule a prenatal visit after they suspect pregnancy and meet with their health care provider for the first time several weeks into their pregnancy.
But by this time, the fetus has already been developing major organs. By week 5 of pregnancy, the fetus is developing it’s brain, spinal cord and heart.4 It’s during this crucial period that your baby is most at risk to develop birth defects.4 If you wait to start your prenatal health plan until you discover that you’re pregnant, then you might miss this important early time in the first trimester to positively impact your baby’s health.
Ideally, preparing for a healthy pregnancy should start long before you become pregnant. Your nutrition stores should be at their peak before trying to conceive.
Long-Term Preconception Planning
This is why long-term preconception planning is so important. Couples should start preparing to have children at least 4 to 6 months before they try to conceive in order to develop healthy sperm and a healthy egg. During preconception, it’s important to increase nutrients and detoxify from toxins. This will prepare a foundation for your child’s health. As any architect knows, foundations are incredibly important. No one wants to build a house on a weak, unstable foundation. Why would we develop our babies without first optimizing the foundation for their health?
What we put into our bodies affects the health of the next generation, and even the generation after that. The science of epigenetics is showing us that what we do today has long-term consequences on the health of subsequent generations. Therefore, long-term preconception planning is critically important.
What is Epigenetics?
To put it simply, epigenetics is the study of gene expression. Imagine a gene as a light switch that you can flip on or off. Epigenetics demonstrates how environment and lifestyle can turn genes on or off. Many people blame diseases or conditions on their genes, and assume that there is nothing they can do to change their situation. Epigenetics shows us that though we might not be able to control what we were born with, we can modify our lifestyle and environment to change gene expression.
For example, imagine that you were born with a gene that gave you a tendency for obesity. A healthy diet and lifestyle could keep that gene switched off. Also, imagine the opposite end for a person born with amazing healthy genes. A poor diet and lifestyle could turn on the expression of unhealthy genes.
This is exactly what the popular phrase “genetics loads the gun, and environment pulls the trigger” is getting at. Both genetics and environment play a role in our health outcomes. Since we can’t control our DNA map, let’s focus on actions that we can take to modify our environment in order to improve health outcomes by changing gene expression.
Epigenetics and Pregnancy
Why is this important for couples who are trying to conceive? It’s important because your lifestyle and environment affects your future child’s genetic expression.1 Imagine flipping your child’s obesity gene on or off. This is the kind of impact your lifestyle and environment can have on your future child.
Preconception planning is important for both men and women. The father’s environment influences the quality of his sperm, and the mother’s environment influences the quality of her egg. Both will come together and influence the health outcome of your baby.
Your preconception and pregnancy lifestyle not only impacts more immediate outcomes of birth such as low birth weight, preterm delivery, and birth defects, but it also influences the life-long health of your child into adulthood.1
Research examining Dutch offspring whose mothers had experienced famine during pregnancy, demonstrated that these offspring had increased obesity and heart disease.5 Researchers looking at the Dutch famine from 1944-1945 and a famine in China from 1959-1961 have demonstrated that children born during that time had an increased risk for schizophrenia.6
Unfortunately many young women continue to create their own famine-like environment in an effort to lose weight.3 If you are trying to conceive, eating a nutrient-dense diet and living a healthy lifestyle are important.
How to Prepare During Preconception
The preconception period is an optimal time to prepare for pregnancy by doing things such as:
- Eating a nutrient rich diet and building up nutrient stores
- Body Detox: eliminating toxins from your body
- Environment Detox: eliminating toxins from your environment
- Movement and Earthing: staying or getting into shape, getting outside into the fresh air and sun
Essentially you should focus on removing the unhealthy and in-taking the healthy in order to establish a clean and healthy environment for your unborn baby to develop. In this way you will build a strong foundation for your health, that of your child, and even the health of your grandchildren. What kind of health legacy do you want to leave behind? It starts before conception.