Mum and Dad being healthy at the time of conception increases the likelihood of having a successful pregnancy and a healthy child. Ideally, preconception care starts at least three months before conception to achieve optimal nutrient status going into pregnancy. So what is preconception care, and what nutrients are essential?
Preconception nutrition for Mum
For mother’s, having optimal nutritional levels prior to conception improves your health during and after pregnancy. There are many ways maternal health impacts pregnancy outcomes, including a reduced risk of complications such as preeclampsia, low birth weight, small size for gestational age, miscarriage and stillbirth (Stephenson, et al.).
The period before conception is key for optimising the nutrients needed for early pregnancy, such as those needed for early fetal and placenta development (Stephenson, et al.). To meet the various nutritional requirements of pregnancy, a high-quality prenatal vitamin and a nutrient-rich diet prior to conception is vital for your health and well-being during pregnancy, and that of your little one.
Poor nutritional status has been associated with many pregnancy symptoms and complications. For example, pregnancy nausea and vomiting has been linked to nutrient deficiencies such as an imbalance of potassium and magnesium, low blood sugar and low levels of vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) (Health Direct). As many nutrients are depleted during pregnancy, it is important to make sure key nutrients are at an optimal level prior to conception to mitigate the onset of symptoms and complications.
Many women are playing catch up in the preconception period due to the nutritional depletions caused by hormonal contraceptives. Due to the processing of the synthetic hormones through the body, key pregnancy nutrients including folic acid, vitamins B2, B6, B12, C and E, magnesium, selenium and zinc are depleted (Palmery, et al.). Therefore, if you’re coming off hormonal contraceptives in preparation for pregnancy, it’s important to give yourself time to increase your nutrient status prior to conception.
Although Mum’s health for conception and pregnancy gets significant attention, Dad’s diet also impacts pregnancy and your future child’s health.
Why Dad’s nutrition matters
Much of the focus is on Mum’s health in preconception and pregnancy, Dad’s nutrition is equally essential in the preconception period! Addressing the most immediate of needs, a father’s diet influences conception outcomes through sperm motility (Dimofski, et al.). A high-fat diet is associated with up to a 20% decrease in sperm motility! (Dimofski, et al.)
Paternal diet and nutrient status can also impact the pregnancy experience for Mum. Increased fruit intake in fathers has been associated with increased placenta weight (Carter, et al.). A healthy placenta is vital to provide nourishment to the baby and reduces the risk of complications for Mum and baby. Folate and fast food intake for males in the preconception period impacts gestation length (Carter, et al.).
From an epigenetics perspective, paternal nutritional status has been connected to the future child’s lifelong health (Dimofski, et al.). In particular:
- A low protein diet has been shown to impact offspring’s metabolism, including increased body weight, altered cholesterol and lipid synthesis pathways, and an increased risk of developing breast cancer in females (Dimofski, et al.).
- A high-fat diet may also influence metabolic outcomes and obesity in the future child with an increased risk of glucose intolerance, metabolic syndrome, chronic kidney disease, chronic degenerative diseases and early aging (Dimofski, et al.).
- A high-sugar diet can increase blood pressure, inflammation and fat mass in offspring (Dimofski, et al.).
- A high-fat and high-sugar diet increases the risks of dysfunction in the future child’s reproductive system and earlier testicular descent (Dimofski, et al.).
- Alcohol consumption in the preconception period increases the risk of anxiety and depression in the offspring (Carter, et al.).
Essential nutrients in the preconception period
For Mums, it’s important to prioritise nutrients needed for the early stages of pregnancy and build stores of nutrients that will be depleted throughout pregnacy, including:
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin B12
For Dads, the following nutrients are essential in the preconception period for healthy sperm development:
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin D
Although this might seem overwhelming, there are so many clinical nutritionists interested in fertility and reproductive health who can assist you in meeting your nutritional requirements in the preconception period.