Having a child can be one of the most rewarding experiences in your life. But to go into pregnancy blindly can lead to a lifetime of problems for your baby.
This may sound a little drastic and maybe even a little far-fetched. Just stay away from drugs, don’t drink alcohol and stay away from nuclear reactors. Pretty simple.
Ok…so maybe decisions during pregnancy can play a role in your unborn child’s health and well-being. Maybe you’ll try to eat some more veggies this month and maybe cut back on the fast-food trips. That’s got to be worth a few IQ points in college.
But what about before you even get pregnant??? Could your dietary choices leading up to pregnancy influence the outcome of your pregnancy? And could these outcomes have lifelong impacts on your as-of-yet-unborn child?
Just by the fact that I’m asking these questions should give you the answers. But before we get into the details of this blog post, there are two things we should cover.
First of these is infertility. The largest cause of infertility in this country (70%) is polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS. PCOS is, in almost every case, the result of poor lifestyle choices. Unfortunately, a visit to a fertility specialist is more likely to end up with you getting a prescription for Clomid to force fertility than it is for you to enter into a long discussion on healthy lifestyle changes with your “fertility specialist.”
This is a very wrong approach. For any couple with fertility issues the discussion on lifestyle needs to come first. Regardless of how fast your biological clock is ticking, a few more months of improving your lifestyle is worth every second.
Why? Because of the second thing we need to cover. Pre-term birth will increase the risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease in your child decades down the line. Conceiving a baby through the use of assisted reproductive technologies (ART) like Clomid will increase the likelihood of having a pre-term birth. Not good.
So what else will increase the risk of having a pre-term delivery before 37 weeks? There are many factors like phthalate exposure (that “new shower curtain” smell from vinyls and plastics), inflammation in the vaginal vault (think yeast infections) or stress that can increase the risk of a pre-term birth.
According to this particular study, it turns out that your dietary choices PRIOR to pregnancy can influence your risk of having a baby go to full term. In it, researchers look at the dietary habits of 309 in the 12 month period prior to getting pregnant. There were 3 dietary patterns identified:
- High-protein/fruit (characterized by fish, meat, chicken, fruit, and some whole grains)
- High-fat/sugar/takeaway (takeaway foods, potato chips, refined grains)
- Vegetarian-type (vegetables, legumes, whole grains).
Based on this information, researchers looked at the odds of having a pre-term birth, having a shorter gestation period as well as birth length. Here’s what they found:
- Those women with the high-protein/fruit pattern had a 69% lower risk of pre-term birth.
- Those with the high-fat/sugar/takeaway pattern had a 54% higher risk of pre-term birth as well as a shorter gestation period and birth length.
Personally, I was a little surprised that the vegetarian type diet pattern did not score better, but this may have to do with the amount of protein available. Just because someone does not eat meat this does not make them a vegetarian.
That aside, here are some tips on lifestyle as you get ready for your pregnancy:
- Protein is important, but so are the choices of protein sources. Do your best to stick with organic chicken, wild-caught fish and grass-fed throughout the lifecycle beef. Good plant-based sources of protein include hummus, rice, beans and nuts. Chow liberally on the plant-based sources and try to limit your quantities of the animal based proteins.
- Fruit is also a good idea, but don’t limit yourself to the basics. Melons, apples and oranges are good, but don’t forget pomegranate, wild blueberries, strawberries, kiwi and blackberries. Stay away from the juices—they’ve got way too many calories for the nutrition they provide.
- Whole grains do not just mean wheat. Quinoa, amaranth and rye are all powerhouses in their own right. Experiment with the test of other, more ancient, grains. And absolutely NO enriched wheat flour.
The list could grow much longer, but these are some recommendations to go along with the dietary patterns found in this study. Overall, though, you (meaning your AND the impending father) need to understand that this is NOT about you. Every choice you make, leading up to pregnancy, during pregnancy and during the first years of your little ones’ life, will have an impact on his or her risk of chronic disease decades in the future.