Congratulations – you’re pregnant!  Now, what to do about those couple extra cheese burgers over the past few weeks, or what about your fetish for diet soft drinks?  When you finally read the stick, you automatically start thinking of your diet.  But prenatal nutrition really needs to begin before conception, as by the time you find out you’re even pregnant, many, many things have already developed in that tiny life hiding inside.

By just 4 weeks, roughly about when women will even realize they are pregnant, amazing developments have already taken place.  The brain, spinal cord and nerves have begun to form, and the heart is already beginning to pump the blood throughout a microscopic body – a tiny heartbeat is now present.  Organs like the liver and kidneys have already begun to grow and by the 5th week, facial features are beginning to take shape.  Seems pretty advanced for something no bigger than a the tip of your baby finger.

Over the next 8 months, the baby will continue to grow and develop, with different systems advancing at different stages. Discovering that you are pregnant is often when a dietary change is considered, but for fetal development, women need to consider their overall health even up to a year before conceiving. While that is not always possible, for those wishing and planning pregnancy, it’s best to lay a nutritional foundation in Mom before conception. 

Let’s use an analogy.  Before one plants a garden, the soil is turned and tilled, fertilized and nutrients are added to make the soil a suitable place for planting. We prepare the bed before we plant the seeds.  The body is much the same.  Preparing for pregnancy with good nutrition is as important as a healthy diet during pregnancy.    A diet full of wholesome and nutritious foods will enhance both the chances of fertility as well as a healthy environment for the embryo to begin it’s journey to birth.  

Millions of women are treated each year for problems with fertility and the problem is increasing.   Almost half of these infertile cases can be attributed to fathers – another ever increasing problem within the fertility pool.  The actual causes of infertility can be numerous and exhausting both physically and emotionally.  Malnutrition is often a cause and yes, even in Western cultures, we can be malnourished.  A diet high in fat, processed foods, food additives, combined with the use of alcohol, caffeine, smoking and drugs can all be culprits.    Maintaining healthy weight and managing stress are two key factors in preparing for pregnancy. 
Deficiency in B vitamins in women has been reported as a possible cause of infertility as well.  Fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes, wholesome grains, adequate amounts of lean protein, limiting the overuse of dairy products and supplementing the diet with a quality vitamin and mineral supplement will help normalize hormones in both women and men – whereby increasing the chances of fertility.  Herbs like raspberry, nettle and chaste tree, dandelion, milk thistle and cramp bark can be helpful for women seeking to conceive.  It’s best to consult with an herbalist or naturopath before taking herbs as some can have side effects that could be unpleasant.  

If you find yourself struggling to get pregnant, don’t give up hope.  Begin with the most simple of lifestyle changes – your diet.  And even if you’re just thinking of beginning your own family – remember the garden – make the bed fertile long before you begin planting the seed.

Erin  Bell

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