The Importance of Preconception Prepping

Written by Clare Carrick ANutr BHSc (Nutrition and Health Promotion)

Scientifically reviewed by Dr Fathalla Ali, PHD Paediatrics

10/07/2022

It starts as the inkling of a feeling…a gooeyness when you see your new niece… a weird longing when you hold your best friend’s new bub… or a surprising ‘that’s what I want’ thought, when you see a young family at the park…For some people, the cluckiness sneaks up and takes them by surprise…For others, it’s been there for as long as they can remember…

 

For a lot of people, preconception planning involves a conversation with a partner, maybe a ‘last hurrah’ overseas adventure, throwing those condoms in the bin, and generally ‘living it up’…because everyone knows that your life is going to change big-time once those two lines show up on the pregnancy test! If you’re a real ‘doer’, you might have taken yourself off to the chemist to get your prenatal vitamins, and to your GP for a general check-up…

 

But, the science says there’s more to think about than most of us realise in the 3, 6, and even 12 months leading up to that positive pregnancy test. In fact, there is a growing body of evidence that emphasises just how important this window of time in the months leading up to a pregnancy actually is…for its potential impact on fertility, a healthy pregnancy, and the impact this can have on your baby’s future health. Unfortunately, preconception health is an area that is often overlooked (1). 

 

Where to Begin…

One of the most impactful and modifiable actions we can take in those preconception months is to make changes to our diet. Some studies have even suggested that what you eat up to THREE YEARS BEFORE you fall pregnant may influence your risk of gestational diabetes, high blood pressure during pregnancy, and preterm birth (1). So it’s really never too early to start making these changes!! 

 

Dietary Considerations

Getting on top of any nutrient deficiencies before you fall pregnant is really important for your health, and the health of your future baby (2). The World Health Organisation recommends that all women of reproductive age should consider taking folic acid, iron, and iodine supplements (3, 4). A health professional can help guide you towards a diet and/or supplements that will help address your individual requirements (2). 

 

Your Microbes Are Key

We’ve all heard about the importance of our gut microbiome in the last few years…It could be said that, in this preconception period, looking after our gut bugs is even more important than usual! This is because your microbiome in the lead-up to, and during, pregnancy and at birth has a direct influence on the development of your baby’s own microbiome, and therefore, their future health (5). 

 

Feeding Your Microbes

You can think of this preconception period as a unique window of opportunity to ‘get to work’ on some changes to optimise your microbiome (5). Your diet is one of the key ways you can change the make up of your gut microbiome, and making certain dietary changes has also been shown to impact your likelihood of falling pregnant, and having a healthy pregnancy and baby (6, 7). A Mediterranean-style diet, rich in plant fibre, omega 3 fatty acids, vegetable proteins, and an array of vitamins and minerals, has been shown to be one of the healthiest dietary patterns for gut health, fertility and a healthy pregnancy (7, 8)!

 

Dietary Change Takes Time

These dietary changes can take time to get used to, which is yet another reason to get in early! Considering recent surveys have shown that less than 1 in 10 women aged 18-25 in the UK and Australia are consuming the recommended servings of fruit and veg per day, it’s likely that you’ll need to make a few changes to more closely align to something like the Mediterranean diet, which has a big focus on consuming fruits and vegetables (1). The good news is that making these changes can fairly quickly alter your microbiome for the better, with research showing an impact in as little as 24 hours after dietary interventions (10). Remember though, it’s the regular dietary habits that will have the biggest impact on your microbiome health, so consistency is key (10). 

 

Moral of the Story

The evidence is really stacking up in favour of the super-keen pregnancy preppers. The earlier you can begin to eat in a way which supports the health of your microbiome, the better! Take advantage of this window of opportunity 3, 6, or even 12 months before you officially start ‘trying’ and you’ll be giving yourself, and your future baby, the best chance for a healthy life.

References 

  1. Stephenson J, Heslehurst N, Hall J, Schoenaker DA, Hutchinson J, Cade JE, Poston L, Barrett G, Crozier SR, Barker M, Kumaran K. Before the beginning: nutrition and lifestyle in the preconception period and its importance for future health. The Lancet. 2018 May 5;391(10132):1830-41.
  2. García-Mantrana I, Bertua B, Martínez-Costa C, Collado MC. Perinatal nutrition: How to take care of the gut microbiota?. Clinical Nutrition Experimental. 2016 Apr 1;6:3-16. 
  3. World Health Organization. Guideline: intermittent iron and folic acid supplementation in menstruating women. InGuideline: Intermittent iron and folic acid supplementation in menstruating women 2011 (pp. 30-30). 
  4. Untoro J, Mangasaryan N, de Benoist B, Darnton-Hill I. Reaching optimal iodine nutrition in pregnant and lactating women and young children: programmatic recommendations. Public Health Nutrition. 2007 Dec;10(12A):1527-9.
  5. Moholdt T, Hawley JA. Maternal lifestyle interventions: targeting preconception health. Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism. 2020 Aug 1;31(8):561-9. 
  6. Schoenmakers, S., Steegers-Theunissen, R., & Faas, M. (2019). The matter of the reproductive microbiome. Obstetric medicine12(3), 107–115. 
  7. Skoracka K, Ratajczak AE, Rychter AM, Dobrowolska A, Krela-Kaźmierczak I. Female Fertility and the Nutritional Approach: The Most Essential Aspects. Advances in Nutrition. 2021 Nov;12(6):2372-86. 
  8. Amati F, Hassounah S, Swaka A. The impact of mediterranean dietary patterns during pregnancy on maternal and offspring health. Nutrients. 2019 May;11(5):1098. 
  9. Rinninella E, Cintoni M, Raoul P, Lopetuso LR, Scaldaferri F, Pulcini G, Miggiano GA, Gasbarrini A, Mele MC. Food components and dietary habits: keys for a healthy gut microbiota composition. Nutrients. 2019 Oct;11(10):2393. 
  10. Leeming ER, Johnson AJ, Spector TD, Le Roy CI. Effect of diet on the gut microbiota: rethinking intervention duration. Nutrients. 2019 Dec;11(12):2862.





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