The importance of good nutrition for parents at all stages of pregnancy including planning, pregnancy, post pregnancy and breast feeding cannot be over emphasised enough. The nutritional status of parents can have a significant impact not only on the parent’s health but also on the development of the baby.
Over the past years, there has been a greater understanding on how a parent’s diet can impact conception and potentially increase the risk of certain health issues for the baby later on in life. At all stages of pregnancy, the parent’s nutritional requirements are likely to change and there is some basic nutrition that is required that will be beneficial for all stages of pregnancy.
Pregnancy and Nutrition
Pregnancy is associated with many different physiological changes and the demand for additional energy and nutrients in general increases.
However, nutritional requirements can be very different for each person, and in some cases a person’s diet during pregnancy may still not automatically mean they are receiving all the nutrients required during pregnancy, especially if eating foods that have been highly processed, grown in soils that are poor quality or eating a diet that restricts certain foods.
Nutrient deficiencies are prevalent in many areas of Australia despite many foods being fortified, an example of common nutrient deficiencies is with iodine and iron. It is important to understand what nutrients are critical and needed in pregnancy and in many cases, supplementation will be required alongside of a whole food diet.
Quite often when people are planning to start a family they don’t think about their own health, diet or nutrition. There is significant evidence that lifestyle factors and certain health conditions can impact fertility for both males and females.
The impact of these factors in females is generally a disruption in ovulation and for males it can impact sperm concentration, motility, and morphology (shape, form and structure).
Some factors that can impact fertility include:
- Overweight or obesity.
- Being underweight.
- Smoking, alcohol and illicit drug intake.
- Lack of exercise.
- Nutrient deficiencies.
- Health conditions such as PCOS.
- Certain prescription medications such as thyroid medications.
- Environmental factors such as heavy metals, pesticides, endocrine disruptors chemicals and air pollutions.
Specific diets and nutrition can help many people improve their health and factors that may be influencing fertility. If considering starting a family, then having a complete health check and testing for nutritional deficiencies is key. Some nutrients such as iodine, iron and zinc can be difficult to correct during pregnancies therefore thorough nutrition planning can help ensure a healthy nutritional profile during conception and pregnancy for parents and baby.
There are many nutrients that are critical for the overall health of parents, fertility health and healthy growth and development of the foetus. Some of the key nutrients include:
- Vitamin A: helps with sperm production, normal sperm count and morphology.
- Vitamin E: can help improve IVF fertilisation rates, improve sperm motility and protect sperm from oxidative stress caused by free radicals.
- Vitamin C: improves sperm agglutination, sperm count, sperm morphology and motility.
- Alpha lipoic: acts as a potent anti-oxidant and helps protect nutrients such as vitamin C, E, CoQ10 and glutathione, increases sperm count and motility.
- Zinc: boost testosterone, improves all aspects of sperm production and motility
- Iodine: iodine is critical for the healthy development and growth of the foetus. Iodine deficiencies are associated with stunting, motor disorders, visual and cognitive impairment, and spontaneous abortion. Low levels of Iodine are high in many areas of Australia. Recent studies observed iodine levels in many females at pre-conception and pregnancy below normal ranges.
- Choline: this is essential for brain development in the baby and deficiencies may affect a child’s memory and attention. The best source of choline is found in eggs.
- Selenium: babies that are born with selenium deficiencies due to low maternal levels can suffer from muscle weakness, additionally deficiencies are associated with recurrent miscarriages.
- Iron: many women become iron deficient during pregnancy and suffer from anaemia with many females are already iron deficient at the time of conception. Iron deficiency anaemia increases the risk of preterm delivery, low birth weight and accumulating evidence suggests there is an association between the maternal iron status in pregnancy and the iron status of the baby.
- Zinc: has been shown to reduce the risk of preterm labour and pre-eclampsia, deficiencies are associated with recurrent miscarriage, stillbirths, low birth weight and toxaemia.
Having a nutritional check whether planning or already pregnancy can help identify if you need additional nutritional support. This can be in the form of a diet modification or an addition of a good quality supplement specifically formulated for different stages of pregnancy and the changing nutritional requirements.
Changes to your diet or nutrition to manage a health condition should only be undertaken with advice from a suitably qualified nutritional health professional.
This factsheet is for general information only. Please contact me to discuss your individual needs.