Preconception Care For Men and Women

Preconception Care For Men and Women

You have probably heard the term “pre-conceptive care”, but what does it really mean? In today’s blog, I’m going to discuss the role of pre-conception care and answer some of the most asked questions about it. I’ll also point out some of the current evidence on factors affecting fertility.

This information is relevant for both men & women either preparing for conception or actively trying to conceive.

What is pre-conception care?

Pre-conception health care is the work that BOTH partners do to ready their bodies for a normal, healthy and hassle-free conception and pregnancy. It takes into consideration diet, lifestyle, environment and appropriate supplementation.

Ideally, pre-conceptive care should start 3-4 months PRIOR to actively trying to conceive. Why? Because it takes 100 days for an oocyte (immature egg) to develop. Spermatogenesis (the production of mature sperm) takes around 80 days.

So if we start pre-conceptive care at least 3-4 months prior to conception, we are optimising the chances of healthy eggs and sperm. This is crucial not only to enhance fertility outcomes (i.e. to falling pregnant) but also to ensure that the best genetic information is passed on.

Men are often overlooked in the preconception stages, but their contribution to half the genetic material is, of course, extremely important. Sperm production requires adequate nutritional levels and an absence of chemicals – since sperm are susceptible to oxidative damage from temperature, environmental and dietary toxins, toxins and radiation, so including both partners in preconception care is vital.

So ideally you would undertake a pre-conceptive care program a few months before you start trying to conceive. I like to think of it as a bit of a “spring clean” for your body before the pregnancy process is even on the table. However if you are already actively trying to conceive – keep reading. This information is also highly relevant for you.

Should I exercise while preparing for conception/trying to conceive?

Absolutely. Regular exercise will benefit both of you, however, excessive exercise can adversely affect your menstrual cycle in terms of conception. Aim for at least 30 minutes of walking per day and more vigorous exercise three times a week. Consider Yoga, Tai chi, pilates, dancing and weights.

What foods should I eat?

Your diet should concentrate on:

  • A wide variety of fruit & vegetables (organic where possible)
  • Organic meat & dairy (or at the least hormone & antibiotic free)
  • Fish and seafood
  • Filtered water (recent studies have shown that tap water may negatively affect female hormone cycles)
  • Seeds, nuts, sprouts, wholegrains
  • Legumes

What foods should I reduce/restrict?

  • Coffee
  • Soft drinks
  • Alcohol
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Trans fats – cause inflammation
  • Heavily refined or processed foods

Might my weight be affecting my ability to have a baby?

Potentially – yes.

If either partner is overweight, losing just 5% of body weight is shown to enhance fertility. Talk with your practitioner about healthy, sustainable weight loss that can improve your chances of falling pregnant.

Is there anything else I should avoid during this time?

There are several things, which should be avoided during preconception. It is important both partners adhere to these restrictions. It may seem like a challenge but think of the benefits that you will be giving your child just by refraining from some indulgences temporarily.

As a rule, you should try to avoid:

  • Cigarettes
  • Other drugs including marijuana
  • Over the counter and pharmaceutical medications unless necessary
  •  Significant exposure to toxins – household cleaners, petrol fumes, paints, glues and solvents, chlorine, insecticides, etc
  • Men should try to avoid injury from heat and pressure in the testicular region. This may come from wetsuits, tight-fitting work clothes, a sedentary lifestyle or excessive exercise. Even if the testes heat up as little as 2OC the sperm can be adversely affected.

Should I be taking any supplements?

Talk with your practitioner about the pre-conceptive supplementation individualized to your needs. Your practitioner may prescribe herbal medicines to improve your reproductive and general health, as well as practitioner-strength supplements to give you additional nutritional support before and during conception.

 

Research on Fertility and the adverse effects of Smoking, Coffee, Pesticides, Body Weight, Laptops and Alcohol

Smoking

A report prepared by the British Medical Association had the following key findings. (British Medical Association 2004 www.bma.org.uk)

  • Men who smoke have a lower sperm count and a higher proportion of malformed sperm.
  • Women who smoke take longer to conceive.
  • Women who smoke are twice as likely to be infertile as non smokers.
  • Men and women who smoke have a poorer response to fertility treatment
  • Women who have stopped smoking take no longer to become pregnant than those who have never smoked.
  • Stopping smoking improves sperm count and quality.

Alcohol

A study from the University of California of 221 couples undergoing fertility treatment found;

  • Women’s alcohol consumption in the month before IVF attempt reduced success by nearly 3 times with alcohol consumption in the week before egg pick up (one glass per day) increasing the chance of miscarriage by 2 times.
  • For men alcohol consumption the month before IVF reduced success by 2 and a half times and alcohol (one glass per day) in the week before sperm collection reduced success more than 8 times

Alcohol consumption in the week prior to conception was associated with an increased rate of miscarriage. For women ten or more drinks a week was associated with 2 to 3 times greater risk of miscarriage while for men it was 2 to 5 times greater risk. (American Journal of Epidemiology Vol 160 No 7 2004 661-67)

The recommendation was made that couples abstain from alcohol consumption at least one month before the attempt to maximize the effectiveness and success of the IVF and GIFT procedure. (Fertility and Sterility 2003;79:330-339)

Coffee

A study of 1,909 women in America found the risk of not conceiving for 12 months was 55% higher for women drinking 1 cup of coffee per day. It was 100% higher for women drinking 1 and one half to 3 cups and 176 % higher for women drinking more than three cups per day. (Yale University School of Medicine. Epidemiologic Reviews Vol 14, Pg 83, 1992)

Coffee drinking before and during pregnancy was associated with over twice the risk of miscarriage when the mother consumed 2 to 3 cups of coffee per day. (Journal of American Medical Association December 22 1993)

A Caffeine intake of 3 or more cups a day by women or their partners doubled the rate of miscarriage in a Danish study. (American Journal of Epidemiology Vol 160 No 7 2004 661-67)

Pesticides

In a study of Danish greenhouse workers, an unexpectedly high sperm count was found among organic farmers. Their sperm count was more than twice as high in those men as in a control group of blue-collar workers, suggesting that consuming organically grown foods may enhance fertility. (Abell A, Ernst E, Bonde JP. High sperm density among members of organic farmers’ association. Lancet 1994;343:1498.)

Men experiencing infertility were found to be employed in agriculture/pesticide-related jobs 10 times more often than a study group of men not experiencing fertility problems.

(American Journal of industrial medicine Vol 24; 587-592, 1983)

Miscarriage increases in women (2.1 to 4.7 times) were found after exposure to chemical solvents. The major risk chemicals were those used in dry-cleaning, paint, paint thinners and paint strippers. (American Journal of Industrial Medicine Vol 20; 241-249, 1991)

Body Weight

A body mass index (BMI) of 25 to 29.9 in women is considered overweight and has been linked to irregular or infrequent menstrual cycles, an increased risk of infertility, an increased risk of miscarriage and decreased success with fertility treatments. The positive news is that small amounts of weight loss (5-10%) may dramatically improve ovulation and pregnancy rates. (American Society for Reproductive Medicine Meeting October 2004)

A study of Danish men found that sperm counts were lower in those men that were overweight (21.6 %) and those that were underweight (28.1%). (American Society for Reproductive Medicine Meeting October 2004)

Lap tops and Male fertility

Men sitting with their legs together and working on a laptop computer can raise the temperature by up to 2.8 degrees C. An amount sufficient to affect the testicular function and impair spermatogenesis. (Human Reproduction Advance Access published online December 9 2004)

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