Your holistic pre-pregnancy wellness plan: 10 ways to planning a successful pregnancy
Pregnancy is an amazing and magical journey, but getting to that point is not not always that easy. More often than not, it’s not just about ‘hoping for the best,’ in most cases.’ It can take planning and commitment, but it goes without saying that what you put into your body and what you feed your mind really counts.
To give yourself the best chance of conceiving naturally and successfully, a few diet and lifestyle changes will help you increase your chance of conceiving and set your body up in the long run as your body adapts to pregnancy and the ‘fourth trimester,’ once your baby is born. Motherhood although rewarding is both mentally strenuous and physically demanding, and getting yourself in the best possible shape all round really pays dividends!
It can be useful to look at all aspects of your health and lifestyle, including your emotions, environment and relationships. These small tweaks add up to the bigger picture and educating yourself about a ‘wise diet,’ looking at your general wellness picture can help improve your route into pregnancy and beyond. Through removing toxins and reducing stressors, and re-introducing the right nutrients, a holistic approach is the best when it comes to conception.
Emma Cannon, London-based fertility expert for 25 years says:
‘We are becoming less fertile. It’s this idea that we what we do to the planet we do to ourselves. The environment is becoming less fertile.’
And it's not just females. She goes on to say:
'Male fertility is measurably on the decline. Over the past two decades the quality of men’s sperm has definitely decreased.’
A good place to start would be to think about ‘cleaning up’ your health and lifestyle:
1. Stop smoking
‘Stopping smoking is the single most important thing you can do to improve your health,’ says obstetrician, gynecologist and founder of The Maternity Collective, Dr Ellie Rayner.
Dr Rayner also says of alcohol:
2. Reduce alcohol intake
‘If you are considering pregnancy, or trying to conceive, the general advice is to avoid alcohol as it can affect both female and male fertility.’
3. Detox and cleanse
Detoxing is fantastic as it helps to reduce build up of unwanted hormones in the body. It is useful to cleanse perhaps once to twice a year, or with the changing seasons. You may choose to embark on a liver cleanse which will help break down unwanted hormones.
Drinking hot water with a slice of lemon every morning before breakfast is a fantastic way to maintain liver health.
4. Look at toxins in your life
We are exposed to lots of toxins - some we can’t do that much about, such as air pollution if we live in a city, but there are some areas we can control such as the cleaning products and the way we use scent in our homes. In fact, the air in our homes has actually become more toxic than the air outside our homes!
A study commissioned by the Clean Air Day campaign who asked the National Air Quality Testing Services to conduct four experiments with four families in different UK locations in April and May 2019. Each study monitored the level of ultrafine air pollution particles over a 24 hour period inside and outside the four families’ properties and found that ultrafine particle pollution levels were on average 3.5 times higher inside than outside, peaking at 560 times outdoor air pollution!
Most people love a scented candle, but do you actually know what comes off the candle and you inhale once it’s lit? Most scented candles contain paraffin wax, which is derived from petroleum, coal or oil. Meaning that when it’s burnt, toxic compounds are released into into the air, including acetone, benzene, and toluene which are all known carcinogens. Of course the longer and more frequently you burn scented candles in your home, the more exposure you are getting to these harmful chemicals. Make sure you scent your home with soy wax candles, or even better, use a diffuser with essential oils. Similarly, cut out the chemicals you use in your home for cleaning - brands such as Ecover and Method are widely available in supermarkets, but you don’t need to have a multitude of different cleaning products for different surfaces - using an eco washing up liquid and hot water is brilliant for cleaning most surfaces, and vinegar is fantastic for mirrors and windows - when it comes to your cleaning caddy, keep it simple!
Toxins in your life may not stop at candles and cleaning products, you may also be taking on unwanted stress and effectively polluting your mind through maintaining toxic relationships. If you feel that there is someone in your life you feel drained and upset by instead of it being a loving and supportive relationship, consider lessening contact, or even removing them from your life completely. I would always suggest working with a therapist or a counsellor to support you through any decisions with cleansing unwanted friendships and relationships from your life.
5. Clean up your beauty cupboard
The skin is the largest organ in the body and the substances we put on our skin make their way into our system - around 95% of what we put on to our skin ends up in our bloodstream. More often than not, a flannel with warm water and natural soap or coconut oil is enough to remove make up and cleanse your face. A natural oil such as almond or coconut oil with a drop of essential oil such as rose or lavender work well for moisturising.
I am often surprised when I ask my clients the type of deodorant they use, and they all say ‘oh, just a spray on.’ This is one of the first things I get my clients to upgrade regardless of whether or not they are planning a pregnancy as using a spray deodorant is so damaging to your body; both through the blood stream, but also on initial application with your respiratory system. You really need to look at what is inside your deodorant to make sure what you are putting onto your skin and absorbing day after day isn’t doing more harm than good!
Moreover, we are designed to sweat - it is a natural form of excretion and detoxification, and if we are blocking ourselves from this natural form releasing toxins from the body, they instead get re-absorbed into the blood stream. An antiperspirant and deodorant will clog your skin follicles so that you’re not able to sweat as much as your body needs, limiting its natural secretion system. On top of inhibiting your body’s natural cleansing and detoxifying process, deodorants and antiperspirants also release a multitude of harmful chemicals into our bodies. One of the most common ingredients in all antiperspirants is aluminum which is the ingredient in antiperspirants that actually clogs your pores and prevents sweating. Aluminum exposure has been linked with the development of Alzheimer’s disease and interferes with oestrogen levels which is far from ideal when planning a pregnancy. Parabens present in deodorants also disrupt hormone balance and many other ingredients present in deodorants and anti-perspirants also have carcinogenic effects.
My favourite deodorant is a fantastic botanical balm by Aurelia London. I have been buying it for years, and having tried many other options, I totally swear by it! I certainly ask any clients with a history of breast cancer in their family to consider upgrading their deodorant to this one.
Don’t just stop at deodorant - make sure you are switching to chemical free shampoos and soap too. There are plenty of natural make up brands out there too, my personal favourite is Tropic which also does a great natural baby range.
Toxins within beauty products are not only harmful to you, but if you choose to breastfeed your baby, these toxins will be ingested by your baby as you breastfeed, so it’s a good idea to upgrade and make your clean switches now.
Include as many brassicas in your diet as possible; brussel sprouts, broccoli, kale, cabbage, as it helps the liver to detox oestrogen. Healthy gut flora is also necessary to remove the build up of unwanted hormones. It is useful to increase cultured foods such as yoghurt and fermented food to assist the integrity of the gut. Increasing fibre and upping water intake also helps the bowel to clear hormones, whilst laying the foundation for a healthy microbiome for both mother and baby to benefit from.
Parents living on junk food and poor lifestyle choices, can’t expect to go on to have healthy children - we are what we eat! It is therefore a good idea to cut out or minimise as much as possible all types of junk food: takeaways and microwaved ready meals which include high levels of trans fats and salt. Sugar, fizzy drinks and refined carbs are also a no-no. It is a good idea to reduce intake of animal proteins and increase vegetable proteins such as beans, lentils, nuts, grains, quinoa, kale.
It is useful to eat mainly organic to reduce the toxic load from pesticides sprayed on our fruit and vegetable crops. Upping intake of omega 3 fatty acids to consuming daily is beneficial - foods such as oily fish, flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts. Vitamins C and E, zinc, selenium, iron (for women) and all from natural sources (beans, lentils, quinoa, dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale).
7. A word on caffeine
Caffeine is a hormone and blood sugar disruptor as it promotes cortisol (the stress hormone) in our body.
A 2016 paper from the American Society for Reproductive Medicine indicates that drinking more than five cups of coffee a day is associated with decreased fertility, and that once you do become pregnant, drinking more than 200 mg of caffeine a day (the equivalent of about two cups of coffee) may actually increase your risk of miscarriage. Caffeine also adversely affects sperm quality, which can lead to infertility.
8. Release stress
Trying to get pregnant can be quite stressful, particularly if you are also working full time and don’t have much time to dedicate to the cause! So anything you can do to relax can make a big difference. Breathing techniques in yoga (holding postures and focusing on the breath) are really beneficial as they help calm the parasympathetic nervous system and lower cortisol levels, relaxing the body. There have been studies in America which revealed that women who practice mind/body techniques achieved pregnancies almost three times higher than those who didn’t (Dr Alice Domar, 2002). This is because yoga benefits reproductive functions, stress balance and neurohormonal profile.
Exercise (although not to excess) is encouraged when trying to conceive as being overweight can affect fertility and cause additional problems during pregnancy such as miscarriage or gestational diabetes and can even affect the future health of your child. Reducing your BMI gradually before conception is encouraged and can make a real difference.
Avoid over-exercising and high intensity workouts as this puts pressure on the endocrine system and can increase cortisol in the body - an absolute antidote to creating a baby.
10. Rest and good quality sleep
Rest and good quality sleep is vital when trying to conceive to keep the body at its optimum. Renewing and replenishing cells, organs and tissues occurs at night when the body is in its resting state. There are a few tips you can try to optimise your sleep quality:
Consistent bedtimes - the key to a better night’s sleep can be falling into a regular sleep routine by getting up at the same time every day of the week, even on the weekend.
Make your bedroom a sanctuary - your bedroom should just be for sleep and sex, nothing else. Clear your bedroom of work, technology and clutter. Make it a calming space to induce a good night’s sleep
Eat earlier - digesting food late in the evening can disrupt sleep. Opt for easy to digest foods such as protein based foods like lentils, chicken and fish with brown rice and quinoa and plenty of vegetables and avoid fatty or spicy foods late at night.
Turn down the tech - remove all phones and screens from your bedroom. Blue light (emitted from devices) suppresses your natural melatonin so you end up disrupting your own natural circadian rhythm.
Exercise can help promote a good night’s sleep by releasing stress at the end of the day. Try going for a walk round the block (without your phone) as a way to unwind and prepare for a good night’s sleep.
Avoid any type of stimulant such as tea, coffee or chocolate. Alcohol is also a stimulant and despite what people think about it being effective at ‘knocking you out’ it actually interferes with the quality of your sleep.
Try relaxation techniques such as breathwork, meditation or just switching off your mind in a warm bath with a few drops of lavender essential oil.
It can be really beneficial to look at conceiving a baby holistically - as your mind and body are seen as one, especially when it comes to conception. Give your body the best possible chance of conceiving by limiting toxins, increasing vital nutrients, moving your body and getting the rest your body needs. All of these measures will help ensure the body is the perfect landscape for a healthy pregnancy.