Body Knowledge is Power: Take Six Months to Prep for Pregnancy
Preparing for Pregnancy
It’s unreal how much planning goes into one little human. Amidst the questions, there’s one thing moms put on the back burner until after babies are born, but it often starts before babies are even conceived: self care. It’s a hot little buzzword right now, but we’re going to talk about the nerdy, data-driven, face the music kind of self care that has the ability to impact your baby’s health for their entire life. Here’s how knowing your body on a new level can improve your baby’s health:
In the land of baby-making, women are often told that although men get new sperm all the time, we have a limited number eggs. Basically, we’re stuck with whatever we’re born with. I’m here to make the case for quality over quantity. We can change and improve the quality of our eggs, and therefore the health of our children. It’s daunting how much power a woman has, right? Although we have a certain number of eggs, and ovulate one, or a few every month (with a normal menstrual cycle), egg quality is able to change dramatically. This can happen over a time span of three months due to the duration of maturation of an immature follicle to a full-blown-ready-to-be-inseminated egg. If that statement alone intrigues you, read this book. Gathering your body’s baseline data through lab testing can not only help you increase the quality of your eggs, but also increase the quality of your daily life.
What Tests Do I Need to Do Before Getting Pregnant?
There are three main areas of testing I focus on with any woman who wants to make a healthy baby:
- Food Sensitivities
Food is a big deal. You eat it every day, and I hope you have a wonderful relationship with it. Occasionally, certain foods might not agree with you. This can be really obvious (rashes, nausea, swelling) immediately after you eat, or it can be sneaky and take days, weeks, or months to develop. Food sensitivities trigger a different antibody than food allergies (read a more in depth explanation here) and can often present in deceptive ways like weight gain, headaches, or a sleepy afternoon slump. Your body can be sensitive to certain foods even if they seem healthy (dairy and gluten are really common, even though every commercial tells you to eat yogurt and whole grains to be healthy).
Why test for food sensitivities before you get pregnant? Inflammation. With a food sensitivity, the body responds to certain foods by creating inflammation. This can happen anywhere in the body, but commonly in the gut because sometimes we don’t eat all organic-pasture-raised-magic-hippie-urban-garden. When our body gets inflamed, our cells get agitated. They can get hot, red, angry, swollen, and function poorly because there’s too much noise and interference.
This is a big deal for babies. A mama’s inflammation during pregnancy can impact the brain development of her child. High inflammatory levels have been associated with a worse working memory at age two, erratic behavior, and possible mental illness. For example, a 2001 study suggests immune system reactions produced by a gluten sensitivity may alter baby’s immune responses, resulting in impaired brain development and cognitive performance similar to those with Down syndrome. Additionally, creating a happy gut also increases your immunity, as 70% of our immune system resides in the lining of our GI tract! By testing for, acknowledging, and eliminating your food sensitivities, you can decrease the global inflammation in your body for better neurological development for baby. Cue diet makeover!
The thyroid is your master metabolism gland, as it regulates how much and how well your body’s cells utilize energy. However, there are times traditional lab testing doesn’t get the full picture. A full thyroid panel should test TSH, Free T4, Free T3, Reverse T3, Thyroid Peroxidase (TPO), and Thyroglobulin antibodies at a minimum, yet TSH and T4 are often the only markers tested. An incomplete picture can lead to misdiagnosis, affecting not only you, but your baby.
What’s the damage of an unruly thyroid? Hypothyroidism in mama can potentially impact her child’s brain growth and development including areas involved in speech, hearing, coordination, and behavior. T3, one of the often overlooked lab values, is key for growth and development. Presence of thyroid antibodies can indicate a thyroid autoimmune disorder like Hashimoto’s, where a person feels like they’re cycling between extremes of hyper and hypothyroidism. Looking to improve your thyroid health? To get started, focus on the following:
- Nutrition: It’s important to note a link between gluten the thyroid gland. Gluten can mimic thyroid antibodies, and instigate or worsen an existing autoimmune disorder. For example, although Down syndrome is a genetic disorder, there’s some evidence that the gene expression can be influenced by removing gluten before pregnancy. Down syndrome children often have high levels of thyroid antibodies.
- Environmental toxins: Your thyroid is affected by chemicals you put on or in your body. Non-natural toxins found in unnatural beauty products (often called xenoestrogens) can speed up the removal of thyroid hormone from the body, causing the thyroid gland to overproduce to maintain normal levels. If mom’s thyroid is lacking when she gets pregnant, she can actually steal thyroid hormones from the fetus, which may lead to underdeveloped or dysfunctional glands after birth.
- Stress: An unhealthy thyroid can have a huge effect on our adrenal glands (the organs that help us deal with stress). As if life wasn’t stressful enough, did you know you can carry stress from up to four generations ago? You can do something for your baby that maybe your mom, grandma, and great grandma didn’t know they could do for you by addressing the stress around you now to better the generations after you.
Regardless, it’s a good idea to get baseline of your thyroid health before pregnancy for insight into your health.
3. Nutrition & Metabolism
You need a lot of vitamins and minerals to live optimally every day, let alone build an entire human at the same time. Most women know to take a prenatal vitamin to keep up with this increased nutrient demand, but what if you aren’t completely nourished in the first place? Nutrition testing can help you get a full picture of whether or not you’re equipped to handle the nutrient demand of growing a human through food alone, or if you need a little help from high quality supplements. I encourage you to get testing from a functional perspective, which shows optimal levels for your body’s function rather than the average person. Sometimes traditional doctors will run your vitamin levels, (i.e., your B9 level is (fill in the blank)), and deem them “good” or “bad” depending on a scale determined by the “average” woman your age. The problem is you might not be the “average” woman. You might have had years on “the pill” that depletes B vitamins. Growing up, you might have eaten A LOT of frozen pizza and cereal, and zero vegetables (cough, me, cough). You might genetically need more of a certain nutrient than someone from a different lineage. Folate (B9), which a can lead to neural tube defects if too low, gets a lot of attention, but there are drawbacks to a low supply of any nutrient.
I personally like the NutrEval for my patients, but your provider might have other options. This test also includes a measurement of heavy metals, which can buildup in our cells over time and cause cellular damage. It’s great to get rid of toxins and metals if you can before pregnancy because pregnancy itself mobilizes the detox pathways. Unfortunately, toxins can cross the placenta. The EWG found in 2009 that 232 toxic chemicals existed in the umbilical cord blood of newborns. Don’t know where to start? Dr. Aviva Romm has great resources for cleaning up your cells before getting pregnant. Building a baby with a fully nourished body, leads to a healthier mom and a healthier baby. Baby making is hard work, and doing it with a low nutrient tank can make it even harder.
What’s the timeline to prepare for pregnancy?
My best evidence-based guess: six months prior to conception. Three months to gather lab information, do a little “pre-baby” detox if needed, and three months to nourish your cells to create some freaking super eggs. You have the ability to get to know yourself on a new nerdy level, and make a healthier baby because of it. If you don’t know a functional medicine provider, reach out to your local BIRTHFIT Regional Director, Coach, or Professional, because they may have found the perfect person already. If that’s not a possibility, you might find this directory helpful.
Hannah Anderson, DC, CACCPBIRTHFIT Cedar Rapids @birthfit_cedarrapids
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