Article by HPN graduate Tammy Hume
Giving a bubba the best start to life is one of the best gifts that we can give our children.
Every parent wants their child to be as healthy as possible. But despite that, most of us simply just give little thought towards improving our health before conceiving a child. We often simply expect that regardless of how we have treated our bodies in the past that they will conceive a child with ease, grow and birth a healthy baby, which will in turn lead to a healthy child.
But with approximately 16-20% of couples in New Zealand being affected by infertility at some point in their lives (1) and with infertility rates expected to potentially double in the next ten years, it’s safe to say that our modern lifestyle probably isn’t doing our fertility any favours.
Not to mention the fact that children today are certainly not thriving as much as they are designed to. With more children than evermore being overweight and obese, one in seven children over two are on asthma medication and ever increasing numbers of children being diagnosed with emotional, behavioural and anxiety issues and disorders. (2)
So, how do we maintain our fertility over the years and nourish our bodies throughout pregnancy so that we can lay the foundations for a healthy, happy and thriving life for our children?
In recent years, research has started to confirm what traditional cultures knew - that the nutritional environment experienced within the womb, affects not only our health at birth and early childhood, but it also has an impact on our lifelong risk of chronic lifestyle diseases such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and more. Researchers have termed this the Developmental origins of health and disease (DOHAD). The DOHAD theory suggests that the nine months of pregnancy is the most important period of our lives and can permanently influence the wiring of our child to be’s brain, along with the functioning of our organs and susceptibility to disease, our metabolism and more (3).
We now know that optimal conditions whilst in the womb and a well-nourished mother may give life-long resilience against modern illnesses and conditions, simply by optimising the pre-conceptive health and nutrition of both Mum and Dad prior to conception as well as during pregnancy for Mum. This explains why traditional cultures put such an emphasis on parents (especially mothers) to be having access to nutrient dense and high quality foods.
Nourishing our bodies before pregnancy and during requires us to move away from our modern, highly processed and nutrient deficient diets and back to our nutrient dense roots – and here’s how.
The most important step is to prioritise a diet that is filled mostly with natural, whole and unprocessed foods is extremely important, especially as pregnancy is a time where we need even more nutrients than usual (4).
Embracing a low human intervention diet naturally exposes us to more nutrient dense foods that our body can utilise; with less toxins and chemicals than what we would consume from a diet a high human intervention diet that contains low-fat, processed and packaged foods.
But even a natural diet can be limited in certain nutrients if we aren’t eating a variety of foods. Prior to the processed foods era, traditional cultures went to great lengths to secure nutrient-dense foods to include in the diets of pregnant women. In the absence of the nutrients food in these foods – an epidemic of poor health and infertility may be the result … sounds familiar doesn’t it?
High on the list of powerhouse nutrient dense foods are those loaded with fat. Yes, you read right – F . A . T!
The majority of our calories whilst pregnant (and when not pregnant as well) should come from fat. Not only is fat our preferred fuel source, but it also provides structural integrity for every cell in our body. Fat is also incredibly important for our hormonal health, especially our sex hormones, which are obviously crucial when it comes to getting pregnant and creating healthy babies. Fat also helps us to absorb more nutrients from the vegetables and fruit that we eat.
Prioritise your fat consumption from natural, whole and unprocessed sources such as high fat dairy products, eggs, meat, poultry and fish (raised on their natural diet), various coconut products, eggs, olives, avocadoes, nuts and seeds. I believe it’s important to the consumption of animal products that have been raised on their natural diet as they are more nutritious (5, 6).
When it comes to poly-unsaturated fatty acids, we need to make sure we are optimising our intake of omega 3:omega 6 fatty acids. Optimal ratios are 1:1 (and up to 1:7) parts Omega 3:Omega 6. The easiest way to balance this ratio is to ensure adequate intake of foods containing these essential fatty acids and to decrease our intake of grains (particularly processed grains), processed foods and to ensure a small-moderate intake of nuts and seeds and consume animal and fish foods fed their natural diet (7).
Next up is powerful protein. Protein provides the building blocks for our body. Most of us will naturally get enough protein just by listening to our body during this precious time. Again, the best protein sources come from foods found in nature, so think naturally raised meat, fish, poultry and eggs. Be sure to include some organ meats (e.g. liver) each week to optimise nutrient intake as it’s one of the most nutrient dense foods available. Legumes, nuts and seeds (properly prepared) can also contribute to our protein requirements.
After that, load your plate with vegetables and small amounts of fruit. Vegetables (and fruit in appropriate amounts) provide your body with loads of micronutrients (which are absorbed better when we eat them with fat). They also provide fibre which provides fuel for the trillions and trillions of bacteria in your gut, helping to ensure that your digestive system functions as optimally as possible.
Depending on your access to these foods along with and the potential joys of morning (or all-day) sickness! You may want to consider some supplements as well to round out your diet – especially if some of the most nutrient dense foods like liver, don’t sound especially palatable to you!
Supplements such as cod liver oil and / or a fish oil, a probiotic, a high quality folate supplement and even a high quality protein powder for the days where you are struggling to eat meat may be great additions
And voila, there you have it. The perfect diet to promote fertility, enhance Mum’s health during pregnancy, breastfeeding and beyond and perhaps most importantly – give baby the very best start to life and promote their health throughout their entire life.