Preconception Preparation: 3 Things You Should Know

Whether you’re actively trying to conceive (TTC), starting to think about it, or just seeing what happens, there’s a few things that are helpful to know. These include becoming familiar with your menstrual cycle, healthy lifestyle and nutritional choices you can make, and when it might be time to talk to a healthcare provider.

I want to start off by saying that every person’s needs are different when it comes to preconception care. Some find the more knowledge they have and the more they are able to do, the more proactive they feel. On the other hand, some find that having a lot to think about and do can be overwhelming and create more stress. It’s important to remember that this should be an exciting time. So please use the following information in whatever way is best for you.


When is your fertile window?


5 days leading up to ovulation and the day of ovulation is considered your fertile window. Understanding when you are ovulating will help increase your chances of fertility. On average, ovulation occurs around day 14, but this can vary depending on the length of your menstrual cycle and other factors. You can track your menstrual cycle and timing of ovulation through basal body temperature, cervical mucous, and/or ovulation test strips. Learn more about tracking your menstrual cycle here.


How to create healthy lifestyle choices.


Healthy living and nutrition is important for BOTH partners when it comes to fertility. It takes 100 days for your ovarian follicles to mature from their dormant state to when they are released at ovulation. It also takes sperm close to 3 months to fully mature. Therefore, lifestyle changes you and your partner start making now will contribute to the health of follicles and sperm over the following 3 months. As a naturopathic doctor, I provide guidance and support to help people make the following healthy choices:

  1. Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight or underweight may affect fertility.

  2. Healthy exercise: aim for 3x per week of moderate intensity.

  3. Manage and reduce stress.

  4. Avoid smoking & recreational drugs.

  5. Moderate caffeine consumption eg. 1-2 cups per day of coffee.

  6. Reduce alcohol and refined sugars.

  7. Focus on a healthy, nutrient-rich diet:

  • Aim for 7-10 servings per day of vegetables and fruits combined. These are packed with important vitamins such as folate, as well as vital minerals, and antioxidants.

  • Include a variety of vegetables. At least one serving per day of each of the following: dark leafy greens (kale, spinach, arugula), orange or yellow veggies (carrots, peppers), cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts).

  • Antioxidants in particular are important for follicular health and may improve sperm count and motility (Sikka, 1995). Examples of antioxidant-rich foods include pomegranate juice, blackberries, blueberries, Goji berries, raspberries, strawberries, kale, artichoke, beets, red cabbage, walnuts, pecans.

  • Include a quality source of protein and healthy fats with every meal

  • Examples include nuts and seeds (almonds, cashews, walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds), coconut oil, olive oil, avocado, fish (salmon, trout), lean meats (chicken, turkey), beans, tofu, legumes (lentils, chickpeas).

  • Avoid trans fats such as hydrogenated oils as they can promote oxidation and inflammation.

  • Choose whole grains such as quinoa, wild rice, rye, buckwheat, oats, barley, millet, amaranth.

  • Consider taking a prenatal vitamin with folic acid 1-3 months before conception to ensure adequate nutrient intake. But remember, this is NOT a replacement for healthy nutrition choices.


When should you seek help?


Everybody’s ovaries are different and age is not the be all end all, but it does give us some guidance as to the chances of pregnancy. On average, women age 19 to 26 years old have a 50% chance of conceiving with each cycle, those age 27 to 34 years have a 40% chance, and those age 35-39 years have a 30% chance (Dunson, 2002). Remember this is an average ONLY. The guidelines to seeing a fertility specialist are as follows:

  • If you are younger than 35 yo and TTC for a year or more.

  • If you are 35-40 yo and TTC for 6 months or more.

  • If you are over 40 and TTC.

If you are experiencing irregular menstrual cycles or have other underlying health concerns, you may want to work with a healthcare provider sooner. Ultimately, you can choose to seek the assistance of a healthcare provider such as a naturopathic doctor at any step of your fertility journey.


For personal guidance with your preconception preparation and fertility journey, consider booking an appointment here.

References:

Dunson D.B., Colombo B., Baird D.D. (2002). Changes with age in the level and duration of fertility in the menstrual cycle. Human Reproduction, 17(5), 1399-403. https://doi.org/10.1093/humrep/17.5.1399


Sikka, S.C., Rajasekaran M., Hellstrom W.J. (1995). Role of oxidative stress and antioxidants in male infertility. Journal of Andrology, 16(6), 464-468. https://doi.org/10.1002/j.1939-4640.1995.tb00566.x