Why you need to be thinking about pregnancy... before you are ever thinking about getting pregnant
I do not have children yet, but as a woman approaching 30, the thought of it does occur. Although we are not sure when the decision to add to our family will be it is very important to me to fully consider the impact this will have on my health but also how my health will impact this decision.
I have struggled with health challenges my entire life. I have made incredible progress on issues I thought were hopeless and continue to improve my health and body. Going through these personal struggles it is not only my mission with Zen Functional Wellness to prevent others from suffering but also my future children. There are certain health struggles I would like to prevent my child from ever dealing with, and we know now that that is completely possible.
Although I may have some less-than-ideal genes that any children of mine will likely inherit it is well established that does not mean they have to suffer any symptoms of those genes. The health, stress level, and environment of a mother before conception and during pregnancy play a substantial role in the future health of their baby. Also, through the power of Nutrigenomics, we can support these known areas of weakness to prevent disease and symptoms. Your genes may predispose you to disease but as they say, “the environment pulls the trigger.” This is important to know and embrace for your health but also for the health of your family.
This is just a brief introduction into why you should be thinking about pregnancy before you are ever actually thinking about pregnancy.
MTHFr Genes and Pregnancy
MTHFr is referring to the enzyme in the folate pathway that converts folate into its active form to be able to be transported and used within cells. It plays a key role in the folate pathway, DNA and RNA synthesis, protein and neurotransmitter synthesis, recycling of homocysteine in the body, as well as other important roles.
Having a genetic variant or a SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism) in your MTHFr genes means you can have a dramatic decrease in its activity which can have a major impact on many processes in the body.
For a woman with variants in her MTHFr genes, she may have trouble getting pregnant, keeping a pregnancy, as well as being at risk for health issues during pregnancy such as pre-eclampsia, which is associated with high homocysteine levels, a common symptom of methylation inefficiency. It can cause a concern with fertility, healthy egg quality, regular ovulation and for overall health and overall disease prevention.
Genetic SNPs and Postpartum Depression
These SNPs can occur in other important genes as well. This is why screening for more than just the one popular MTHFr gene is so important.
A polymorphism in your COMT gene may also put you at risk for postpartum depression. A study performed looking at the COMT pathway, which has to do with the metabolism of dopamine (that feel good hormone), epinephrine and norepinephrine, concluded that “the association between this polymorphism and postpartum symptoms suggest a specific role of this gene in postpartum depression.”
Postpartum depression can be devastating to the mother and her family. By knowing if you have this gene you can provide your body with proper supplementation to potentially prevent these symptoms from occurring.
It's not just about the Mother
This is not only important for the future mother but the future father as well. Research has shown there is a higher percentage of miscarriage when the baby had a homozygous A1298C (methylation) gene mutation. For a baby to have a homozygous status that would mean they are inheriting one gene from their father as well, making the fathers MTHFr status just as important as the mother.
A meta-analysis involving over 26 studies concluded that “results indicated that the MTHFR polymorphism is associated with an increased risk of male infertility.” So this idea that preparing for a baby is a sole responsibility of a woman can have potentially traumatic effects. Future fathers should have their genetics tests and supplement accordingly to any deficiencies that are found several months before trying to conceive.
Nutritional deficiencies are also a concern that can take months to correct and can impact your fertility as well as the health of your baby. Some common deficiencies during pregnancy are iron, zinc, iodine, folate, and vitamin D, these can be exacerbated if you are already depleted before conception.
Many women, who have been taking birth control pills for years or possibly decades stop taking the pill with hopes of immediately getting pregnant. There are drug-induced deficiencies from hormonal drugs such as B6, B12, and folate that can put your body in unhealthy depleted levels. Folate we know is incredibly important for fertility, a safe pregnancy, and healthy baby. The link between folate levels and neural tube defects has been well established. This can be due to both the interaction of the mother’s MTHFr SNPs (genetic variants) as well as the actual folate status inside her cells. Imagine if you have been taking hormonal birth control depleting your folic acid levels, plus you have a variant in your MTHFr gene (your folate pathway)… you may have serious needs to be met to replenish and support your body.
Unfortunately, common prenatal vitamins do not come NEAR to the nutritional levels needed to support your body. Many contain forms of vitamins that may not even be usable in your body if you have genetic inefficiencies. Synthetic Folic Acid is a common ingredient in prenatal vitamins, however, this form can be dangerous to the general population let alone dangerous and unusable to those that have a common MTHFr genetic variant. You want to always be looking the active form of the vitamin used, "5-MTHF" or having the word "methyl" listed. The supplements I recommend have both "folinic acid" and "methylfolate" included.
Balance of Hormones and Cycles
Hormone imbalances, painful periods, irregular cycles, endometriosis, and PCOS are all becoming more common in women. They are also reasons why young teenagers start taking hormonal birth control and stay on it for years. Unfortunately, as many women think they are "treating" these conditions with birth control pills or hormonal drugs they are simply just masking the symptoms. As mentioned, many decide to stop taking these drugs when they are ready to get pregnant. Along with the nutritional deficiencies, it can take months to over a year to simply re-balance your hormones and establish regular cycles. If you have been masking a condition such as PCOS and have a poor diet and lifestyle habits, it can take even longer to naturally re-balance your hormones and overcome symptoms.
You are told if you do not become pregnant within a year you may infertile. This is extremely discouraging, as well as completely false for a woman who may have been on birth control for decades and simply needs more time to re-establish regular ovulation and cycles. It would be recommended to stop taking hormonal birth control a year before you plan on trying to conceive, longer if you have known hormonal issues. You can use condoms and other natural forms of birth control as you work on getting to know your body, its cycles, and are able to establish more reliable tracking methods. Hormonal birth control can have other long-term and serious side effects, and I recommend to most women, whether looking to conceive one day or not, to find alternate methods of birth control and hormone regulation if possible.
Establishing a healthy diet and eating habits
I’ve never understood the concept that pregnancy is a time to “indulge” and eat whatever you want. You are growing another human being! Your body is developing and creating a body, organs and a brain. Getting your diet under control, losing weight if necessary and balancing your blood sugar can help you not only provide the nourishment needed to your growing baby but help you control cravings, sustain energy and create healthy eating habits to last through pregnancy.
It is always a good time to establish mindful eating habits, consume quality foods, and reduce inflammation in your diet. Setting a strong foundation of healthy eating, will help you feel your best, look your best, and have the energy to live your life fully, but is also something you will want to establish in your family and engrain in your children so they can grow up healthy and strong as well.
Instead of going cold turkey off of substances you shouldn’t partake in while pregnant, it can be easier both mentally and physically to take time weaning off of things like caffeine, alcohol, sugar, or drugs such as tobacco or marijuana. Work on introducing new healthy foods and cutting out the harmful substances over a couple weeks or months.
Preparing the structure of your body
Looking at the physical structure of your body is important for everyday health but also when considering getting pregnant. Losing excess weight, building strong muscles, working on flexibility and balance can all be helpful to keep your body in shape for the strenuous job of growing another human.
Make sure you are consuming adequate protein, healthy fats and consider adding in additional collagen supplements and lecithin which can help support healthy ligaments, tendons, and skin to decrease pain and stretch marks as the body expands and changes. Collagen can help keep your skin, joints, hair and nails shiny, strong and supple. Sunflower lecithin is made up of important phospholipids and choline, an essential nutrient in your cells membranes, and are at increased need while pregnant.
Along with making sure your body has what it needs you want to consider getting rid of anything it doesn’t! A healthy whole foods detox can help remove toxins that have built up in your body, rebalance your gut and digestion, and decrease inflammation. It is not wise to undergo a strong detox while you are pregnant so those that may have suspicion or risk of heavy metal toxicity should also check their levels and work to detox their bodies months before they conceive.
Taking the Time
If you have the patience, taking at least 6 months to prepare your body can help prevent fertility and birth issues. If you have a serious health or auto-immune condition, such as celiac disease or hypothyroidism, you may need longer to get your own health under control and balanced before you should try to conceive.
I recommend investigating your body and taking the time if possible. I know we can all get impatient when we decide we want something. But running a genetic panel, looking at your nutrition status and possibly exploring other individual concerns for you, like your thyroid health and gut health, can be a small investment compared to the worry and stress of possible health issues for you or any child you may bring into the world. If you are already pregnant now, it is not too late either! You can still be tested and work to support your body during your current pregnancy to help with any symptoms you may be having but to also ensure proper development of your baby.
I do not know if we are ever fully prepared to be a mother or a parent; physically, mentally, or emotionally. Bringing a child into the world is fascinating, scary, and exciting! Around half of pregnancies are unplanned and sometimes you just don’t have time to think about preparing your body or your health. But if you are putting yourself at risk of getting pregnant, you have the thought in your head that it may happen in the future, or are fully planning a time to “try,” then why not know that you are doing all you can to have a healthy, happy pregnancy and baby. A few functional labs and check-ups on your health can give you confidence in your everyday life of preventing disease and living optimally, but can also give you the ease of mind that when that day does come that you find out you are going to be a parent, you are supporting your body and future baby the best to your ability.
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