We all know that caring for a child's health begins before birth. Prenatal health care has become standard protocol in the field of preventive medicine. Some experts and advocacy groups, however, are saying that the mother--and father--need to pay attention to their health before conception occurs.
Preconceptual health care is an age old concept. During the 1930's, Weston Price, a Canadian dentist, observed many tribal cultures were aware of the link between a child's health and the parents during conception. In some cases, tribal women, and sometimes men, were placed on a health-promoting diet six months prior to marriage (1).
Some physicians in our own culture advise future parents to improve their health at least six months prior to conception. Foresight, a British association promoting preconceptual care, outlines a comprehensive medical checkup for parents-to-be including a nutrition, toxin and pathological screening. Poor health can then be corrected using nutrition, exercise, rest, homeopathy, stress reduction and other appropriate means.
Eating for Three
"Nature is so intent upon the continuance of the race," said Roger Williams, biochemist, "that people propagate even when nutritional conditions are bad" (2). During famine, for example, the incidence of congenital deformities increases, possibly because their parents are undernourished.
As part of his global study, Price observed the nutritional changes of people who became malnourished as the abandoned their traditional diet of whole foods for Westernized processed foods. Within one generation he saw nutritionally deficient parents bear less healthy children. Another scientist, Frances Pottenger found it takes several generations of eating a healthy diet before offspring regain 100 percent of their health at birth (3).
Occasionally, a poor diet disrupts a woman or man's reproductive ability so much that infertility results (4,5). Certain vitamins and minerals are necessary to produce and maintain the egg and sperm. If these nutritional needs aren't met, conception and fetal health can be affected. Folic acid is a case in point. The Centers for Disease Control now recommend that all women of child bearing age take 400 mcg of folic acid to protect a child they might conceive from neural tube defect, a type of birth defect (6).
Men are also advised to watch their nutrient levels if they want to father a healthy baby. Vitamins C (7), B12 (8) and E (9), as well as zinc (10) and magnesium (11) have been shown to positively impact fertility.
Say no to Drugs
In a 1966 recount of a couple's experience with pregnancy, a woman asked her doctor if she should cut down her smoking. He told her not to worry. This attitude toward the use of drugs including nicotine, caffeine and alcohol during pregnancy has changed dramatically in the past 30 years. Now we know that drug usage even before conception can be harmful.
The adverse effect of tobacco on pregnancy, fertility and health in general is well-publicized, yet one-third of women and men in their reproductive years smoke. At present, several studies allude to the damage smoking causes before conception. Research indicates that a woman smoker may harm her eggs (12), fallopian tubes and cervix (13). The cancer and mutation causing substances found in cigarette smoke can hurt a man's sperm. Some investigators suggest that if a mutated sperm successfully mates with an egg, the fetus may suffer (12,14).