Everyone knows the importance of eating well during pregnancy and many avoid caffeine, processed meats, soft cheeses and alcohol during this time. But did you know that what may be just as influential in a child’s development is how you eat the months and even years leading up to conception?
In fact, in many traditional cultures observed, it was encouraged to eat a special diet high in sacred foods for 6 months to a year before conception. That maasai people, who Dr. Weston A. Price observed, only let men and women marry after months of consuming a diet high in milk from the wet season. This milk was much more nutrient dense, considerably higher in cholesterol and fat and lower in sugar. The idea of building a nutrition surplus before developing a child for 9 months makes perfect sense. You can’t give what you don’t have.
Here are a few practical reasons why it’s important to focus on your diet before you conceive:
- It takes somewhere around 150 days for an egg to mature before ovulation.
Six months of eating a nutrient dense diet can have a profound affect on the health of the egg released (as well as the quality of the sperm), giving you not only a better chance at conceiving, but a better chance at having a healthy, thriving child.
2. You pass 100% of your immune system to your child.
Before a child is born, it is completely sterile, meaning there is no bacteria, good or bad in their immune system whatsoever (compared to adults who are made of just as much, if not more bacteria than human cells). A child’s first introductions to immunity come in the form of vaginal bacteria (while leaving the birth canal), skin on skin contact, and breast-feeding. If parents have an unhealthy gut flora, it will be passed down to the child, often followed by colic, food intolerances as well as other diseases which can develop later on. Most people have pretty telling symptoms of gut dysbiosis, so it is crucial to alter this before conception to give your baby the best chance at a healthy immune system.
3. Most people have problems eating well during the first trimester.
During these 3 months everything from the brain to eyes and fingernails have begun developing. Nutrient deficiencies are a large reason for common development problems including impaired vision, a narrow jaw, crowded teeth, and learning disabilities. If you’re having a hard time keeping anything but french fries in your stomach, it’s very important that you have stored a good amount of essential nutrients for your baby to steal during those first few months!
Many women are told that they will be fine if they take a prenatal vitamin and stay away from a few dangerous foods. There are a few problems with this idea. Most pre-natal supplements contain synthetic vitamins that are manufactured in a lab. They may look the same on paper but our body does not use them in the same way that it uses vitamins that are naturally found in food. In fact, many suspect that the addition of lab manufactured vitamins to food like milk and cereal is a reason for the epidemic of food and nutrient intolerances. We cannot fool our body!
Another reason is that this may not be helpful at all is because, like I mentioned earlier, most adults have an impaired digestive system. They may have low stomach acid, an overgrowth of pathogens and a permeable intestinal wall. Rather than the body absorbing and using these “nutrients” there is a good chance that they are leaking into the blood stream, and actually doing harm to your body.
Finally, pre-natal may contain certain levels of micronutrients, but it cannot replace the role that macronutrients (healthy carbohydrates, good, brain building fats and proteins) have on fetal development. I don’t want to scare anyone, I just think we need to move away from the idea that taking a pill can somehow give a baby everything it needs to develop!
How diet influences the physical features and health of a baby:
Dr Weston a Price, dentist and author of Nutrition and Physical Degeneration spent years traveling the world, studying the diets of primitive cultures, observing their physical health and trying to find why his patients in America all had narrow faces, dental deformations in the form of overbites, crowded crooked teeth and decay. While observing many different cultures from the Canadian eskimos to the Australian aboriginals, he found these people groups to be in almost perfect health. There was virtually no dental decay, nor degenerative disease found. They also had perfect bone structure, wide faces with straight white teeth, and perfect vision. Things that we often consider to be genetic. Dr Price also examined those from these traditional cultures that moved into towns and began eating a processed western diet. He found that with the new diet came offspring with narrow faces, crowded teeth, and poor bone structure.
All of the healthy people groups ate diets high in pastured animal muscle and organ meats, animal fats like raw dairy, and vegetables. The diets varied from country to country depending on what was available but were all void of processed foods. After researching some of the sacred foods he found out that all of these diets are extremely high in vitamins and nutrients, compared to the western diet, specifically fat-soluble vitamins A and D. These fat soluble vitamins play a direct role in facial development of babies, which modern science has confirmed. Would you believe the way that you eat, prior to pregnancy can prevent your child from needing braces? If nutrient deficiencies can have such a dramatic affect on a child’s looks, think about how their mental development and health can be affected by what you’re eating.
Aside from vitamin A & D, we know today that these diets were also very high in other nutrients needed for fetal development including choline (brain development), folate (production of DNA) and biotin.
What is the ideal pre-pregnancy diet ?
First take notice if you OR YOUR FAMILY MEMBERS have any of the following symptoms of an unhealthy gut:
Mental symptoms– depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, ADD, ADHD, dyslexia, autism
Digestive symptoms- IBS, food intolerances/ allergies, chrons, colitis, chronic constipation, SIBO
Physical- epileptic seizures, skin irritations (acne, dandruff, eczema, psoriasis) fibromyalgia, autoimmune diseases
If you have one or more of these, have been on the birth control pill, a long course of antibiotics or have been a vegan, or vegetarian in the past, I highly suggest doing a gut healing diet for a year or two prior to conception. It is essential to take time building a healthy gut in these cases! The GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) diet by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride is the most well-researched, and successful diet that I have come across. It is very intense, but a year or two is nothing compared to a lifetime of health for your child!
If none of these apply to you, or there is absolutely no way you are going to do a gut healing diet, I highly recommend a traditional Weston A Price type of diet, high in organic, grass-fed muscle and organ meats, healthy nourishing fats like coconut oil, and raw butter, home-made meat stocks and bone broth, organic veggies and properly prepared grains.
Here are a few special pre-pregnancy foods that have been traditionally encouraged and backed up my modern science:
Liver from pastured, grass-fed animals- Cows liver is amongst the highest sources of choline, biotin, folate, vitamin A and vitamin D. These are some of the most crucial nutrients needed for fetal development. Chickens liver is high on the list as well. Just the addition of cows liver to the diet once or twice a week will do your future children wonders!
If you hate the taste, I suggest cutting up a liver into pill sized pieces, freezing and swallowing one or two each day like a supplement.
Egg yolks- High in choline, egg yolks are exceptional foods for a baby’s brain development as they encourage synaptic development, memory, and protect against toxins.
Grass-fed dairy- Raw dairy products are best as they contain all natural enzymes and vitamins, but are often discouraged during pregnancy. Personally I think it would be best to avoid toxic oils, processed foods, additives and sugar during pregnancy as they are much more damaging than the potential side effects of drinking raw milk. I have yet to see convincing evidence that it is harmful during pregnancy or in general. Either way, organic, dairy in the form of cheese, cream and unhomogenized milk is very beneficial for development as they are high in vitamins A, D, and E as well as K2 in some cheeses. The saturated fat content makes full fat dairy a perfect food for cell protection and brain development
I hope I have convinced you, if nothing less, to start being mindful of what you put into your body, especially if you are wanting to have children at some point. That extra liver twice a week could be the difference between a normal, and healthy vibrant child!