How to ensure a healthy baby - the Foresight approach
To make babies you need a healthy egg, a healthy sperm and a healthy environment in which they can come together and grow. This is a critical time because the events that are occurring are unique. Cells have to differentiate into different cells; grow to produce brain cells, heart cells, kidney cells etc.; have to put themselves into the right position in the body and grow at the correct level; and all this time connections between these developing organs must be made such as blood supply, nerve supply, hormone receptors, etc. To complete this process successfully, the foetus needs:
- A plentiful supply of vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids (EFAs)
- A plentiful supply of protein, fats and carbohydrates
- Correct thyroid function
- Freedom from toxic stress (via mother) such as:
- Infections: STD (sexually transmitted disease), rubella, toxoplasma, beta-haemolytic strep
- Use of exogenous sex hormones by mother.
The three months before and three months after conception are critical
This is when mother’s health must be optimal to ensure the best possible outcome to pregnancy. Father too must have a healthy 3 months to ensure quality sperm. The first three months of pregnancy are so important because this is when cells are differentiating. So from one pluri-potential stem cell arise all the different types of cell which make up a human body. This process is exquisitely sensitive to micronutrient deficiencies and toxic stress and can result in a host of biochemical, physical, mental and emotional abnormalities if we get things wrong. During the last six months of pregnancy, largely speaking, the baby is simply growing; but the principles that apply to the three month period preceding pregnancy and its first trimester should be maintained throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding.
There has been some fascinating work done by Prof. Barker at Southampton. He followed up thousands of babies born in Hertfordshire during the 1920s and 30s. These babies had been extensively measured at birth, goodness only knows why! Weight, length, head circumference, chest and abdominal girth, etc. were all recorded. What Prof. Barker found was that those babies who were small for dates (not premature, but those whose growth in the womb had been restricted) were far more likely to get disease and die young. Babies who are small for dates are small because they do not have as many cells in their body as needed. One is born with a certain number of cells and stuck with that number for the rest of one's life. For example each kidney should have about one million nephrons (kidney cells) at 12 weeks of gestation - as the baby grows these cells just get bigger and this process continues to adult life - there are no new cells made.
So if a baby is born small for dates, he will not have as many cells in his body. He may only have half a million kidney cells. It does not take a genius to work out that with only half the number of cells required to do the job, those cells are going to wear out quicker. And that is exactly what seems to happen. Small for dates babies are more likely to develop kidney failure, heart failure, brain failure (dementia), pancreatic failure (diabetes), etc.
At 12 weeks of life, the baby is perfectly developed and all the organs are formed. From 12 weeks onwards the cells just get bigger. And so one can see that the most critical time in one's whole life is this first 12 weeks before concenption and after. The time of the usual first antenatal appointment is six months too late!
What every parent must do before conception
It takes 3 months for an egg and a sperm to mature, so any changes to diet and environment must be for a minimum of 3 months, ideally 6 months, so that these changes can have an effect.
In an ideal world every parent would undergo "Gold Standard" testing. I have divided my work up into bronze, silver and gold standard.
Both parents should apply The general approach to maintaining and restoring good health.
Bronze standard workup
This applies to parents who have had no previous health problems, have no current symptoms and are fully fit, are under the age of 30 and each parent has only ever had one sexual partner, i.e. the present partner.
- Both parents should take the standard nutritional supplements - ie a multivitamin, mineral, essential fatty acid and vitamin C and D.
- Eat as healthy a diet as you can, i.e. low GI, varied, organic if possible, daily meat, fish, eggs, dairy; no alcohol; caffeine in moderation. See Stone Age Diet. More often I now prescribe the ketogenic diet - please see Ketogenic diet - the practical details and My book The PK Cookbook - Go Paleo-ketogenic and get the best of both worlds.
- Do not do a weight reducing diet in the three months leading up to pregnancy or during pregnancy. This is for two reasons - firstly, the growing baby needs unrestricted nutrients. Secondly, we all have toxic chemicals stored in our fat. Dieting releases them into the blood stream, they cross the placenta and poison the baby.
- Before conception consider FIR Saunaing to reduce the chemical load. My experience is that 50 saunas reduces the load by 50%. See Detoxification - an overview and Detoxing - Far Infrared Sauna (FIRS). DO not do detox regimes during pregnancy because one risks mobilising toxins which could damage the foetus.
- Blood tests for rubella antibodies and toxoplasma before conception (by the first antenatal appointment it is too late).
- Avoid all exposure to chemicals - see Chemical Poisoning and Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) - how to reduce your daily exposures
- Multistix urine testing.
- Note S.T.D.s (sexually transmitted diseases) are a major cause of infertility and first trimester miscarriage. If either parent has had a sexual partner other than the present partner, screening for S.T.D. is essential, even if there are no symptoms.
Silver standard workup
Applies to all parents who:
- Have had previous health problems;
- Have current symptoms, such as headaches, fatigue;
- Are unable to get fully fit physically and mentally;
- Are over 30.
- All of the bronze work up
- The environmental approach to tackling current health problems - see appropriate section on this website for fatigue, headaches, gut problems, etc.
- Screening tests for nutritional deficiencies: Vitamin profile; mineral profile; essential fatty acid profile.
- Other screening tests: thyroid function test (both parents); haematology and biochemistry, Kelmer test for mercury load.
- Group B Streptococcal infections are a particular problem in pregnancy and should be screened for - antibiotic cover may be needed at delivery.
Gold standard workup
What I would ideally have everybody do!
- All of the bronze and silver standard work up
- Test for pesticide levels and possible volatile organic compounds (eg if you work or have worked with chemicals such as used in photographics, printing, paints, carpets etc)
- Functional sperm test
I recommend you read Preparation for Pregnancy - an essential guide by Gail Bradley and Nicholas Bennet £12.99 from Argyll Publishing 01369 820 229. This goes into the above issues in more detail as well as the dietary aspects.
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