Babies come into the world and join their families in different ways. Sometimes conception comes as a surprise and sometimes pregnancy is more difficult to achieve or takes longer to occur than parents had hoped. When a new mother does conceive, her attention often turns to creating the healthiest environment possible for her developing child, to reduce the likelihood of health challenges that can arise as the baby prepares for life outside the womb. A pre-pregnancy detox program can help you prepare that ideal developmental environment before conception has even taken place.
Why detox before pregnancy?
Studies have shown that babies are often born with hundreds of toxic chemicals in their umbilical cord blood, which have been passed to the baby from their mother’s diet and the chemicals she was exposed to before and during pregnancy . Exposure to environmental toxins such as tobacco smoke, air pollution, and pesticides can lead to reduced birth weight, preterm delivery, or pregnancy loss . Because development is occurring so rapidly in utero, children exposed to toxins during this time have a greater chance of future developmental delays and impaired neurological function, adult chronic illnesses (such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer), and reduced reproductive capacity .
Luckily, it has also been demonstrated that a reduction in chemical exposure and an organic diet can translate directly to a reduction in toxins measured in the body, even within just a few days . This factor provides evidence that a conscious change in behavior and purposeful detoxification program can begin to clean up the body quickly in preparation to host new life.
Aside from toxins, what you put in your body before baby should also support the maintenance of a healthy weight. Women who are significantly overweight or obese are more likely to run up against infertility and gestational challenges. Risks to the mother during pregnancy include gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, risks to the fetus include stillbirth and congenital anomalies, and both mother and child will be at greater risk of heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes later in life . If you think you may be holding on to extra weight due to your diet and an unhealthful lifestyle, a pre-pregnancy detox may be a great start towards reaching a healthier weight for your body type, increasing your chances of getting pregnant, and having a healthy baby.
In addition to the things you’ll want out of your body before a new baby grows, there are also some nutrients that you’ll want to have more of. Probably the most important of all is folate. Folate is the general term for all of the variations of vitamin B-9. Activated folate (methylfolate) is necessary for many functions in the body, but one of its most important roles is in the neural tube development of a fetus. Often, the early development of neural tubes (what will become the spine and brain) happens before a woman knows she is pregnant, meaning her folate status before conception is crucial to the health of her baby’s growing spine and brain. It has been estimated that 50-70% of neural tube defects can be prevented if a mother’s folate status is sufficient before conception and throughout the first trimester of pregnancy .
While you may be consuming folate-rich foods or fortified foods with added synthetic folate (called folic acid), the folate in food is not highly bioavailable and many people have a genetic inability to properly process folic acid . If you want to be sure your body has plenty of methylfolate to support healthy neural development in your fetus, supplemental L-methylfolate may be the most reliable source.
How do I cleanse my body before pregnancy?
There are lots of options for detox programs and cleanses, and whatever you choose should be closely guided by a healthcare practitioner to be sure it is the best path for your particular body on the road to fertility.
Often, mothers-to-be find interest in a heavy metal detox, as trace amounts of toxic heavy metals such as lead, mercury, and arsenic can be found in the food we eat and build up in the body over time. For example, eating a diet that is heavy with large saltwater fish such as swordfish and tuna can lead to high mercury levels in the body. While there are prescription therapies to cause “chelation”, or the removal of heavy metals, these treatments are controversial and can cause more harm than good as essential minerals like iron and zinc are also lost in the process . A much safer, albeit more gradual way to detox heavy metals is to eat foods that have been shown to reduce heavy metals in the body or supplement with safe amounts of chelating nutrients. For example, high fiber diets have been shown to reduce mercury levels in the brain and blood, and foods rich in sulfur (such as broccoli and garlic) have been shown to prevent kidney damage from cadmium and reduce oxidative damage caused by lead . Glutathione, alpha lipoic acid (ALA), and selenium are three great examples of nutrients with chelating activities that can be supplemented at doses recommended by your healthcare practitioner.
Of course, when getting rid of toxins, you want to be sure you aren’t loading more back in. Eating an all-organic diet is a great start, but toxins can enter your body through other avenues as well. Taking precautions like drinking filtered water, avoiding polluted air and chemical fumes, and checking your cosmetics and household cleaners for potential endocrine-disrupting chemicals may all contribute to improving your fertility. For example, the chemical bisphenol A (BPA) has caught a lot of attention for its endocrine disrupting activities, but for many years it has been used in the plastic containers and aluminum can linings in which we store our food and drinks –yes, even the organic ones.
Avoiding processed foods and sugar is another important step of pre-pregnancy detox. Both can cause inflammation and leaky gut, and high sugar intake before pregnancy can increase one’s risk of developing gestational diabetes [8,9].
The body of course has its own natural detox system, centered around the liver, which requires regular excretion of toxins through bowel movements. No matter your detox plan, make sure you are encouraging a daily bowel movement through your diet by maintaining a healthy intake of fiber and possibly taking a magnesium citrate supplement to promote bowel motility. You can support phase I and phase II detoxification processes in the liver with herbal extracts like silymarin (from milk thistle), and nutrients such as N-acetyl Cysteine (NAC) and ALA [10,11,12]. Metabolic Maintenance offers a detox support formula, Metabolic Detox, that contains all three as active ingredients.
Can a detox or fertility diet help me conceive?
A large cohort study following women with ovulatory infertility issues showed that diet and lifestyle did have an effect on their ability to get pregnant . Women who adhered to a diet that was higher in monounsaturated fats instead of trans fats, higher in vegetable protein rather than animal protein, lower in carbohydrates (and choosing low glycemic carbohydrates when carbohydrates were consumed), and included high-fat dairy, multivitamins, and iron were less likely to suffer from ovulation-related infertility . Of course there are many reasons a couple may have trouble conceiving that are not related to ovulation, so this factor must be taken into account when deciding if a fertility diet is right for you. On the other hand, the “fertility diet” described in the study is similar to the Mediterranean diet, an objectively healthy diet for anyone (adjusting for individual food sensitivities or allergies) that is generally safe to follow whether or not you intend to conceive.
How long before getting pregnant should you detox?
The answer to “when should I detox?” is different depending on the type of detox program you choose. Some doctors recommend planning the detox for three to twelve months before trying to conceive, to be sure all toxins are out of the system and a solid plan has been set into place for staying clean during pregnancy . It also takes about 120 days to see a change in cells (red blood cells, eggs, sperm, etc.) caused by dietary and lifestyle modifications, so that means a detox now will take about 4 months to take effect on the cellular level .
If you are starting a detox several months in advance of planned conception, it is also a great time to start tracking your ovulation, if you haven’t already. As your lifestyle and diet become healthier, you may find your hormones are better regulated and your ovulation and menstrual periods more predictable . Try using a tracking app (such as GLOW or Clue) on your smartphone to keep track of period dates, body temperature, and the texture of cervical fluid, to better predict when you ovulate each month.
Although you may not immediately associate stress with nutrition, stress is an important factor in the way your body uses nutrients. Stress can affect your fertility by causing hormone imbalance, blood sugar imbalance, and can even affect your children’s genetics by turning off and on genes that would be expressed differently without the presence of stress hormones . Because of these factors, it is important to get a handle of your stress levels before conception. Make stress relief a part of your detox by starting a regular exercise regimen, meditating, talking to a therapist, or planning a way to minimize your workload. Whatever you, uniquely need to relax. Make sure it is sustainable and regimented so that by the time you do conceive, your stress relief activity is a habit, and the baby can thrive in a low-stress environment. A 2010 study found that it takes an average of 66 days for a new behavior to become automatic, so you may want to figure those two months into your pregnancy preparation as well .
- Environmental Working Group. “A benchmark investigation of industrial chemicals, pollutants and pesticides in umbilical cord blood.” Body Burden: The Pollution in Newborns. http://www. ewg. org/research/body-burden-pollution-newborns. Published July 14 (2005).
- Stillerman, Karen Perry, et al. “Environmental exposures and adverse pregnancy outcomes: a review of the science.” Reproductive Sciences 15.7 (2008): 631-650.
- Lu, Chensheng, et al. “Organic diets significantly lower children’s dietary exposure to organophosphorus pesticides.” Environmental health perspectives 114.2 (2006): 260-263.
- Leddy, Meaghan A., Michael L. Power, and Jay Schulkin. “The impact of maternal obesity on maternal and fetal health.” Reviews in obstetrics and gynecology 1.4 (2008): 170.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC. “Spina bifida and anencephaly before and after folic acid mandate–United States, 1995-1996 and 1999-2000.” MMWR. Morbidity and mortality weekly report 53.17 (2004): 362.
- Bayes, Jessica, Nitish Agrawal, and Janet Schloss. “A pilot trial examining the absorption of oral forms of folate supplementation in a healthy population: A randomised control trial.” Advances in Integrative Medicine 6.2 (2019): 51-57.
- Sissons, Beth. “What is a heavy metal detox?” Medical News Today. December 16, 2019 https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/327317
- Michielan, Andrea, and Renata D’Incà. “Intestinal permeability in inflammatory bowel disease: pathogenesis, clinical evaluation, and therapy of leaky gut.” Mediators of inflammation 2015 (2015).
- Chen, Liwei, et al. “Prospective study of pre-gravid sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and the risk of gestational diabetes mellitus.” Diabetes care 32.12 (2009): 2236-2241.
- Saller, Reinhard, Remy Meier, and Reto Brignoli. “The use of silymarin in the treatment of liver diseases.” Drugs 61.14 (2001): 2035-2063.
- Çağlıkülekci, Mehmet, et al. “The effect of N-acetylcysteine (NAC) on liver and renal tissue inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) and tissue lipid peroxidation in obstructive jaundice stimulated by lipopolysaccharide (LPS).” Pharmacological research 49.3 (2004): 227-238.
- Tanaka, Yoshito, et al. “Alpha-lipoic acid exerts a liver-protective effect in acute liver injury rats.” Journal of surgical research 193.2 (2015): 675-683.
- Chavarro, Jorge E., et al. “Diet and lifestyle in the prevention of ovulatory disorder infertility.” Obstetrics & Gynecology 110.5 (2007): 1050-1058.
- Veljkovic, Kamila K. “Ultimate Guide to Preconception & Optimizing your Fertility Part I: Detoxification.”
- Mumford, Sunni L., et al. “Dietary fat intake and reproductive hormone concentrations and ovulation in regularly menstruating women.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 103.3 (2016): 868-877.
- Lally, Phillippa, et al. “How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world.” European journal of social psychology 40.6 (2010): 998-1009.