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Preconception tests to consider



“Time and health are two precious assets that we don’t recognise and appreciate until they have been depleted.”

Denis Waitley



 

I want to preface this post by saying, it's no secret I am a massive fan of preconception care and health, however, I also consider that a lot of what I speak to requires a level of access and affordability. Where I am (Australia), we are fortunate to have access to holistic and allied health professionals, earn a decent wage and have the resources and cultural environment to take control of our own health. I know and am saddened by the fact, that this is not the case everywhere.


These tests can be requested from your medical GP or specialist, however, within their training and practice, many of these tests may seem insignificant or unreasonable until there is clear evidence of infertility or conception challenges.


Sourcing a naturopath, dietician or similar healthcare professional can support you throughout your preconception care to have the most enjoyable experience, and to give your baby the best start to life that you can. It is optimal to undertake this testing a minimum of 3 months before you plan to conceive, as both the sperm and egg have roughly a 3-month maturation cycle. Preconception is a golden window, where epigenetic changes can be made and reduced risks of disease and conditions can occur. Making changes in the prenatal period is often too late, so we must consider the importance of this golden window and act upon it.


The below tests suit an individual or couple where at least one of the individuals will contribute to the conception process. For same-sex couples where one parent will be contributing their egg or sperm, heterosexual couples who are trying to conceive naturally or are currently looking into assisted conception, and single parents that will be sourcing a donor, these tests are a great place to start for your preconception care.


So, let's begin!



Ask your GP for preconception blood tests

Though there are no systematic guidelines or processes when it comes to preconception care, should you make a note to your GP that you are considering starting a family or having another child, they most likely will recommend running blood tests. Here you can find out your immunity status against things like rubella, check on your iron stores and folate stores, see if you have any infections and check your blood group.


GP's often interpret the results of these tests quite differently from those who are trained specifically in preconception and pregnancy, so I would recommend taking these results to a naturopath.


Hair analysis for vitamin and mineral levels

Often ordered through a naturopath, a hair analysis can show you where your vitamins, amino acids and minerals are at. This is one of the more affordable tests, and can show you a lot! Some studies have shown deficiencies in certain vitamins and minerals to be harmful to pregnancy and fetal outcomes. Not to mention, checking up on these can do a wealth of good for your own health and happiness. Some studies (see the end of the blog for sources) that showcase the impact of deficiencies:


  • Vitamin D is important for bone health, but can also play a role in low fertility. Maintaining appropriate vitamin D levels during pregnancy can reduce the risks of pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes

  • Vitamin A is crucial for ocular integrity, morphological and functional development, fetal organs and skeleton

  • Appropriate folate/folic acid levels have a strong protective effect on neural tube defects

  • Folic acid, B vitamins and zinc have been shown to affect early fetal development, even before women realize they are pregnant


Iron status

This will most likely be included in one of the other tests listed, but it is so important I want to make sure you check your iron levels! So many women are living with low iron stores. If you're one of them, you already know the detrimental effects it has on your life... your energy being one main aspect! Imagine going into pregnancy, birth and then parenthood already depleted? No thanks.


Requirements in pregnancy increase dramatically, so it is so important to make sure you're levels are not only above the minimum requirement, but abundant! Studies have shown that low preconception haemoglobin and ferritin levels increase the risk of poor fetal growth and low birth weight, increased maternal illness, premature birth and intrauterine growth restriction.



Heavy Metal exposure

We are continually exposed to toxins in our environment and working conditions. Heavy metal testing is often through a urine test and can identify if your body is storing heavy metals that may be interrupting your body's normal functioning. By removing these, many people experience a dramatic change in their health, including fertility and pregnancy outcomes.


Having heavy metals in your body when you conceive may increase your risk of early pregnancy loss, stillbirth, birth defects or fetal neurodevelopment concerns. Storing heavy metals also can enter your baby through breastfeeding.



Gut Analysis

This is one of the more expensive tests, but so, so worth it! With so much research recently being focused on the gut, microbiome and the role it plays in our health and wellbeing, this test can provide you with such great insight before conceiving. This test can help us understand our digestion, identify bacterial microflora and detect any parasites or bacteria that can cause disease.


A study has concluded that maternal diet causes profound changes in gut microbiota in pregnancy and affects the gut microbiota in their child. Quotes from this study:

"Since a growing body of evidence suggests that the period from conception through the first 2 years of life is pivotal for the formation of the gut microbiota, maternal preconception and early pregnancy present a unique opportunity to modify the composition of the gut bacteria of both mother and offspring"

- Maternal Lifestyle Interventions: Targeting Preconception Health


Beyond what we pass on to our children, poor gut health can create a variety of conditions such as IBS, extreme tiredness or lack of energy, mental health concerns, headaches, muscle aches or weakness, memory problems, and immune system dysfunction... to name a few.



Hormone Testing

This one seems to be a given, as menstrual cycles, conception, pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding are all hormonally driven experiences! The ongoing epidemic of hormonal conditions is a real problem and one that doesn't seem to be given the spotlight enough. Hormone testing before you try to conceive can pinpoint potential concerns before you run into them after trying to conceive for months or years.


It is our hormones that allow us to conceive, set up the environment for implantation, and support holding onto the pregnancy. Any imbalances, deficiencies or excess of hormones can hinder the success of conceiving, and most commonly come with a whole side of symptoms that aren't that fun to live with.



Thyroid/Iodine testing

Iodine deficiency is known to be linked with fertility problems, estrogen imbalance, increased perinatal death and infant mortality. People are speaking more about iodine and its role in conception and pregnancy, but if you're unaware, it is an essential mineral required by the body. Among its many roles, it synthesizes thyroid hormones.


Requirements for iodine increase by 50% during pregnancy, and deficiency in it can lead to various concerns such as maternal and fetal hypothyroidism and impaired neurological development of the baby.



Sperm analysis

Though our society and culture have a knee-jerk reaction to placing all fertility responsibility on the mother, or individual who will be carrying the baby, sperm health makes a huge difference in the ability to conceive.


Being 50% of the DNA, fathers, partners, and sperm donors play a bigger role than historically thought. If sperm is not mobile, healthy or adequate in quantity, conception can be challenging to get to. A sperm analysis is a must for preconception testing.



Other tests that may be suggested

Genetic testing isn't a common occurrence in family planning unless there is a family history that needs to be looked into. However, if you request genetic testing for peace of mind, I am sure that your healthcare professional can organise it for you.


A pap smear may be recommended also, especially if you are coming up to when you're due for one.


I would highly recommend a mental health screening or a consult with a mental health professional. For either parent, when one enters pregnancy and parenthood with mental health concerns, this predisposes them to perinatal or postpartum depression, anxiety and other conditions.



 

I hope I haven't overwhelmed you. It is not necessary for all of these tests to be done, and you don't need to do any of them. However, I highly recommend seeing a naturopath at least once to see if you would benefit from any of the above tests. Each preconception care plan is as individual as the person experiencing it, so take the advice and recommendations of your healthcare practitioner, and bring up any needs or wants of your own.


Many of these tests seem to be geared towards the female partner, or the one who is carrying the child. I strongly recommend that if there is a male in your co-parent dynamic, they also have a consult with a naturopath and see which tests they will benefit from. The DNA carried via their sperm is a collection of their health and wellbeing, lifestyle, health conditions and mental health, and can impact the child just as much as the womb they grow in.


Preconception is about maximising the health and happiness of your child but is also an incredible window of time where you are also able to improve your health and happiness. This is one of the beautiful gifts our children give us, please don't ignore it.




Studies and references:

https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/repro/heavymetals.html#:~:text=Lead%20and%20other%20heavy%20metals,affect%20a%20baby's%20brain%20development.

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1365-3016.2012.01275.x

https://brisbanenaturopath.com.au/complete-digestive-stool-analysis/

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1043276020300588

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6470929/

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/mnfr.201000044

https://reproductive-health-journal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1742-4755-11-S3-S3

https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/repro/heavymetals.html#:~:text=Lead%20and%20other%20heavy%20metals,affect%20a%20baby's%20brain%20development.




 

With a special interest in natural fertility, conscious conception and conscious relating through starting a family, I offer Birth Doula and related services to encourage more depth and awareness in your journey. I educate on the menstrual cycle and encourage women to reawaken their confidence and trust in their bodies, and show an understanding of how all of these experiences are interrelated and must be considered on your journey to starting a family.


To get in touch, email me at:

intuitivebirth@outlook.com or visit my social pages: