Cleansing Before Pregnancy
Preparing her body for conception and pregnancy is one of the most important things a woman can do for her health and the health of her baby.
This is especially true today, when according to the Centers for Disease Control a growing number of women have difficulty getting pregnant, and more than 9 million of those women seek fertility services each year. While experts agree that following a healthy diet, exercising regularly and getting plenty of sleep are essential to a healthy pregnancy, they may not always be enough. That's because women today must contend with an overwhelming number of harmful toxins that can sabotage their efforts at motherhood and seriously threaten their chances at successful conception and pregnancy. The answer, natural health practitioners say, begins with herbal internal cleansing.
Practiced by myriad cultures throughout history, regular internal cleansing supports the body's natural ability to continually filter and eliminate hazardous toxins and waste. It involves a complex group of organs and organ systems—specifically the lungs, liver, lymphatic system, kidneys, skin, blood and bowel (or colon)—working together to provide a solid foundation of overall health, which is especially important prior to conception.
Essentially, internal cleansing helps women prime their bodies naturally to ensure a strong, healthy pregnancy.
More Toxins, More Risk
While human advancement is and will always be inevitable, the results have often proved devastating. Currently there are more than 80,000 chemicals in use in the United States alone, with roughly 1,000 more being produced each year—scores of which have been shown to cause everything from mild allergies to birth defects and chronic disease. For the majority of those chemicals, there are few (if any) regulatory standards in place to ensure their safety, and that means serious health risks for modern would-be moms.
Research shows that certain environmental toxins, including organochlorine pesticides and insecticides such as DDT—banned in the U.S. since the early seventies due to its carcinogenic (cancer-causing) properties—mimic female sex hormones known as estrogens. In doing so, they can adversely affect the levels of both estrogen and progesterone in the body. Progesterone is another hormone that is critical to healthy reproduction, as it helps secure the fertilized egg to the uterine wall and prevent infertility and miscarriage.
Incidentally, such estrogen-mimicking chemicals have also been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer. Other dangerous chemicals that can inhibit fertility include certain plasticizers (used in the manufacturing of plastic products, concrete, cement and drywall); PCBs (used in pesticides, commercial flame retardants, adhesives, paints, sealants, coolants and insulation); dioxins (the byproduct of industrial burning, as in medical waste incineration); and benzene (an industrial solvent and known carcinogen).
Similar to their estrogen-mimicking counterparts, such chemicals have been shown to disrupt the human endocrine system, which regulates the release of hormones in the body, including those necessary for healthy conception and pregnancy. Published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, one study examined the effects of toxic metals such as lead and mercury on fertility and found that "reduction of an increased heavy metal body load improved the spontaneous conception chances of infertile women." For this reason, many targeted cleansing formulas focus on drawing out toxic metals from deep within the cells and tissues and removing them from the body.
A Mother's Womb: Safe No More?
In the past, a mother's womb was considered a safe haven. It was there that the developing fetus received everything necessary for optimal growth and was shielded from the harsh exterior world until the moment of birth. Today, science has proven otherwise. Growing research reveals that the womb is no longer the sanctuary it once was. Rather, if a mother is exposed even to trace amounts of hazardous chemicals, those toxins will be passed along to her baby through the roughly 300 quarts of blood that are circulated daily through the umbilical cord and into the placenta.
In a recent collaborative study conducted by the non-profit organizations Environmental Working Group and Commonweal, researchers found that in addition to supplying the fetus with vital nutrients, the umbilical cord also carries "…a steady stream of industrial chemicals, pollutants and pesticides that cross the placenta as readily as residues from cigarettes and alcohol". Of the 287 chemicals detected in the umbilical cord blood of each participant, "180 cause cancer in humans or animals, 217 are toxic to the brain and nervous system, and 208 cause birth defects or abnormal development."
Herbal Cleansing for Mother and Baby
As early as a year before conceiving, natural health practitioners recommend that women embark on a personal detoxification journey that includes regular internal cleansing. One reason why cleansing prior to conception is so important is because it helps strengthen and tone the detoxification organs—which will eventually experience increased stress during pregnancy—and puts the entire body in peak condition for healthy fertilization. Another essential reason to cleanse before conception and pregnancy is to promote healthy liver function.
As the primary detoxification organ, the liver is responsible for countless tasks, including ensuring a proper balance of reproductive hormones in the body. Says best-selling author and natural health and nutrition expert Brenda Watson in her book, The Detox Strategy: Vibrant Health in 5 Easy Steps, "A properly functioning liver is able to clear 99 percent of toxins from the blood before that blood is generated to the rest of the body." However, if this vital organ becomes overburdened with toxins, it may not be able to carry out its job effectively. This can in turn lead to a multitude of problems, one of which is infertility. Research indicates that herbal detoxification may also support proper circulation and help cleanse the uterine wall, both of which help provide a healthy environment for the developing embryo.
Further, several studies have made a connection between herbal cleansing and an increase in the number of readily available egg cells, as well as improving the overall health of a woman's eggs. When choosing an herbal cleanse, look for a formula with ingredients such as burdock root, dandelion leaf and root, milk thistle seed, turmeric, red clover, nettle, and yellow dock, all of which have been used traditionally to help purify the blood and provide cleansing and nutritive support for the entire body. Natural digestive aids such as ginger root, fennel, cumin, spearmint and peppermint may also be added to enhance absorption and promote healthy bowel function.
Pregnancy, Breastfeeding and Beyond
The benefits of herbal cleansing go beyond just supporting healthy conception. Experts agree that an excess amount of toxins in the body may be the cause of some of the more unpleasant side effects of pregnancy, including nausea, heartburn, constipation, mood swings and low energy, but detoxifying the body prior to becoming pregnant can help alleviate these symptoms and ensure a healthier, happier nine months.
Aside from purifying the body and eliminating harmful toxins, cleansing has another important function with regard to fetal health. An effective detoxification program prior to conceiving will also provide needed nutrient support for both mother and baby during pregnancy. This is especially important, since high toxicity levels in the mother's body can cause poor mother-to-fetus nutrient absorption. Added herbal ingredients may also help strengthen the reproductive organs. Finally, just as the umbilical cord can carry toxins to a developing fetus in the womb, a mother's breast milk can transfer harmful contaminants to the newborn baby.
For this reason, cleansing prior to pregnancy can help rid the body of toxins that may otherwise be circulated through the bloodstream and into the breast milk. Herbs such as fennel, nettle leaf and yellow dock promote healthy lactation, and nutritive herbs such as burdock and raspberry leaf help enrich the breast milk during nursing.
Be Proactive for a Healthy Pregnancy
Every choice a woman makes prior to the conception, development and birth of her baby can have lasting effects on her own health and the health of her child. By utilizing the benefits of natural herbal detoxification before becoming pregnant, every would-be mom can improve her overall well being and provide a healthful, nourishing environment in which her baby can grow and thrive.
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