best month to conceive
Fertility

December is the best month to conceive

Research shows that December is the best month to conceive. Arlene Harris looks at why winter conceptions results in the highest birth rates.

Since time began, new life has always been associated with spring time – whether it’s lambs or ducklings, flowers or trees, it is seen as a time for new growth. And while of course not all babies are born during the spring, there seems to be a certain association with this season as being the perfect time to bring forth new life.

But according to new research from Indiana University, it could actually be the worst time of the year to give birth, as being pregnant during the autumn and winter reduces your chances of absorbing much-needed vitamin D, thus making late winter the best time to conceive.

Following 52 million pregnancies over 12 years, researchers found that December conceptions resulted in the highest birth rates. Lead researcher Dr Paul Winchester explained in a speech at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, that higher levels of Vitamin D obtained during the summer months are beneficial for the growth of healthy babies. “We have seen significant seasonal differences in reproduction,” he said. “Valentine’s Day is one of the least likely times to conceive a baby, whereas Christmas seems a very positive time.”

Helen Kelly is proof of this theory as all of her three children were conceived during ‘ Tis the season to conceive December – but she says this was more to do with cosy nights in than a desire for maximum vitamin D during pregnancy. “People always laugh when they find out that my three children (Tara, Sean and Conor) have birthdays in September and this is because they were all conceived in December,” she says. “I joke that our daughter was conceived during a house move when we had no TV for a few weeks – but it’s not that far from the truth. “

And the boys also happened to have been created when it was cold and dark outside and with a toddler upstairs Paul and I weren’t doing too much socialising so had find our fun from somewhere. But to be fair to us, I also have quite a few friends with children born in the autumn months, so I don’t think we were alone in our festive frolics.”

However, while you may have fun trying to conceive this month, Ireland isn’t exactly known for its wall-to-wall sunshine, so if vitamin D absorption is top on your list of priorities, Dr Marian Faughnan, Chief Specialist in Nutrition at Safefood, advises would-be-mums to look to other sources.

“Vitamin D is essential in our diet and along with calcium helps in the development of healthy bones,” she says. “During pregnancy, the baby’s skeleton and bones are forming and the nutrients to do this must come from the mother’s diet. In Ireland we don’t produce much vitamin D from sunlight and have limited food sources (oily fish, eggs and fortified foods) so it can be very difficult to get enough vitamin D.  And those with dark skin are at increased risk of low vitamin D. Therefore it is advisable to talk to your pharmacist or doctor about taking a supplement.”

Midwife and GentleBirth facilitator, Tracey Donegan says the most important issue for women who are pregnant at any time of the year is to stay as healthy as possible.

“The most important factors for mums when conceiving and enjoying the practice is a healthy diet, light exercise, plenty of sleep and keeping a handle on their stress,” she advises. “All of these factors have been shown to impact mum and baby’s health. Going into a pregnancy being the healthiest and fittest you’ve ever been stacks the odds of your pregnancy and baby being healthy – and of course a little sunshine is good for everyone, but we can’t have everything.”

Dr Winchester claimed that conceiving in June is ‘toxic’ and ‘Valentine’s Day’ is one of the ‘least likely’ times to conceive a baby, but Donegan says there really isn’t a ‘perfect’ time to conceive or give birth, and as most people are unable to plan their conception date down to a T, it is not advisable to worry would-be mothers unnecessarily.

“There are of course climate and cultural trade-offs to being pregnant at a certain time of the year,” she says. “More babies are born around Valentine’s Day than Halloween, which also suggests there may be additional unconscious factors around when babies make their entrance.

“We have to keep in mind that around half of all pregnancies are unplanned so I would be very cautious reading into research which suggests any particular month is ‘toxic’ – as this will create unnecessary stress for mum and her unborn baby.”

She also says that while vitamin D is obviously beneficial, being pregnant during a hot summer isn’t always plain sailing. “Not all mums would agree that being heavily pregnant in hot weather is a plus,” says Donegan.

“In Ireland, our temperate climate means we may only have a few days of very hot weather. Although this can be a bonus as the warmer weather means she is getting some extra vitamin D, it also brings swollen ankles, dehydration, breathlessness and exhaustion for a heavily pregnant woman, which can be very tough going. “In my opinion I would say it’s really important that mums who travel abroad in pregnancy to hotter climates avoid the excessive sunlight and stay well hydrated and rested.”

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Ask Allison

Q My sister-in-law and I both work three-day weeks and we help each
other out with child minding on our working days, which up until recently has worked out really well. Between us, our kids are aged between five and nine years – the problem is that it’s now become quite apparent that we have very different parenting styles. I prefer my two daughters (seven and nine) to have a structured day. For example, in my house, we have allocated times for television and iPads, etc. My sister-in-law, however, lets the kids run loose after school – homework is ignored and my kids end up wired after eating sugary treats all afternoon. I am considering looking at after-school childcare for the kids, but I’m worried that this is going to cause a family argument. Is there a diplomatic way that I can ask my sister-in-law to introduce some discipline into her child-minding days? It certainly doesn’t do her two kids any harm when I am minding them in my own house!

A
In a word, no, there is no diplomatic way to do this as it may very likely seem like your saying that your parenting style is better than
hers. As L’Óreal says, ‘now here comes the science bit.’ Dr. Kaylene
Henderson, a child psychiatrist, wrote a very interesting blog about ‘the
science behind the Mummy Wars’. She explains that before she had
children of her own she hadn’t been aware of how parents have a
very specific sense of the right parenting style. She also found that parents could be very definite in defending their chosen parenting style. Dr. Henderson, who describes herself as a curious, scientific, open-minded person, was surprised at how defensive parents could be and, at times, of their judgemental attitude towards each other. She explained the neurology of the Mummy Wars; okay, I’ll need you to bear with me for a second. Warning; I’m about to use some neuro-techie language.

Why do we judge each other?
As we have all had different experiences, this means that we all have very different memories stored in our brains. Most of our memories are ‘explicit’ memories – these are ones that we can recall easily such as important dates that mean something to us; important birthdays, special events or stories of and about our lives.
There is another type of memory called ‘implicit’ memory that plays a
key role in our parenting. This type of memory is the stuff that you do on autopilot. Psychologists call these heuristics or rules of thumb –
such as tying your shoelace, or driving your car (once you have learnt
to do both first!). Otherwise we’d really waste a huge amount of time
pondering over tasks that we have readily available to us. This seems to be where the science bit of our parenting style kicks in. This implicit memory goes all the way back to when you were an infant being parented by your parents. This is when you started the process of storing up how they did it into your memories.
Unless you make a conscious choice and effort to parent differently, what you saw and unconsciously learnt will be your automatic go-to parenting style.

We learn habits
This can really kick into gear when we feel our parenting style is
being mirrored or highlighted by disapproval from another parent. I know the cold sweat you feel when your child decides to make their outstanding bad behaviour performance at, of course, the most public and worst time. The implicit autopilot of how your parents dealt with these outbursts will flow unconsciously from you if you haven’t worked super hard to be aware and consciously change the old habits.
What’s happening for the on-looking parent is that they see you doing something they are used to doing, but you are doing it all wrong. Simply, because that is not how they know how to do it.

Find a way that works
You both have different parenting styles – who is to say which type is correct? You just need to know what works best for your family and that’s the bottom line. The irksome feelings won’t go away. You can talk to your sister-in-law, but I’m adding a caveat that it would be hard not to hurt her feelings. What we’re possibly looking at is that you prefer a more structured form of parenting, whereas your sister-in-law has a more permissive style. I’m not sure the two styles can mix, the mixture is a bit like oil and water.
If a collaborative shared form of parenting style can be agreed upon, then that is great, but our learnt hardwiring may prove difficult to change despite the intent to do so.
Perhaps, your own instinct of changing childcare might work best for you. In terms of making childcare work; the fit is ultimately the most
important aspect as you want a cohesive congruent feeling of the other caregiver to just ‘getting it’, like in any good partnership. Best of luck
with this and I wish you both well.

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Ask Sarah

Q I’ve heard a lot about the Paleo diet and as I am very interested in reducing the amount of processed foods and grain based meals my family eats, we are considering following this diet. From what I read it seems to be a back-to-basics type of eating. Is a Paleo diet safe for children? My kids are aged seven and nine.

A The Paleo diet is one of the most fashionable diets around at the moment. It is also known as the ‘caveman diet’ and is based on cutting out processed foods, starchy foods like bread and potatoes and eating more meat, vegetables and fruit.
As fad diets go, it is not the worst but there are some good and bad sides to it. Reducing the amount of processed foods we eat is always a good idea and by doing that you will usually reduce the amount of fat, salt and sugar you eat, which is a good thing! The problem with the Paleo diet is that it also cuts out dairy (on the basis that cavemen didn’t drink milk) and this means that the diet is very low in calcium. For this reason it is really not suitable for children who do need a lot of calcium for growing bones. How did cavemen manage without dairy? They ate a lot more food than we do (up to 10,000 calories per day compared to the 2,000 most of us eat). By eating that amount of food they were able to pick up just enough calcium from green vegetables and seeds. To put it in perspective, you would need to eat 16 servings of broccoli a day to get all the calcium you need. This is easier to do if you eat 10,000 calories per day rather than 2,000.
The other problem with the paleo diet is that it is not entirely based in science. Many of the Paleo diets out there say you should not eat wheat, even though we know that cavemen did in fact eat wheat and other grains. These diets also don’t recommend that you eat blubber and the big lumps of fat that were also a large part of the caveman diet!
A final problem is that many Paleo diets encourage people to cut out beans and lentils and to get their protein from meat and fish instead. Many studies over the last few years are clear that eating too much animal protein is linked with more cancer and heart disease. Eating some vegetarian meals based on beans and lentils is a great way to get your protein without always going for meat.
Is this a diet we should follow? I think there is a lot we can learn from the Paleo diets. We could all do with eating less salt, sugar and processed foods and adding in more nuts and seeds as well as more vegetables. However, I think following a strict Paleo diet could lead to low levels of calcium and vitamin D and so it is not suitable for children or teens and adults would need to think about a calcium supplement.