While many women do not start seriously thinking about their dietary and lifestyle habits until they have fallen pregnant, there is now much evidence which proves just how important a healthy diet is in improving fertility. As such, there are many foods which are known to contain the essential vitamins needed to help boost chances of pregnancy, while others should certainly be avoided.
Read more to understand the key dietary additions or changes you should be making in order to increase your likelihood of conception.
Switch up your protein
Instead of getting your protein from meats like pork and chicken, nutritionists recommend switching to plant-based protein sources such as nuts, beans and seeds. These are full of healthy fats and are lower in calories, making them very good for people who are struggling to conceive due to being overweight.
Likewise, lean red meats are a good source of iron and B12 vitamin and reduce your risk of ovulatory infertility, whilst also helping to produce red blood cells.
While being a good source of protein, oily fish products such as mackerel, salmon and sardines provide omega-3, omega-6 and essential fatty acids (EFAs); all of which play a strong role in the regulation of a woman’s reproductive cycle. For those who do not eat fish, flaxseed oil can provide a reasonable alternative source of EFAs.
Studies have shown that the greater amount of low-fat or non-dairy products a woman eats can directly impact her risk of infertility. As such, fertility nutritionists recommend consuming at least one portion of high-fat dairy, such as whole milk or full-fat yoghurt, per day when trying to fall pregnant. Dairy is key dietary staple, since it contains lots of calcium, which helps in developing and maintaining healthy bones, blood and the nervous system.
It is important to limit your intake of processed or ‘bad’ carbs, such as white bread, cakes and pasta, because the body digests these too quickly, whereby they then turn into blood sugar and cause the body to release insulin into the blood. Higher insulin levels are known to prevent ovulation.
Instead, try to eat more complex carbohydrates, like oats, brown rice and wholegrain pasta, which are a better source of energy and are digested slowly, having a more gradual effect on blood sugar levels and insulin in the body. Additionally, complex carbs are rich in vitamins B and E, which are vital for the reproduction of cells, healthy eggs and good hormonal balance.
Cut down the caffeine
We know the effects that caffeine can have on the body when pregnant, but a high caffeine intake can also cause problems with conceiving. It is, therefore, worthwhile to consider cutting down on your tea, coffee and energy drink intake. One or two cups per day is fine, but anything more could cause problems.
Take daily multi-vitamins
Women trying to conceive should be taking iron and zinc supplements and multi-vitamins which contain at least 400mg of folic acid, which is known for improving chances of natural fertility.
Folic acid supplements should ideally be consumed for three months prior to conception, and then for 12 weeks into pregnancy, as it is essential for healthy foetal development.
Maintaining an unhealthy weight (either over or under) is a key factor in infertility, which is why your weight should be kept within the healthy Body Mass Index (BMI) range of between 18.5 and 24. Regular, moderate exercise for 30 minutes per day, three to five times a week is very important and will help you in achieving your weight goals.
Of course, smoking and consuming alcohol in excess is strongly advised against, as with every healthy lifestyle, whether attempting to conceive or not!
When trying for a baby, and continuing into pregnancy, it is important to ensure the foods and drinks you are consuming are fresh, good quality and unprocessed. Poor quality, unhealthy foods can contain pesticides or added oestrogen, which can negatively affect your chances of conceiving.
If you are unsure of where to start, there are many fertility specialists out there, such as Balance Fertility, who are experts in advising couples on how to improve their diet and lifestyle in order to boost their chances of conception.
Grace Dugdale is a Reproductive Biologist and Nutrition Scientist who co-founded Balance Fertility, a London fertility clinic which specialises in medical, dietary and lifestyle consultations for both men and women’s reproductive health.