For some women, getting pregnant can happen quite quickly, but for others, it could take a little longer than expected. Factors like our age and genetics play an essential role in our ability to conceive and, unfortunately, these circumstances are usually out of our control.
However, there are specific lifestyle changes we can control to boost our fertility — such as our diet. Evidence from a Harvard study confirms that changing our eating habits can improve our chances of getting pregnant, but how exactly does this happen?
Nutrition for improved fertility and healthy pregnancy
Good nutrition is essential for fertility and healthy pregnancy. Couples should consider having a pre-conception visit with a Functional Medicine doctor to review their diet and nutrition. Please bear in mind that nutritional deficiencies take up to 3 months to correct and that egg development starts 3 months before conception, so ideally this visit should take place 6 months before you start trying for pregnancy
Many nutrients are known to contribute to healthy fertility and pregnancy, many of them are antioxidants. There is considerable overlap between the nutrients necessary for both healthy sperm and egg development. The following are some of these nutrients:
Folate is a B-group vitamin that supports the baby’s brain and spinal cord to develop properly, during the very early stages of pregnancy. It is difficult for women to get enough folate in their diet. Therefore, it is recommended that women take at least 400 micrograms of folic acid each day, which can be from a pregnancy multivitamin. Folate may also improve fertility.
Vitamin D deficiency is very common in our patient population. It is known that for best pregnancy outcomes you should have healthy levels of Vitamin D. It is important that levels are measured because this Vitamin can accumulate in the body unless monitored
There is more and more evidence that Zinc is a nutrient in egg development. Zinc deficiency can lead to smaller eggs and impair the egg’s ability to grow before fertilization. In men an adequate level of Zinc is needed for men’s health and normal sperm function and fertilization
It has been known for some time that Selenium is important to men’s fertility and sperm quality. Now research has shown how much of a critical role the natural antioxidant selenium plays at the earliest stages of a woman's fertility. Selenium deficiency is common in our patient population and can easily be corrected with a daily supplement. Giving the antioxidant CoQ10, which interacts with Selenium in the body, can further improve sperm quality.
We can also check for Iron deficiency, Iron deficiency is common in women and can lead to fatigue. Pregnancy increases Iron requirements so it is best to go in to pregnancy with a healthy level of iron. There is abundant evidence that healthy Omega 3 levels are important for pregnancy outcomes, as are a healthy diet and body weight.
For our pre-conception medical check we will look in to healthy diet. In addition we can check Iron, Vitamin D, and trace element (including Zinc and Selenium) and give both partners advice and a nutritional program to prepare for conception and healthy pregnancy.
How does eating affect fertility?
A healthy diet gives you the energy and nutrients your body needs to conceive. Often, the foods we eat can affect our hormone levels, quality of blood, and circulation of fluids around the body. These systems all play a role in our fertility, and any irregular levels can make it more difficult to try for a baby.
According to the Harvard study, folic acid, vitamin B12, omega-3 fatty acids and generally healthy diets are all linked to positive effects on fertility as they improve ovulation. Ensuring your intake of these nutrients before trying for a baby can boost your chances of conception, and additionally lower the risks of any foetal issues during pregnancy (such as the development of the baby’s central nervous system).
Whether you’re just starting to conceive or you’ve been trying for some time now — it’s essential to understand what you’re putting into your body. We’ve outlined eight superfoods that you can consider adding to boost your chances of conception:
8 Superfoods to boosting your fertility
1. Spinach and kale
These are leafy greens that are rich in folate, vitamins, calcium, manganese, iron and fibre. They help your body produce healthy red blood cells, which improve ovulation to help you get pregnant faster.
Filled with antioxidants like vitamin C and quercetin, boosting your intake of this superfood helps improve egg quality to increase your chances of getting pregnant.
Oysters are packed with more zinc per serving than any other food and includes selenium, which helps the body to produce good quality eggs. They are known to prevent infertility.
Salmon is an oily fish that is high in omega-3 fatty acids, selenium and vitamin D. Omega-3 fatty acids help to regulate hormones in the body and increase blood flow to the reproductive organs.
5. Walnuts and ground flaxseeds
These are a great source of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids, which researchers have found to balance hormones, boost fertility and improve sperm quality.
6. Chia seeds
This is the richest plant source of omega-3 fatty acids. Chia seeds also contain antioxidants, fibre, iron, magnesium and zinc – which are all beneficial to pregnancy. They help the body produce healthy eggs and red blood cells, regulate hormones, and increase blood flow to the reproductive organs.
Cacao contains antioxidants and phytonutrients that are necessary for hormonal balance and healthy eggs. It is also known to promote healthy ovulation.
8. Wholegrain bread
Wholegrain bread contains slowly digested carbohydrates that are rich in fibre, which can help improve fertility by controlling blood sugar and insulin levels.
All these superfoods are rich in the nutrients you need to boost fertility naturally, but they are not an excuse for making your diet monotonous. The key is to balance them for a healthy diet while you make this positive lifestyle change and get rid of unnecessary foods like junk food and sodas (soft drinks). A healthy and balanced diet is not just for baby-making; it is for your overall well-being as well.
Foods to avoid when trying to conceive
Again, a pre-pregnancy diet is in essence, a generally healthy diet. The first thing to do if you’re trying to conceive is to avoid alcohol, smoking and any unhealthy foods such as processed meat and fast foods.
In particular, there are two certain foods that you need to avoid for a better chance of getting pregnant:
- Trans fats — These are typically found in commercially prepared products and fast foods. They cause insulin resistance and inflammation, which are detrimental to fertility. Excessive intake of trans fat can even damage the blood vessels.
- Low-fat dairy — This includes low-fat yoghurt and low-fat milk. Harvard researchers have found these foods to be linked with ovulation problems and increased risk of infertility. In contrast, full-fat dairy appears to have the opposite effect on fertility.
Eating well is beneficial to living a healthy life, especially if you and your partner are hoping for a baby. However, there is no need to load our diet with superfoods. All you need is a healthy amount of these superfoods in your pre-pregnancy diet to optimise your chances of conceiving.
Not sure about what to do next? Our nutrition specialists at OT&P will be able to provide tailored advice to get your body ready for conception. They can also provide information about other treatments, such as IVF, which is another suitable treatment for couples trying to conceive.