When you are ready to start a family, following a healthy pre-pregnancy diet and lifestyle is one of the most important things that you can do. The goal is to support your fertility and prepare your body for a healthy pregnancy.
With all the information available, it can be confusing and even frustrating trying to figure out what fertility diet and lifestyle tips are most important. How do you get the best information and avoid becoming overwhelmed?
This article shares the top ten fertility diet and lifestyle tips. As always, please check with your healthcare provider before making any changes to your health plan.
1. Eat a healthy pre-pregnancy diet.
Diet and lifestyle choices can have a significant impact on your fertility. Follow these tips to eat well and develop healthy habits to support your body before pregnancy and beyond.
Increase the amount of “good” fats in your diet.
Fats are an essential part of your diet. They help support healthy cell function, provide energy, and help absorb certain vitamins. But some fats may be better for your health than others.
There are two main types of fats:
- Saturated fats are found mostly in animal products, like meat, full-fat dairy products, and fried foods.
- Unsaturated fats are found mostly in plant foods, like olive and canola oil, avocados, nuts, seeds, and fish.
The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fats to 11-13 grams per day. Opt for olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocados, and fish to replace some foods high in saturated fat in your diet.
Limit foods containing trans fats.
Examples of these foods include vegetable shortenings, some types of margarine, baked goods, pie crusts, frostings, and fried foods. Luckily, trans fats aren’t used as often as they were in the past, but it’s still a good idea to check the nutrition facts label. You can also check the ingredients list for “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” oil – this is an indicator that your product contains trans fats.
Choose high-fiber carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates sometimes get a bad rap, but carbs are your body’s main source of energy. The key is to choose fiber-rich carbohydrates. Fiber slows down digestion, which helps you feel fuller for longer, supports healthy blood sugar levels, and promotes a healthy weight. High-fiber carbohydrates include dried beans, legumes, fresh fruits, 100% whole-grain bread, oatmeal, quinoa, and non-starchy vegetables.
In general, limit processed carbohydrates such as white rice, bread, and pasta, and most crackers, chips, cookies, and other packaged foods. This is beneficial for any woman trying to conceive, and especially important if you have PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome).
Eat more vegetarian sources of iron.
Plant-based sources of iron may help support fertility in some women. Good vegetarian sources of iron include spinach, beans, legumes, prunes, and cashews. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for iron for women before pregnancy is 18 mg. Keep in mind – if you rely solely on vegetarian sources of iron, you actually need 1.8 times more iron than those who eat meat. If that seems daunting, a high-quality prenatal vitamin with iron can help you reach your iron goal.
Choose full-fat dairy
Some research suggests that women trying to conceive should opt for full-fat dairy products instead of reduced-fat varieties. Examples include whole milk, full-fat yogurt, and cheese.
2. Achieve or maintain a healthy body weight.
Weight is certainly not the only determinant of health and fertility. However, a healthy weight may help support many important fertility factors, including healthy ovarian function, hormone levels, and menstrual cycles.
3. Get active.
There’s no denying the health benefits of regular physical activity. But did you know it may help support fertility, too?
Regular physical activity can help support healthy cholesterol levels and a healthy weight, both of which are important fertility factors. Exercise can also help support mental health and stress levels, an added benefit for fertility.
Most experts recommend moderate-intensity activity while trying to conceive, including brisk walking, cycling, water aerobics, or hiking. Aim for 30-60 minutes of physical activity most days of the week.
4. Take a high-quality preconception prenatal vitamin.
Start taking a good preconception prenatal vitamin as soon as you start trying to conceive. As Shady Grove Fertility explains, a woman’s nutrient needs are different while trying to conceive than during pregnancy.
A preconception vitamin should provide a complete range of nutrients, including folate, choline, iodine, iron, and vitamin D.
Folate and choline are essential for the early development of the baby’s neural tube, which occurs during the first several weeks of pregnancy, often before you know you are pregnant. Maintaining a healthy vitamin D level is also essential for fertility and a healthy pregnancy.
5. Consider other preconception supplements.
Depending on your age and health history, taking certain nutrients in addition to your prenatal may support healthy egg quality and a healthy pregnancy.
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)
If you are over 35, you may want to consider taking a CoQ10 supplement. CoQ10 plays a crucial role in energy production in the body’s cells, including egg cells.
As you age, your cells make less CoQ10 and are less efficient at producing energy. Egg cells are the largest cells in the human body and require a lot of energy to mature properly.
Maintaining healthy egg quality is one of the most important factors in supporting fertility as you age. Research indicates that a diet high in CoQ10 can support healthy egg quality and a healthy pregnancy. Opt for CoQ10-rich foods like organ meats, salmon, tuna, chicken, beef, canola and soybean oil, and pistachio nuts.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin produced in your skin cells in response to sun exposure. If you are in the sun enough, at the right time of year, you will make all the vitamin D you need.
But most people don’t get enough sun exposure to maintain adequate vitamin D levels. Your diet probably doesn’t provide enough vitamin D, either. Few foods naturally contain a significant amount of vitamin D.
Getting enough vitamin D to achieve an optimal vitamin D blood level is important before and during pregnancy. Several studies suggest that vitamin D blood levels of 30 ng/mL or higher help support a healthy pregnancy.
It is important to have your vitamin D level checked when you start trying to conceive. If your vitamin D level is below 30 ng/dl, you may consider taking 50-100 mcg (2,000-4,000 IU) of vitamin D3 for a few months to restore you to a healthy level. Once you’ve achieved a healthy level, most people can switch to a maintenance dose of 50 mcg (2,000 IU) of vitamin D3 per day.
Typical prenatal vitamins provide only 10-25 mcg (400-1,000 IU) of vitamin D, which may not be enough for most women. Higher doses (50-100 mcg or 2,000-4,000 IU per day) of vitamin D are safe during pregnancy and are effective in achieving healthy vitamin D levels.
Inositol is a B-vitamin-like nutrient naturally found in whole grains, beans, nuts, and fruits.
Research suggests that inositol can support healthy blood glucose levels, menstrual cycles, and ovarian function in women.
Inositol can also promote healthy egg quality and can be helpful for women trying to conceive.
There are many different forms of inositol. The two types that have shown benefit in research studies are myo-inositol and D-chiro-inositol.
6. Limit caffeine and alcohol.
Both caffeine and alcohol may affect your fertility.
Caffeine is a well-known stimulant found in coffee, tea, chocolate, soda, and energy drinks. Most women know that limiting caffeine is important during pregnancy, but what about before getting pregnant? Can having your daily coffee affect your chances of conceiving?
The answer is yes, but it depends on how much caffeine you’re consuming. Studies show that as little as 200 mg of caffeine daily (less than the 260 mg in an eight-ounce Starbucks® brewed coffee) can decrease your chance of conception and increase your risk of miscarriage.
Other studies have shown that caffeine lengthens the time it takes to get pregnant.
If caffeine is ingrained into your daily routine, you can still have a small cup of coffee or cappuccino. But, be sure to limit your caffeine intake to less than 200 mg a day when preparing for pregnancy.
Although the research is mixed, drinking alcohol may delay the amount of time it takes to get pregnant.
A recent Danish study showed that 1-2 servings of alcohol per day had no effect on fertility among over 6,000 women trying to conceive naturally.
Shady Grove Fertility summarizes earlier research on the impact of alcohol in women trying to conceive. When compared to women who did not drink, fertility decreased slightly in women who had up to 5 drinks per week and fell further in those who had over 10 drinks per week.
Another study showed that women who drank more than 6 drinks per week were 18% less likely to get pregnant.
The bottom line is to decrease the amount of alcohol you drink while trying to conceive. This is especially important if you are working with a healthcare team in your attempts to get pregnant. If you might be pregnant, do not drink.
7. Stop smoking.
If you smoke, stop before you start trying to conceive. Smoking is not only harmful to your health, but it is also harmful to your fertility. Smoking cigarettes increases the time it takes to get pregnant. If you get pregnant, smoking increases the risk of miscarriage and birth defects.
See your healthcare provider if you need help quitting, or refer to the American Cancer Society’s guide to quitting smoking.
8. Reduce stress.
The connection between stress and fertility isn’t entirely clear. Studies indicate that pregnancy is more likely to occur during months when couples report feeling relaxed, and less likely during months that they report more anxiety.
Dr. Allen Morgan, a reproductive endocrinologist, explains that practicing stress management techniques helps some women get pregnant who were not successful before. Acupuncture, massage therapy, exercise, meditation, and deep breathing techniques show promise in decreasing stress.
9. Get enough sleep.
More than one-third of Americans don’t get enough sleep, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Adequate sleep is important for your health, your fertility, and a healthy pregnancy.
During sleep, our bodies go into repair and restore mode. Getting enough shut-eye is necessary for repairing cells, regulating hormones, and many other body processes.
Sleep is important for regulating hormones involved in ovulation and reproduction (leptin, progesterone, estrogen, luteinizing hormone, and follicle-stimulating hormone). Getting enough sleep can help support healthy ovarian function and menstruation. Aim to sleep 7-9 hours per night, most nights of the week.
10. Seek medical care for untreated conditions.
Certain medical conditions may affect fertility and your chance of pregnancy. It is important to see a gynecologist or primary care physician for a physical before trying to conceive. Getting treatment for a previously undiagnosed condition can support overall fertility and help you prepare for pregnancy.
In summary, eat a healthy pre-pregnancy diet, exercise moderately, consider a high-quality preconception vitamin and other fertility supplements, and make other lifestyle changes that align with your goal of pregnancy. Try to incorporate these diet and lifestyle habits into your daily routine.
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