Nutrition while trying to conceive – what to watch out for!
When you and your partner make the decision to start a family you will probably have put some thought into it and want to prepare for a pregnancy as well as possible. Not only will good preparation give your baby the best start in life, but it will also help you to get pregnant sooner. Taking a look at your diet it a good place to begin. Nutrition can influence your fertility and therefore how long it will take you to get pregnant. In principle a balanced diet has a positive effect on your overall health and your hormone balance and that in itself will increase your chances of getting pregnant. If your body is getting everything it needs, then it should be running smoothly – which also applies to your partner by the way. So, is it even necessary to take supplements before and during a pregnancy? The answer is yes and no. Some nutrients are simply essential for you and your baby and if they are not coming from your daily diet then you should find a different source. Read on to see what nutrients you need, where you will find them naturally and what belongs in your shopping trolley when you are preparing for a pregnancy. It will be colourful, versatile and have something for everyone!
The most important nutrients when you are trying to conceive.
Women generally have a higher iron requirement than men and are also more likely to have an iron deficiency. This is mainly due to their menstrual cycle, more specifically their periods. During pregnancy the iron requirement is higher than normal and should therefore be regularly tested. You should start eating an iron-rich diet before you conceive in preparation for a pregnancy. Iron is responsible for the formation of red blood cells and the transport of oxygen, both for you and a developing embryo. Iron is found mainly in beef, pulses, fish and eggs. Certain vegetables are also rich in iron – the rule of thumb is - the greener they are, the more iron they usually have (e.g. parsley, spinach, lamb’s lettuce, cabbage, rocket). Drink a vitamin C rich drink like freshly squeezed orange juice while you are eating iron rich foods to help your body absorb the iron better.
Every woman planning a pregnancy is going to hear about “folic acid” at some point on her journey towards motherhood. It is one of the most important nutrients during the pre-conception phase. Folic acid is vital for cell formation and the development of the spinal cord and brain, in fact too little folic acid can lead to malformations in an unborn baby. That is why it is worth filling up your reserves properly, especially during the planning and pre-conception phase. Folic acid is not found in food but is created in the body from various forms of the B vitamin (the so-called folates). Folates are mainly found in raw foods (such as leafy vegetables, cabbage, broccoli, lamb’s lettuce) and whole grain products. Folic acid supplements will probably be recommended by your doctor when they know you are intending to get pregnant.
Zinc is a real “fertility booster” - it is essential for the development of sex hormones. A deficiency can lead to cycle disorders in women or a low sperm count in men. The problem: Our body can’t store zinc we have to continuously provide a fresh supply. Beef, shellfish and nuts are particularly rich in zinc. Our tip: if you want to get pregnant make sure both you and your partner get enough zinc in your diet.
Superfoods you should know about if you are trying to conceive.
Everybody is talking about “Superfoods” but what are they really? A “Superfood” is basically just a term used for foods that are particularly rich in valuable nutrients. By all means try some of the superfoods we recommend but remember that a balanced diet with a variety of fresh, healthy products is the most important thing.
Sunflower seeds are an excellent source of folic acid. They also provide lots of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which can have a positive effect on your baby’s development. In general, seeds and nuts are great all-rounders and should definitely be included in your diet when you are planning to have a baby. Try sprinkling mixed seeds including pumpkin, sunflower, sesame or flax onto your breakfast in the morning or onto a salad at lunch-time, or have a little bowl of nuts and seeds beside you if you need an energy boost during the day.
Do you like a fresh smoothie for breakfast? Then try mixing some green leafy vegetables into it! They provide you with important nutrients and trace elements and support cell formation and renewal. Kale for example gently regulates the production of oestrogen, probably one of the most important hormones in female fertility.
There has been a lot of hype about avocados – they were really “in” for a while, and that is because they contain so many unsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants as well as vitamins and minerals, all of which can have a beneficial impact on female fertility. So, enjoy your whole-meal toast with mashed avocado and egg but keep in mind that a half an avocado is probably enough.
Food to avoid if you are planning to get pregnant.
As usual it is all about moderation. Everyone indulges every now and then and just like when you are on a diet the odd treat is allowed. When you want to get pregnant though there really are certain foods that you should avoid altogether, some because they have a direct influence on fertility and others because they are generally known to be unhealthy.
Alcohol is one example. In reality alcohol is a psychoactive drug which should definitely be avoided during pregnancy, and while you are preparing for a pregnancy it is worth reducing your consumption. Experts are still unsure exactly how much – if any – alcohol is completely safe for you to have while you’re pregnant, so the safest approach is not to drink at all while you’re expecting. Drinking in pregnancy can lead to long-term harm to the baby, with the more you drink, the greater the risk.
Coffee junkies should also start to cut down on their coffee consumption during the preconception phase. This of course also applies to energy drinks and even teas which contain caffeine (e.g. green and black tea). Large amounts of caffeine are thought to have a negative effect on a woman’s fertility.
Certain types of Fish
You should also avoid certain types of fish - large ocean predators including shark, swordfish, king mackerel, bigeye tuna, tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico, marlin, and orange roughy, which can be potentially high in toxins like mercury and dioxin. Women planning a baby, and pregnant women, are therefore better advised to stay away from them.
Nutrition is also important for your partner.
It takes two to make a baby and your partner’s overall health can naturally also influence your fertility as a couple and your chances of getting pregnant. Basically the same applies to him as to you: a varied diet with plenty of fresh produce. One tip for men though – walnuts. They not only contain valuable fatty acids but are also said to increase the quality of the sperm. The same applies to onions, dairy products, green leafy vegetables, red meat, vegetable oils, wholemeal products and eggs.
Basically, just about all the nutrients that a woman needs during the preparation phase of a pregnancy are also beneficial to a man i.e. iron, folic acid and zinc. Not smoking and following a fresh air and fitness plan will then optimize sperm quality and endurance.
So, you see, eating healthily and being aware of your nutrition doesn’t have to be a science. Taking a conscious look at what you and your partner eat every day and seeing where changes could be made is worthwhile. Not only can it help you get pregnant sooner but it will give your baby the very best start.
Preparing for your pregnancy just means taking a few simple steps to ensure, that when you decide that the time is right, you get pregnant more quickly. Start tracking your cycle so that you know when your most fertile days are, make sure your diet and lifestyle are healthy, take time for exercise and mindfulness and you will be well prepared.