Conception, a fragile miracle… So many things must occur in a precise order, at the right time for this frantic meeting between egg and sperm to take place. Whether you are grappling with infertility or you are looking forward to become pregnant, deciding to eat healthily prior to conceiving is a wonderful resolution.
Why is a healthy pre-conception diet so important?
To make sure your baby will get all the nutrients he/she needs: Your future baby will be completely dependent on YOU for the nutrients required for the best possible growth and development. Hence, you need to build up your reserves of these nutrients prior to conceiving and the best way to do so is through a balanced, varied diet.
Conception is a miracle that needs nourishing: A healthy diet is important if you want to avoid one of the most widespread causes of infertility, namely problems with ovulation. By fortifying your nutritional reserves, you will also be ensuring the formation of a healthy embryo that will have greater chances of maturing into a fit baby.
For better pregnancy outcomes: Eating right before conception will not only help your body cope with pregnancy’s demands, but you’ll also be in great shape throughout these nine months. This will allow for an easier delivery.
What can I do to improve my fertility?
According to research, there are some dietary and lifestyle changes that could give a powerful boost to your fertility if you have ovulation-related infertility issues. Here are some tips for you.
- Stop smoking: Smoking = Gambling with your fertility.Studies have shown that smoking adversely affects ovulation and uterine implantation of the embryo. Fathers-to-be: smoking is related to lower sperm motility, which reduces the fertilisation rate.The good news: If you quit smoking, your fertility (or sperm motility) will likely return to normal. So, if you are planning to conceive, now may be a good time for you and/or your partner to kick this bad habit.The same applies for alcohol consumption.
- Be active on most days of the week for at least 30 minutes.If you are sedentary, making some time for daily exercise can really improve your fertility. And if you are already exercising, why not increase your workouts’ pace? However, be careful: exercising excessively can affect conception especially if you are quite lean.
- Follow the Eatwell Guide for portion sizes.1/3 of your plate should comprise of whole grain carbohydrates, 1/3 fruits and vegetables, 1/9 lean protein, some healthy fats, a dairy product and some water.
- Choose healthy fats.Dietary fats are essential for our body to function normally and for hormone production. (There are several hormones necessary to induce ovulation). However, choose your fats wisely: go for unsaturated oils like sunflower oil, olive oil, canola oil or sesame oil. Now, that doesn’t mean you can overindulge in fried foods or high fat foods; these could hinder conception.
- Read food labels.Avoid commercial products that contain trans-fats; these fats have been shown to adversely affect fertility. When reading labels, make sure the product states ‘Trans-fat free’ and does not have the words ‘partially hydrogenated’ in its ingredient list.
- Choose more vegetable proteins.Plant proteins include beans, nuts, seeds, legumes and tofu. You can still eat animal protein, but choose leaner cuts without visible fat and go for skinless chicken. Try to consume fish twice a week.
- Have a dairy product every day.If you don’t like milk, you can always go for yoghurt or cheese. Low fat types may be a better choice.
- Choose healthy carbohydrates.Avoid sugar laden foods or refined products which cause ugly insulin spikes that can hinder ovulation. Instead, select whole grains and cereals (oats, buckwheat, pastas, wild rice, brown rice and so on).
- Take a folic acid supplement.You should increase intake of one of B vitamins called folate, found in foods such as broccoli, beans, tomato and orange juices, lentils, asparagus and breakfast cereals. Folate deficiency can lead to serious pregnancy complications and therefore a folic acid supplement (400mcg) is also recommended in addition to folate-rich diet.
- Drink a lot of water: at least 6 to 8 cups a day (1.5 to 2 litres).It’s best you steer clear of alcohol. Say no to sugared sodas and choose whole fruits over fruit juices. You can still drink some coffee and tea but avoid doing so one hour before and after main meals (these beverages limit iron absorption).
- Load on dietary iron.Good sources include animal and plant proteins, especially dark green vegetables and pulses. Have a vitamin C rich food (any red, yellow or orange fruit or vegetable) with a meal containing iron to boost the absorption of this mineral.
Can my weight hinder my chances of conceiving?
Based on studies’ findings, it appears that being overweight or obese affects fertility. But don’t despair: several studies demonstrated that losing only 5 percent of your starting weight can do wonders for your fertility by improving ovulation. Let’s say you weigh 80kg, 5 percent would be 4kg (of course, more is even better).
Reaching a normal weight before pregnancy will also protect you from pregnancy-related complications such as gestational diabetes or pre-eclampsia (gestational hypertension).
This being said, if you decide to shed some weight, remember that these excess kilos did not appear overnight. The key to successful weight loss (and maintaining the lower weight achieved) is patience and perseverance. Do not let yourself mesmerised by fad diets or other gimmicks that promise rapid weight loss. Aim to lose no more than 4kg per month: faster weight loss could be detrimental to your organs and might prove difficult to maintain. Rapid weight loss can also cause ovaries to dysfunction.
Remember: losing weight during pregnancy is NOT recommended as it may have adverse effects on your baby’s health, growth and development.
Studies have also linked infertility with an extremely low body weight and/or a low body fat percentage. Being underweight often causes irregular, or even absent, menstruation because of impaired ovulation. No ovulation = No pregnancy.
Whether you are underweight or overweight, the best choice would be to meet up with a registered dietitian before deciding to conceive.
Have it your way: for a lifetime of good health!
You do not have to make all changes at once; choose something that appeals to you or which seems easier to put in practice. And only once you feel comfortable, consider making another change.
Frisch RE (1984) Body fat, puberty and fertility. Biol Rev Camb Philos Soc. 59(2):161–188.
Committee on the Impact of Pregnancy Weight on Maternal and Child Health, National Research Council (2007) Influence of pregnancy weight on maternal and child health: Workshop Report. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press.