Trying to conceive is one area of our lives that we don’t have full control over. Many of us were raised with the idea that we could accomplish anything if we planned ahead and worked hard. If you have carefully planned when to have a baby, it can be frustrating, if not devastating, when months go by without achieving a longed-for pregnancy.
According to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, a healthy 30 year old woman has a 20% chance of getting pregnant in any given month (ASRM.org). While you can’t guarantee you’ll get pregnant the first month, there are many lifestyle changes you can make to help speed the process along. By committing to a healthy lifestyle and diet, you can improve your chances of conceiving and create the foundation for a healthy and happy pregnancy.
The Effect of Diet on Fertility
In 2007, the Harvard School of Public Health published a study supporting the link between diet and fertility. Over the course of 10 years, researchers tracked the lifestyle and fertility outcomes of 17,544 women (Harvard.edu). According Walter Willett, Harvard epidemiologist and author of The Fertility Diet, research “shows that what you eat, how active you are, and other lifestyle choices can stack the reproductive deck in your favor” (Willett). Here are some guidelines to help you revolutionize your diet and take back control of your fertility.
Good news: You don’t have to give up your morning coffee. However, you should reevaluate your caffeine intake. Doctors recommend that pregnant women consume no more than 200mg of caffeine a day. This is equal to about two 8 oz cups of coffee (MayoClinic.org). Remember that tea and soda also contain small amounts of caffeine.
Drinking during your pregnancy can result in fetal alcohol syndrome and serious birth defects. Since it is unknown how much alcohol is too much, it is best to completely abstain during your pregnancy.
For women who are trying to conceive, this creates a bit of a gray area. There is no evidence that light drinking—2 drinks per day or less—has adverse effects on fertility (WebMD). While some women choose to give up alcohol completely while trying to conceive, this may not be realistic or necessary for most women. A great compromise is to allow a few drinks, in moderation, during the first half of your cycle. After ovulation, you may choose to abstain until testing for pregnancy.
Willett recommends a diet heavy in plant-based foods and low on processed sugars and carbohydrates.
- Slow Carbs – Eat plenty of whole grains with high fiber content such as whole wheat breads and pasta, brown rice, oats, and quinoa. These slow-digesting carbohydrates stabilize blood sugar and deliver more nutrients. Avoid processed carbohydrates such as white rice and white bread products.
- Full Fat Dairy – Incorporate one serving of full fat dairy each day—a glass of whole milk, yogurt, or even the occasional ice cream will do the trick. Although this might seem counterintuitive, the Harvard study found that the women with the highest fertility, “consumed more high-fat dairy products and less low-fat dairy products” (Harvard.edu).
- Protein – Proteins are the building blocks of life. However, all proteins are not created equal. Chicken and fish are excellent choices in moderation. Salmon is a source of crucial Omega 3 fatty acids and DHA. You should also focus on incorporating plant-based proteins into your diet: beans, nuts, tofu, and protein-rich grains like quinoa and buckwheat. Red meat should be eaten sparingly.
- Vegetables & Fruit – According to Willett, “eating more fruits and vegetables is one of the smartest dietary changes you can make for your health.” Willett suggests eating five or more servings a day. Include a rainbow of colors – from leafy greens, to yellow peppers, to red tomatoes – to get the full array of nutrients and vitamins (Willet).
The low-fat craze has conditioned us to see all fat as bad fat. The truth?: Fat is a necessary part of our diet. Here’s the rundown of which fats to embrace and which to avoid:
- The Good: Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats, such as Omega 3’s, keep our hearts healthy, lower bad cholesterol, and are essential for reproduction. Fish, olive oil, nuts, and avocadoes are all excellent sources of Omega 3’s and other good fats.
- Okay in Moderation: Saturated Fats. Meat, dairy, and some oils (coconut and palm) are high in saturated fats. Try to eat a balanced diet, in which animal protein—especially red meat—is eaten in moderation. Limit your saturated fat intake to 18 grams per day.
- The Bad: Trans Fats. Avoid hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils, period. Trans fats increase your risk of heart attack, stroke, and diabetes. The Harvard study also found that, “the higher the trans fat in the diet, the higher the chance of ovulatory infertility” (Willet).
While it is important to eat a well-balanced diet, you should supplement with a daily multivitamin. A good prenatal vitamin should include at least 400 mcg of Folic Acid and 40 mg of iron. Folic acid helps to prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly, while iron plays a crucial role in converting the foods we eat into usable energy (Willett). In addition to folic acid and iron, your prenatal vitamin should include:
- Vitamins B12, C, D & E