When it comes to getting pregnant, the old adage “you are what you eat” rings true. “What you eat affects everything from your blood to your cells to your hormones,” says Cynthia Stadd, a nutrition specialist at the Berkley Center for Reproductive Wellness and Women’s Health in New York City.
According to the American Pregnancy Association, a nonprofit that promotes reproductive health, you should allow three months to a year for dietary changes to take root. But if you’re already well into baby-making, don’t fret – it’s never too late. Read on for tips to get your diet into shape.
Drink alcohol sparingly
An occasional glass of wine or bottle of beer probably won’t hurt your odds of conceiving. Just make sure you aren’t already pregnant because alcohol can harm a developing fetus. That means the time to be a teetotaler is between ovulation and menstruation, says Mark Leondires, a fertility specialist and medical director of Reproductive Medicine Associates of Connecticut. “The best time to have a worry-free drink is the day you get your period.”
That said, if you have irregular cycles (which can make it harder to know when you’re ovulating) or generally have trouble conceiving, play it safe and avoid alcohol altogether. Although studies of alcohol’s effects on fertility are inconclusive, some do show a slight link between drinking and difficulty conceiving.
The American Society for Reproductive Medicine recommends that if you do drink, have no more than two drinks a day if you’re trying to get pregnant.
The research on whether caffeine can affect fertility is mixed. Experts generally agree that low to moderate caffeine consumption (less than 300 milligrams a day, or about two 8-ounce mugs of coffee) won’t get in the way of getting pregnant.
But you might want to cut out caffeine altogether if you’re having difficulty conceiving or undergoing in vitro fertilisation. Until science shows with certainty that caffeine intake doesn’t affect fertility, why take a chance? The American Pregnancy Association says that caffeine can also hinder your body’s ability to absorb iron and calcium, and advises giving it a pass. Going cold turkey and eliminating all caffeine at once can cause nasty headaches. So if you decide to kick your caffeine habit completely, you might want to do so gradually.
Rethink refined carbs
Carbohydrates may be out of the dietary doghouse, but that doesn’t mean you should eat them with abandon. Lots of refined carbohydrates, like white bread, pasta, and white rice, won’t directly lower your likelihood of getting pregnant but they will shortchange your body.
The refining process strips key nutrients from grains. Among those lost are several that boost fertility, such as antioxidants, B vitamins, and iron. A woman trying to conceive should pack her diet with as many nutrient-rich foods as possible, and whole grains are a great place to start, says nutrition specialist Stadd.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA)revamped food guidelines, aim for about 6 ounces of grains a day, and make at least half of that whole grains. That’s roughly the equivalent of a cup of whole grain cereal for breakfast and a couple of slices of whole wheat sandwich bread at lunch.
Eat your greens, and reds, and yellows
Think of produce as Mother Nature’s multivitamin. Fruits and vegetables not only deliver a wealth of vitamins and minerals, they’re also overflowing with free-radical-busting micronutrients, like phytochemicals and antioxidants. (Free radicals are harmful molecules that sneak into the body on the heels of everything from sunlight to car exhaust and can damage the ova, sperm, and reproductive organs.)
Get the most nutritional bang for your buck by buying brightly colored fruits and vegetables, like blueberries, red peppers, and kale. The more vivid the hue, the more nutrient-packed the produce. Restock your fruit bowl and produce bin weekly, and try to get about 2 cups of fruit and 2 1/2 cups of veggies a day.
If reports of high mercury levels have you skipping seafood, it’s time to reconsider. Fish have essential fats called omega-3 fatty acids, which your body needs for optimal fertility – and seafood is the best source. Omega-3s are important for a baby’s brain and eye development and have many other pregnancy-related benefits, including lowering your risk of preterm birth, reducing your chance of preeclampsia, and easing depression. It’s important to get omega-3 fatty acids from food because your body doesn’t make them.
Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in a variety of marine- and plant-based sources. Just remember that the omega-3s in seafood have long-chain fatty acids that plant-based omega-3s (like walnuts and flaxseed) don’t. To get the most out of omega-3s, eat cold water fatty fish like salmon, tuna, sardines, or herring a couple of times a week.
If you don’t like the taste of fish, try fish oil supplements. But be sure to talk to your healthcare provider first to find out how much you need to take.
Pump up on iron
Fill your body’s iron reserves before you get pregnant, especially if your periods are particularly heavy, says Sam Thatcher, a reproductive endocrinologist at the Center for Applied Reproductive Science in Johnson City, Tennessee, and author of Making a Baby: Everything You Need to Know to Get Pregnant. “Bleeding every month is a constant source of iron depletion,” Thatcher says.
Load up now, because once you’re expecting, your body has difficulty maintaining its iron stores as your baby siphons the mineral from you. To make matters worse, too little iron at the start of pregnancy puts you at risk for postpartum anemia — a condition affecting new moms that causes your red blood cells to fall below normal and saps your energy level.
If you don’t eat much red meat or you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, take a multivitamin with iron
Fill voids with vitamins
Getting all the nutrients you need for fertility from food alone is tough. Hedge your bets by taking a prenatal vitamin or regular multivitamin. Although prenatal vitamins will give you the key nutrients you need, they may be more expensive and they can be harder on your stomach because they contain higher levels of nutrients than a regular multivitamin.
If you decide to take an over-the-counter multivitamin instead of a prenatal vitamin, be sure to follow these important guidelines:
- Make sure it doesn’t contain more than the recommended daily allowance of 770 mcg (2,565 IU) of vitamin A, unless it’s all in a form called beta-carotene.
- Look for a multivitamin with at least 400 micrograms of folic acid. This B vitamin protects babies from neural tube birth defects, such as spina bifida.
- Choose a multivitamin that also delivers a healthy dose of vitamin B12. Preliminary evidence hints that B12 deficiency may also play a role in some neural tube defects.
*Extracted from “Fertility Diet : The nutrients you need to conceive” by Catherine Guthrie at www.babycenter.com