You are what you eat, right? And when you're ready to go into baby-making mode, that takes on a whole new meaning. A healthy diet – getting all the vitamins and nutrients you and your partner need – impacts fertility. If you and your significant other are thinking about trying to conceive (TTC), boost your chances by making sure you’re in the best health possible. That includes eating well. So before TTC, you should take a good, hard look at what you’re putting in your body.
What's the best go-to fertility diet?
In most cases, there really is no one-size-fits-all pre-pregnancy or pregnancy diet. That’s why you should always make an appointment with your OB for a preconception visit. He or she will be able to make nutrition recommendations specific to you based on the current state and history of your health. Meanwhile, however, we asked the experts for some general guidelines.
According to Independence OB/GYNs, Dr. Nate Wegner, and Dr. Stephanie Carpino, a good rule of thumb when you're trying to get pregnant is to eat and drink as if you already are. Assuming that mom is of a normal weight (not over- or under-weight) and in overall good health, says Dr. Wegner, a well-balanced diet is generally all that's needed pre-pregnancy and pregnancy.
Fertility Diet Do’s
- Color me healthy – From this day forward, the produce aisle is your new happy place, where you'll find foods rich in many of the vitamins and nutrients you need for healthy pregnancy. Go color-crazy! Broccoli and dark, leafy greens like spinach, kale and romaine lettuce are excellent for folic acid, fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin A, calcium, iron, potassium, and antioxidants. Citrus, pineapple, strawberries and other fruits are rich in vitamin C, which can help your body absorb iron. Pears and apples are rich in fiber. Watermelon is good for magnesium and potassium. Get the picture?
- Go with the grain – Whole grains like whole wheat bread, brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, whole wheat couscous, to name a few, have fiber, folic acid, iron, selenium among other good nutrients.
- A fine kettle of...– Fish is an excellent source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Dr. Wegner says that women trying to conceive, or those already pregnant can safely eat about two-to-three servings a week of fish such as canned light tuna, salmon, shrimp, cod, tilapia. However, given their high mercury content, women should limit white (albacore) tuna and avoid fresh or frozen swordfish, tilefish, king mackerel, and shark.
- Protein pack – Many of us rely on beef, chicken and pork for our proteins, but consider expanding your pre-pregnancy protein horizons. Veggie proteins are an excellent source, and are generally less calorie- and fat-filled than a lot of meats. Eggs, nuts, seeds, lentils, chickpeas are great sources of protein, as are black, white, pinto, kidney and garbanzo beans, lentils, black-eyed peas, which also contain other vitamins.
- Got milk? – Whether it's milk, ice cream (on occasion), yogurt or cheese, dairy provides us with all-important calcium, protein, vitamin D and other nutrients.
- Water, water, everywhere – Experts say drink 8-10, 8-oz. glasses of water a day to prevent dehydration, and problems such as bladder infections.
Although your foods are where you should get the majority of your nutrients, prenatal vitamins are must-have daily snack – chockfull of what an expectant mom needs, especially folic acid, which is critical in early pregnancy to prevent brain and nervous system defects. Dr. Carpino says if possible, you should begin taking prenatal vitamins three months before you try to conceive.
According to the March of Dimes, all nutrients are important, but the six most important for your baby (most of which are in prenatal vitamins):
- Folic acid – helps prevent neural tube defects like spina bifida
- Iron – helps make more blood to carry oxygen to baby and helps baby make his/her own blood
- Calcium – helps baby's bones, teeth, heart muscles and nerves develop
- Vitamin D – helps your body absorb calcium, help's baby's teeth and bones
- DHA – omega-3 fatty acids help baby's eyes, brain develop
- Iodine – helps baby's brain and nervous system develop
By the way, vitamins aren't just for mom. The same nutrients you get in a well-balanced pre-pregnancy diet and prenatal vitamins also benefit male fertility. For example, zinc, selenium, vitamin E, vitamin C, folic acids, and omega fatty acids are important to sperm health. That means you both are what you eat.
Fertility Diet Don’ts
- Raise another glass? Nope.– Don't panic if you've had the occasional glass of wine or beer and then found you were pregnant , but it's best to stop drinking as soon as you want to get pregnant. The occasional drink may not hurt your odds of conceiving, but having two or more drinks a day can. Plus, even moderate drinking during pregnancy has been linked to increased chance of miscarriage. So pour yourself a pretty, colorful fizzy non-alcoholic drink and enjoy.
- Cut back on the go-go juice – Most experts say one or two cups of coffee per day shouldn't interfere with your ability to become pregnant. However, once you are pregnant, limit yourself to a 12-ounce cup of coffee or less per day. And remember, most sodas and energy drinks have caffeine, too!
- Foods with bacteria/parasite risk – Cut out processed lunchmeats, soft cheeses, unpasteurized dairy products, refrigerated pates or meat spreads, raw fish and sushi, given the risk of harmful parasites.
- Junk food – The name says it all. Don't load up on empty calories. Yes, we mean cookies, cake, chips, and those delicious processed convenience foods. When you're hungry (and you will be), snack smart.
- Do we even need to say... Smoking and recreational drugs are harmful in pre-pregnancy and pregnancy.
Oh, the weight of it all
So, the pre-pregnancy and pregnancy myth: You're hungry, so eat what you want. After all, you're eating for two (or soon will be). Not so fast. Drs. Wegner and Carpino say get to a healthy weight before getting pregnant. The most concerning and prevalent pre-pregnancy condition they see is moms who carry too much weight before or just after becoming getting pregnant. This is not only unhealthy for mom, it can also result in higher risk of a baby with birth defects and higher risk for C-section. Dr. Carpino adds, women with a body mass index over 40 can also have a harder time getting pregnant.
Expert Pregnancy Care in Kansas City
Best pre-pregnancy diet plan? Check. Now you can start looking at other aspects of pre-pregnancy care. HCA Midwest Health offers comprehensive women's care including the maternity care you need from the time you start trying to conceive to the day you welcome your new addition.
- Fertility and family planning services for times when pregnancy doesn't occur easily
- Labor and delivery services at four area hospitals
- Spacious maternity and birthing suites
- The region's largest network of certified nurse-midwives
- Classes on everything from changing a diaper to CPR to breastfeeding
- Neonatal ICUs with advanced technology when needed