When you are ready to start a family, following a healthy pre-pregnancy diet and lifestyle is one of the most important things that you can do. The goal is to increase your fertility and prepare yourself for a healthy pregnancy.
With all the information available, it can be confusing and even frustrating trying to figure out what pre-pregnancy diet and lifestyle tips are most important. How do you get the best information and avoid becoming overwhelmed?
In this article, we share the top 10 pre-pregnancy diet and lifestyle tips. As always, please check with your healthcare provider before making any changes to your health plan.
1. Eat a healthful, pre-pregnancy diet.
Diet and lifestyle choices can have a significant impact on your fertility. Eating well and developing healthy habits are important before and during pregnancy.
A large study conducted by Harvard researchers showed that women who adhered to a combination of five or more lifestyle factors, including specific changes to their diets, were at a 69% lower risk of ovulatory disorder infertility.
Increase the amount of “good” fats in your diet.
Monounsaturated fats are often known as “good fats.” Eat more avocados, nuts, and seeds, and use olive oil and canola oil for cooking and in salad dressings.
Limit foods containing trans fats.
Examples of these types of foods include vegetable shortenings, some margarines, baked goods, pie crusts, frostings, and fried foods. Check the Nutrition Facts Panel for trans fats. You can also check the ingredients list for “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” vegetable oil.
Choose low glycemic index (GI) and glycemic load (GL) carbohydrates.
These foods include dried beans, legumes, fresh fruits, 100% whole-grain breads, oatmeal, quinoa, and non-starchy vegetables. The GI is a measure of how much and how quickly a carbohydrate-containing food increases blood sugar and insulin levels. Foods are ranked on a scale of 1-100. In general, eating foods that have a low GI (<55) results in a slower rise in blood sugar levels and less insulin secretion.
GI alone cannot tell the entire story. The GL also needs to be considered to get an accurate understanding of a food’s total effect on blood sugar. A Harvard Health article explains this in more detail and provides a list of foods according to GI and GL
In general, limit processed carbohydrates such as white rice, bread, and pasta, and most crackers, chips, cookies, and other packaged foods. This is beneficial for any woman trying to conceive, and especially important if you have PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome).
Eat more vegetarian sources of iron.
Good vegetarian sources of iron include spinach, beans, legumes, prunes, and cashews.
Choose full-fat dairy
Examples include whole milk, full-fat yogurt, or cheese. Women who ate full-fat dairy at least once a day decreased their risk of ovulatory infertility by 27% compared to those who rarely ate full-fat dairy.
2. Achieve or maintain a healthy body weight.
Being overweight or underweight stresses the body. This disturbs hormone production, interrupts normal menstrual cycles, and impairs ovulation and fertility.
Research indicates that if you are overweight or obese, it will take you longer to conceive, and you are at a higher risk of miscarriage than normal-weight women.
Losing weight before pregnancy may improve fertility and reduce the risk of pregnancy complications such as preterm birth, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia (very high blood pressure during pregnancy), and certain birth defects. Also, fertility treatment is generally more successful in women who are not obese.
The best weight range for fertility seems to be a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 20 to 24.
3. Get active.
Moderate physical activity is best while trying to get fit for pregnancy. If you are overweight or obese, studies show that adding any physical activity improves your chances of conceiving.
Regular physical activity increases metabolism and optimizes your reproductive system. Exercise stimulates the endocrine glands, which release hormones that help egg production and maturation. Exercise also decreases stress, an added benefit for fertility.
If you are underweight or normal weight, too much vigorous activity may increase the time it takes you to conceive. In one study, when women switched from vigorous to moderate activity, their fertility improved. For some women, more than an hour of vigorous exercise a day can lead to a decrease in the production of the hormones that stimulate ovarian function. This affects egg production, fertility, and the risk of miscarriage.
Too much or too little exercise can be detrimental to fertility and a healthy pregnancy. The goal is to find the right balance to optimize your reproductive function. In general, 30-60 minutes of moderate exercise is recommended on most days of the week.
4. Take a high-quality preconception prenatal vitamin.
Start taking a good preconception prenatal vitamin as soon as you start trying to conceive. As Shady Grove Fertility explains a woman’s nutrient needs are different while trying to conceive than during pregnancy.
A preconception vitamin should provide a complete range of nutrients including folate, choline, iodine, iron, and vitamin D.
Folate and choline are important for the early development of the baby’s neural tube, which occurs during the first several weeks of pregnancy, often before you know you are pregnant. Maintaining a normal vitamin D level is also essential for fertility and a healthy pregnancy.
5. Consider other preconception supplements.
Depending on your age and health history, taking certain nutrients in addition to your prenatal may improve egg quality, help you conceive and become fit for pregnancy.
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)
If you are over 35, you may want to consider taking a CoQ10. CoQ10 plays a crucial role in energy production in the body’s cells, including egg cells.
As you age, your cells make less CoQ10 and are less efficient at producing energy. This can lead to poorer fertilization and early miscarriage.
A decrease in egg quality is the most important factor affecting fertility with increasing age. Research indicates that taking a CoQ10 supplement can improve egg quality and potentially increase your chances for a healthy baby.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin produced in our skin cells in response to sun exposure. If you are in the sun enough, at the right time of year, you will make all the vitamin D you need.
Most of us don’t get enough sun exposure to maintain adequate levels of vitamin D. Our diets don’t provide enough vitamin D either. Few foods naturally contain much vitamin D.
Getting enough vitamin D to achieve an optimal vitamin D blood level is important before and during pregnancy. Several studies have linked vitamin D blood levels of 30 ng/mL or higher with better pregnancy rates.
It is important to have your vitamin D level checked when you start trying to conceive. If your vitamin D level is low (below 30 ng/mL), take 2,000 to 4,000 IU of vitamin D3 for a few months to restore you to a normal level. Once your level is normal, take 2,000 IU of vitamin D3 per day to keep you in the normal range.
Low vitamin D levels have been linked to pregnancy complications such as gestational diabetes (high blood sugar), preeclampsia (pregnancy-induced high blood pressure), and bacterial vaginosis (bacterial overgrowth in the vagina).
Typical prenatal vitamins provide only 400-1000 IU of vitamin D, which is not enough for most women. Higher doses (2,000 to 4,000 IU) of vitamin D3 per day are safe during pregnancy and are effective in achieving normal vitamin D levels.
Inositol is a B-vitamin-like nutrient naturally found in whole grains, beans, nuts, and fruits. You can also find inositol powder as a dietary supplement.
Inositol is particularly important for women with PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome). Studies show that inositol decreases insulin levels and helps reduce insulin resistance. It also improves hormone levels and promotes regular menstrual cycles and ovulation in women with PCOS.
Because inositol also promotes egg quality, it can be helpful while trying to become pregnant. Studies indicate that inositol benefits women going through IVF (in vitro fertilization), improving their response to ovarian-stimulating drugs used during this fertility treatment.
There are many different forms of inositol. The two types that have shown benefit are myo-inositol and D-chiro-inositol. Recent studies have shown that taking a combination of these two forms, in the body’s naturally occurring ratio of 40 to 1, is more helpful than taking either form alone.
The recommended dose of inositol is 2,000 mg of myo-inositol plus 50 mg of D-chiro-inositol, twice a day. It takes at least three months of consistent use to see results from inositol.
6. Limit caffeine and alcohol.
Both caffeine and alcohol may reduce your fertility.
Caffeine is a well-known stimulant found in coffee, tea, chocolate, soda, and “energy” drinks. Most women know that limiting caffeine is important during pregnancy, but what about before getting pregnant? Can having your daily coffee affect your chances of conceiving?
The answer is yes, but it depends on how much caffeine you’re consuming. Studies show that as little as 200 mg of caffeine daily (less than the 260 mg in a “Tall” 8-ounce Starbucks® brewed coffee) can decrease your chance of conception and increase your risk of miscarriage.
Other studies have shown that caffeine lengthens the time it takes to get pregnant.
Dr. Samuel Pauli explains caffeine’s potential effect on fertility and lists the amount of caffeine in common beverages and foods.
So yes, you can still have a small cup of coffee or cappuccino daily. But, be sure to limit your caffeine intake to less than 200 mg a day to get fit for pregnancy.
Although the research is mixed, drinking alcohol may delay the amount of time it takes to get pregnant.
A recent (2016) Danish study showed that 1-2 servings of alcohol per day had no effect on fertility among over 6,000 women trying to conceive naturally (without fertility treatment).
Shady Grove Fertility summarizes earlier research on the impact of alcohol in women undergoing fertility treatment. When compared to women who did not drink, fertility decreased slightly in women who had up to 5 drinks per week and fell further in those who had over 10 drinks per week.
Another study showed that women going through IVF who drank more than 6 drinks per week were 18% less likely to get pregnant.
The bottom line is to decrease the amount of alcohol you drink while trying to conceive. This is especially important if you are going through fertility treatment. If you might be pregnant, do not drink.
7. Stop smoking.
If you smoke, stop before you start trying to conceive. Smoking is not only harmful to your health, but it is also harmful to your fertility. Smoking cigarettes increases the time it takes to get pregnant. If you get pregnant, smoking increases the risk of miscarriage and birth defects.
See your healthcare provider if you need help quitting, or refer to the American Cancer Society’s guide to quitting smoking.
8. Reduce stress.
As explained by Dr. Alice Domar, we don’t know for sure whether stress causes infertility, but we are aware that infertility causes stress.
The connection between stress and fertility isn’t entirely clear. Studies indicate that pregnancy is more likely to occur during months when couples report feeling more relaxed, and less likely during months they report more anxiety.
Dr. Allen Morgan explains that practicing stress management techniques helps some women get pregnant who were not successful before. Acupuncture, massage therapy, exercise, meditation and deep breathing techniques show promise in decreasing stress.
9. Get enough sleep.
More than one-third of Americans don’t get enough sleep, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Adequate sleep is important for your health, your fertility, and for a healthy pregnancy.
During sleep, our bodies go into repair and restore mode. Getting enough shut-eye is necessary for repairing cells, regulating hormones, and many other body processes.
Sleep is important for the regulation of hormones involved in ovulation and reproduction (leptin, progesterone, estrogen, luteinizing hormone, and follicle-stimulating hormone). Sleep deprivation can disrupt your hormonal balance, resulting in irregular menstruation and ovulation. This may mean it takes you longer to conceive.
Aim to sleep 7-9 hours per night, most nights of the week.
10. Seek medical care for untreated conditions.
Certain medical conditions have a negative impact on fertility and pregnancy. It is important to see a gynecologist or primary care physician for a physical before trying to conceive or starting fertility treatments. Getting treatment for a previously undiagnosed condition can improve your fertility and help you get fit for pregnancy.
In summary, eat a healthful pre-pregnancy diet, exercise moderately, take the right supplements, and make other lifestyle changes to get fit for pregnancy. Try to incorporate these diet and lifestyle habits into your daily routine.
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