Finding it hard to fall pregnant? You’re not alone. Research illustrates that as many as one in six Aussie couples have trouble falling pregnant after one year of unprotected sex. Fertility is complicated and depends on a number of things which means that getting pregnant isn’t an easy journey for many couples. While fertility is complex and there are many aspects we can’t control, we know that nutrition can play an important role. Studies even show that healthy lifestyle changes, including eating a healthy diet, may improve fertility by up to 69%!
Okay, so we know that a “nutritious diet” is key, but what does that look like in practice? Let’s break it down, starting with important food and nutrients to include in the diet. For both women and men, the research highlights the importance of a balanced and nutritious diet. In practice, this looks like a wide variety of fruit and vegetables each day. Studies show that the Mediterranean diet is a style of eating that has been shown to be supportive of fertility (and general health).
This study illustrated men who adhered to the Mediterranean diet had a significantly higher quality of sperm than those that did not (this included concentration, count and sperm motility).
How to eat your way to a healthy pregnancy, our top tips on fertility nutrition:
Getting enough folic acid is important for women because it can reduce the risk of a baby developing neural tube defects and may even help with conception. Women are encouraged to take a pregnancy multivitamin supplement which includes folic acid (at least 400-500 µg/day) for at least 12 weeks before conception and during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Folic acid is especially important in the first stages of pregnancy, so taking supplements early on is recommended. Folic acid is also found in foods like legumes, eggs, leafy greens, cruciferous veggies like brussels sprouts and broccoli.
Vitamin B12 supports the health of your nervous system and along with folic acid, it can help support your baby’s central nervous system. Foods rich in vitamin B12 include fish, meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products. Vitamin B12 isn’t readily present in plant foods, so it’s recommended that you speak with your doctor or dietitian about supplements, if you don’t eat animal products.
Omega-3 fatty acids
We’ve known for some time that omega-3 fatty acids, specifically EPA and DHA, support fertility and foetal development. Research has shown that including omega-3 fatty acids in the diet may even improve a woman’s fertility. And according to some studies, a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids may increase the quality of a male’s sperm. If you’re looking to boost your intake of omega-3 fatty acids, include these foods in your diet:
- mackerel or sardines
- chia seeds.
Antioxidants support egg and sperm health and are key to fertility and conception. Antioxidant-rich foods include all fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and whole grains. Try eating every colour of the rainbow! It’s best to get antioxidants from food-based sources first. If you feel like you might need a supplement, it’s important to consult your doctor and dietitian first.
Low-GI and high fibre carbohydrates
Opting for low-GI and high fibre carbohydrates has been shown to play an important role in ovulation, fertility and regulating your blood sugar levels. Foods that are low-GI and high fibre include:
- whole grains (such as barley, freekeh, quinoa and wholegrain breads)
- most fresh fruits
- vegetables such as carrots and green peas
- legumes like chickpeas or lentils
Reducing your intake of animal proteins and switching to plant-based proteins like legumes and pulses can also help to lower blood sugar levels.
It’s important to have good levels of iodine before conception, as your body needs more of it during pregnancy. Foods rich in iodine include:
- seaweed (like nori)
- dairy products like yoghurt and milk
- commercially baked bread (with added iodine)
Many prenatal vitamin supplements include iodine. Again, when considering supplementation, it is important to consult your doctor or dietitian on what would be right for your situation.
Nutrients or foods you should try to limit or avoid during pregnancy:
Saturated and trans fats
Reducing the amount of saturated and trans fats in your diet is important for general health. Swap out foods high in saturated and trans-fat and prioritise those rich in mono- and omega-3-poly-unsaturated fats. You can do this by swapping fatty cuts of meat for leaner meat, poultry or fish, and use extra virgin olive oil in cooking instead of margarine or butter. You can also avoid saturated and trans-fats by reducing your intake of fried and processed foods or commercially baked goods and snacks.
Replace these with lean meats, eggs, full cream dairy foods and plant alternatives such as legumes, tofu, nuts, seeds and grains.
Consider switching out high-GI and refined carbohydrates for low-GI alternatives. Examples of high-GI foods include sweetened drinks, lollies, cakes, biscuits and desserts, refined white bread, rice and cereals.
A number of studies have found that heavy drinking can increase the time it takes to get pregnant.
There’s no need to stop having your morning cuppa, but excessive caffeine consumption (greater than 500mg) has been shown to make it harder to get pregnant . A good rule of thumb to remember is that one shot of espresso contains around 60-100mg of caffeine. Energy drinks are also very high in caffeine, so it’s a good idea to limit these too.
Other factors for both partners to think about
Consider eating earlier. Some preliminary research has been conducted to identify the most optimum eating patterns for fertility. Researchers found that eating a larger breakfast and a smaller dinner may reduce insulin resistance. In practice, this might look like opting for larger meals earlier in the day then tapering off and limiting late night snacks.
Move your body. The research says that it’s important for us to move! We know for general health that it is important to stay active, but specifically a sedentary lifestyle has been associated with a higher risk of infertility while increasing movement has been found to reduce the risk of infertility.
Find your calm. Whilst minimising stress is important for general health, studies have shown that it can equally be important when trying to conceive. Reducing stressors can be much easier said than done, so consider seeking professional help to help support your mental health and optimise your fertility during this time.
Fertility is a complex subject and can be a stressful journey for many. While this article might give you a few tips, it’s all about finding things that work for you and your own situation. For individualised advice that accounts for your unique requirements it is best to seek help from professionals. It is especially important to seek professional assistance from a dietitian if you have other medical concerns like PCOS, diabetes or endometriosis, if you are partaking in complementary therapies or if you’re in a smaller larger body and have concerns about your fertility and health.
This article was written by Caity Smith, Accredited Practising Dietitian and OnCore Nutrition volunteer, with support of Lauren Atkins AdvAPD.
Originally published by OnCore Nutrition.
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