Are you in a season where you are trying to get pregnant? Or contemplating the idea of getting pregnant? If so, you are in a season of preconception.
What is Preconception?
According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (2018), preconception is a time before a woman becomes pregnant. This is a vital time for women and men because the choices made in this time can dictate the future health of their child and their ability to get pregnant. Foods, medication, habits, and health problems are all variables that can affect their pregnancy.
“Adequate health and nutrition status are needed for successful reproduction” Brown
The Journey Towards Pregnancy
Unfortunately, the journey towards pregnancy is not always as direct and easy as one would like. According to Tuomainen et al. (2013), most women have poor awareness about the health issues involved in preconception; therefore, there is a need to educate them on preparing for pregnancy.
Why is that so important? Well, proper health education can prevent potential birth defects
Chris Kresser shared that, “according to a recent U.S. census, birthrates have declined for 6 straight years, and by almost 20% in total since 2007 and in most industrialized countries around the world, fertility rates for women have steadily declined since the 1950s.”
What’s Going On Here?
Chris declares that “[a]s with most health-related issues, the answer is not simple. But [he] believe[s] that a decline in the quality of our diet and nutritional status is one of the key factors.“
He goes on to share that there are several micronutrients required for conception and a healthy pregnancy, which include “vitamins A, D, E, and K2 and minerals like magnesium, potassium, calcium, and choline.”
We’re suffering from an epidemic of nutrient deficiency, and that is, in turn, contributing to a rapid decline in fertility rates. Chris Kresser
Clinical infertility affects around 15% of the population in developed countries. That means more than 7 million couples experience infertility (Redden, 2014).
Nutrition-Related Conditions That Affect Fertility
Obesity, being underweight, having an eating disorder, diabetes, polycystic ovary syndrome, phenylketonuria, and celiac disease all affect fertility (Brown, 2017).
Weight Is A HUGE Factor
Women who are underweight and have eating disorders have a higher chance of experiencing miscarriage, preterm delivery, or having a child with a low birth weight (Brown, 2017). Similarly, men and women who are overweight can experience subfertility, a lower chance of getting pregnant, and higher chances of pregnancy loss (Danahy, 2018).
Infertility Affects Many People
Remember that infertility is common and painful. Listen to people’s stories and try to be sensitive to the feelings of others.
Fertility Boosting Supplements
Folic Acid: It can be taken as a supplement or in foods, like leafy green vegetables, fortified breakfast cereals, citrus fruits, and legumes. Folic acid can prevent neural tube problems, like spina bifida, as well as other birth problems, such as cleft lip and heart disease. It also lowers the risk of miscarriage and stillbirths (Scheinberg, 2018).
Iron: Iron deficiencies are common in women. Research has shown that women who were deficient in iron can improve their fertility status when they restore their iron levels (Danahy, 2018). Iron can be found in animal products, as well as leafy greens like spinach.
Vitamin C: Vitamin C is found in citrus fruits, leafy greens, and peppers. When foods with iron and vitamin C are eaten together (such as spinach with mandarin oranges) the body can absorb the iron better. However, drinking tea or coffee with these foods can hinder the amount of iron absorbed (Scheinberg, 2018).
Vitamin E: Vitamin E is helpful in both reproductive health and overall wellness. In some studies infertile couples given vitamin E showed an increase in fertility (Redden, 2014).
Red Raspberry Leaf: It is thought to be a “fertility-promoting” herb that is often combined with peppermint. It is known to help tone the uterus and pelvic muscles (Redden, 2014).
Chasteberry: Chasteberry supplements can help restore hormonal balance and regulate ovulation (Redden, 2014).
Linseed Meal: It has been shown to help ovulation and lengthen the luteal phase (Redden, 2014).
Maca Powder: Maca powder has been considered the fertility root for centuries and originates from Peru (Redden, 2014).
Red Clover (Trifolium pratense): It has both calcium and magnesium, which can promote estrogen production, regulate menstrual cycles, and balance vaginal acidity (Redden, 2014).
What To Avoid During Preconception
Excessive Vitamins: Taking too much of certain vitamins can cause toxicity in the body, which can be bad for developing babies. For example, too much vitamin A can be harmful to a fetus (Shmerling, 2018).
Alcohol: “No amount of alcohol is safe. Don’t drink until after your pregnancy” (Scheinberg, 2018).
Caffeine: Some studies have associated caffeine with miscarriages and having a hard time getting pregnant (Scheinberg, 2018).
Seafood with Mercury: Tilefish, king mackerel, swordfish, albacore tuna, and shark can contain high amounts of mercury that can be harmful to a growing baby (Scheinberg, 2018).
Trans Fat: These fats often are associated with fried foods. They are very harmful to a person’s health and should be avoided at all costs.
Processed Foods: Food found in a package usually contains chemicals, added sugars, and other additives. Processed meats are particularly bad for health.
Sugar: High sugar consumption from foods and beverages has been shown to increase insulin resistance and decrease fertility.
“Trans fat and unhealthy diets (those rich in red and processed meats, potatoes, sweets, and sweetened beverages) were found to have negative effects [on fertility]” Shmerling (2018)
Men Matter Too
Heavy-Metal Exposure: Has been connected to “decreased sperm production” and “abnormal sperm motility and shape” (Brown, 2017).
Alcohol: This can reduce the total amount of sperm, their concentration, and can the amount of normally shaped sperm (Brown, 2017).
Zinc, Folic Acid, and L-Carnitine: Research has shown this combination to help the “quality, mobility, and supply of sperm;” however, it needs to be taken for six months or longer (Redden, 2014),
Weight: In men, a higher BMI has been connected to a decrease in the quantity and quality of sperm, as well as an increase in erectile dysfunction (Danahy, 2018).
Selenium: Has been shown to help men’s production and quality of sperm (Redden, 2014).
An Ideal Fertility Diet
Looking at a study from Harvard University showed that people who consumed a “high fertility” diet with lots of monounsaturated fats, vegetable proteins, lots of fiber, low-glycemic carbohydrates, and consumed full-fat dairy foods. They also ate little trans fats, animal proteins, and used a multivitamin.
In fact, adopting a whole food, plant-based diet can sometimes decrease infertility by a staggering 80 percent!
Eat Real Food
Eating a Mediterranean-style diet, rich in fish, nuts, legumes, whole-grain carbohydrates, olive oil, avocado full-fat dairy is a fantastic way to become healthy and boost your fertility. Iron: Essential for helping the baby grown
Fish: Great for brain health for the mother and baby
Calcium & Protein: Helps build the babies muscles and bones
Vitamins A + B + C: Helps the babies organs develop
A healthy diet, while not a cure all, will definitely give you a distinct advantage. Surprisingly, a British study of couples with a history of infertility showed an almost unbelievable 80 percent success rate (compated to around 25 percent for IVF) simply by making lifestyle and diet changes. Redden (2014)
To learn more about diets that are filled with healthy fats check out this post, or if you’re wanting to quickly lose some weight first read this post. If you’re wanting details and meal ideas for this real food lifestyle diet then this one’s for you!
Remember, there is no perfect path towards pregnancy. Every person is different and everybody is different. It is wise to educate yourself on how to better your chances for a healthy baby but no matter what, give yourself grace on this journey.
Wishing you joy, patience, and peace as you embark on this exciting new journey!