For both men and women, food and fertility are linked. Stick to a balanced diet to boost your chances of a healthy baby.
Eat several servings of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and calcium-rich foods such as yogurt, cheese, and milk every day. Not getting enough nutrients can affect your periods, making it difficult to predict when you ovulate. And you may not ovulate at all if you are significantly underweight or obese.
Your partner should also pay attention to his diet since certain vitamins and nutrients such as zinc, vitamins C and E, and folic acid are important for making healthy sperm.
Fish is a nutritional powerhouse for a growing baby, offering low-fat protein with omega-3 fatty acids, but you need to take care to avoid types that are high in mercury, which can be dangerous to your unborn baby. Mercury can accumulate in your body and linger there for more than a year, so avoid high-mercury fish such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish. Instead, eat lower-mercury fish such as salmon and canned light tuna (not albacore, which is higher in mercury) once or twice a week.
Processed meats can be particularly dangerous for pregnant women and should be consumed in small amounts, and smoked or raw meats should be avoided entirely during pregnancy. Even hot dogs or deli meats should be heated until they are steaming before you eat them if you are pregnant.
For many moms-to-be, pregnancy prompts an abrupt change in eating and drinking habits, but some habits are hard to break. Make it easier on yourself by changing habits now, and help ensure your baby gets off to a good start from the moment you conceive.
The occasional bottle of beer or glass of wine probably will not affect your chances of getting pregnant, but alcohol can harm a developing baby. And since you may not know exactly when you ovulate or conceive, you may want to play it safe and cut out alcohol completely.
You may also want to cut back on caffeine. The research on whether caffeine can affect fertility is mixed. Experts generally agree that low to moderate caffeine consumption, less than 300 mg a day or about the equivalent of two 8-ounce cups of coffee, won’t affect your fertility, but your healthcare provider may recommend that you cut caffeine out entirely to play it safe. And once you are pregnant, experts recommend limiting yourself to less than 200 milligrams a day of caffeine, which is a little less than a 12-ounce cup of coffee because higher amounts have been linked to an increased risk of miscarriage. If you have a strong coffee or soda habit, you might want to start weaning yourself off caffeine now.
Although you can meet almost all of your nutritional needs through a balanced diet, many experts believe that even the healthiest eaters can use extra help. Taking a prenatal vitamin ensures that you are getting enough folic acid and other essential nutrients to boost your chances of conceiving a healthy baby.
Remember that a supplement is a safeguard, not a substitute for a sound diet. And since regular over-the-counter multivitamins may contain mega doses of vitamins and minerals that could be harmful to a developing baby, choose a pill formulated specifically for pregnant women. If you have a vegetarian diet, you may also need vitamin D and B-12 supplements, along with extra protein. Talk with your healthcare provider about the right prenatal supplement for you.
Folic acid has been proven to reduce a baby’s risk of neural-tube birth defects such as spinal bifida, and it is linked to a lower incidence of heart attacks, strokes, cancer, and diabetes.
Most women of childbearing age should take a supplement with 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid daily for at least a month before pregnancy, and 600 micrograms during pregnancy. If you have a family history of neural-tube birth defects or take medication for seizures, your healthcare provider may suggest that you boost your daily intake to 4,000 mcg, or 4 mg, starting at least a month before you conceive and continuing throughout your first trimester.
A good over-the-counter prenatal vitamin should contain more than the minimum recommendation of folic acid, between 600 and 800 mcg – what you’ll need during pregnancy. In addition, you can eat folate-rich foods, such as dark green leafy vegetables like spinach or kale, citrus fruits, nuts, legumes, whole grains, and fortified breads and cereals.
Folic acid is a water-soluble vitamin, so your body will flush out the excess if you consume too much. But there’s a downside to it being water-soluble, too: you can lose a lot of this vitamin in cooking water, so steam or cook vegetables in a small amount of water to preserve the folate.
Be aware that getting too much folate may hide a vitamin B-12 deficiency, which is sometimes a problem for vegetarians. Ask your doctor or midwife if you think you may be at risk.
It might be a good idea to shed some pounds, or gain a few if you are underweight, while you are trying to get pregnant, since you want to be as close as possible to your recommended weight when you conceive. Being over or underweight can make it harder to get pregnant. Also, obese women have more pregnancy and birth complications, and underweight women are more likely to have a low-birth-weight baby.
In addition to following a smart eating plan with low-fat, high-fiber foods, get regular exercise. If you are overweight, aim to lose one to two pounds a week, a safe rate of weight loss. Extreme weight loss from crash dieting can deplete your body’s nutritional stores, which is not a good way to start a pregnancy.
Most of these factors should be something you should be striving to do to live a healthy lifestyle no matter what. As long as you eat well and stay active, your body will be prepared for conception.