Boost your natural fertility: 5 diet and lifestyle tips
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Deciding to have a baby is a big personal and financial commitment, but it’s also a major health decision. In addition to the changes brought on by a pregnancy, there are a wide range of health factors that you might not realize can impact fertility—from your daily cup of coffee to your exercise routine!
We’ve collected a list of 5 of the best diet and lifestyle changes you can make to increase your chances of a faster conception and healthier pregnancy. Whether you’re looking forward to conceiving your first child, or hoping to give your kid(s) a new sibling, these tips are a great place to get started for both men and women.
Tip #1: Go alcohol-free
You’ve likely heard that pregnant women should steer clear of alcohol. But did you know that drinking can also reduce men’s fertility?
For men, heavy drinking can cause impotence and a reduced sex drive. Research has also shown links between high alcohol consumption and reduced male reproductive hormones and semen quality, including semen volume, sperm count, motility, and lowering a couple’s chances of conception.
For women, the findings suggested that even light drinking before pregnancy can increase the length of time it takes to conceive. This is because alcohol can interfere with regular ovulation. Women who drink more heavily (seven or more drinks per week, or more than three drinks in one sitting) are also likely to have heavy or irregular periods, contributing further to fertility problems. Apart from making it harder to get pregnant, consuming alcohol during a pregnancy can lead to health problems for the baby as well.
For women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, choosing not to drink alcohol is definitely the safest option. If you have a male partner, it could help if he cuts back as well. Talk to your partner and friends about going alcohol-free together. Stock your fridge with non-alcoholic wines and beers to keep the temptation at bay.
Tip #2: Cut back in caffeine
It’s not just alcohol, though: your coffee habit could also be putting a pregnancy at risk.
Studies have suggested that for women, high caffeine intake before and during pregnancy can lead to increased chances of miscarriage, as well as lower birth weight.
High caffeine intake means more than the recommended healthy dose of 200mg a day. You don’t need to cut out caffeine entirely, but try to limit yourself to just one or two cups a day. Filling a large coffee mug is probably your maximum daily serving. Be sure to steer clear of energy drinks as well. They are usually very high in caffeine, and also can contain heaps of unwanted sugar. Other things to cut out to reduce your caffeine intake could include iced tea, soft drinks, tea (including green tea), chocolate and yerba mate.
Try switching to decaf, or building up a selection of caffeine-free herbal teas. Similar to alcohol, it’s often easier to break a habit when you have an alternative on hand.
Tip #3: Maintain a healthy weight
As we’ve mentioned before, maintaining a healthy weight can benefit nearly every aspect of your health, and reproductive health is no different! Keeping a healthy weight improves the health of both sperm and eggs, prevents erectile dysfunction, and helps balance both men’s and women’s hormones.
Today, our typical diets are full of sugary drinks and snacks, trans and saturated fats, and processed foods (which are high in sugar, artificial ingredients, refined carbohydrates and more trans fats), which all combines to increase insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is when your insulin-responsive cells, like muscles, fat, and liver cells, don’t respond well to insulin and can’t take in and use glucose from your blood for energy. To make up for it, your pancreas makes more insulin. Over time, your blood glucose levels and insulin levels go up and make it easier to put on extra weight. As we know, eating healthy food and moving more is the best way to drop a few kilos. If you’re not as active as you should be, start slow, and find ways to fit longer walks and simple workouts into your routine.
It’s recommended to perform 30 minutes of activity each day to promote healthy blood glucose levels, weight loss, and fertility. Marking down exercise plans in your calendar is a great reminder to keep that future you from making excuses.
Alternatively, being underweight can negatively impact the female reproductive system and lead to infertility, so make sure you stay within a healthy weight range.
Tip #4: Balance your diet
Both women and men can improve their chances of pregnancy and give their baby the best start in life by taking care of what they eat, starting well before the child is even conceived.
The best way to get the nutrients your body needs before and during pregnancy is from a healthy, well-balanced diet. Studies have found that when women maintain a healthy diet high in whole grains, omega-3 fatty acids, fish, and soy (additional supplementation of folic acid ) and to reduce in trans fats and red meat in the year leading up to pregnancy (and subsequently during pregnancy), the child has a lower risk of birth defects. They also improve the chance of achieving and maintaining a pregnancy.
Our advice? Stick to a diet of lean meats, plant-based protein, whole grains, and plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Avoid sugar as much as possible, as well as soft drinks and juices.
Tip #5: Keep tabs on your micronutrients
Vitamins and minerals, also known as micronutrients, are essential for our bodies to function. A properly balanced diet should be the primary source for these key ingredients, but on occasion, it can be helpful to get a boost from supplements.
In addition to their general health benefits, some supplementary micronutrients can also help reduce the risk of birth defects and improve fertility! In particular, it’s often recommended that women who are planning a pregnancy should supplement their diet with folic acid.
Folic acid is a synthetic (not naturally occurring) form of folate (also known as vitamin B9), a type of B vitamin found in foods such as dried beans, peas, lentils, oranges, and whole wheat. Folate is also one of the critical nutrients needed to support a baby’s development from the beginning of a pregnancy, so it’s especially vital to ensure expecting mothers have enough to share.
It can be challenging to get enough folate through diet alone, so it’s recommended that women take at least 400 micrograms of folic acid each day, starting at least one month before conceiving and continuing through the first few months of pregnancy.
Since it’s a commonly used supplement, you can find folic acid in many multivitamin tablets. It’s best to look for one that’s specifically intended for pregnancy or pre-conception, though. Some micronutrients, such as vitamin A, can be dangerous if taken in high amounts during pregnancy. Talk to your doctor for further recommendations of specific supplements, as well as advice on what dosage is right for you.
In addition to folic acid, studies have shown that a vitamin D deficiency may decrease fertility in men and women, and taking supplements as needed is recommended. During pregnancy, vitamin D plays a role in transferring calcium to the growing baby, and a deficiency can interfere with that process. It is very important to highlight that deficiency of vitamin D is very common in otherwise healthy adults. Individuals presenting too-low concentrations of this vitamin should supplement vitamin D in doses of ≥1500–2000 IU/d
While some additional studies are looking into zinc, iodine, and selenium as other potential supplements, more research is needed to determine whether they can safely boost fertility. And always keep in mind: before turning to supplements, it’s best to see if you can make any necessary dietary changes on your own.
So, what should you do?
- Avoid alcohol use and high caffeine consumption. They can hinder your attempts to get pregnant and pose health risks for the baby during pregnancy.
- Stay in shape. Make sure your weight stays within a healthy range through healthy eating and regular exercise.
- Make sure you’re getting all the nutrition you (and your future child) need! For the best diet, try to include these food groups every day:
- Veggies and legumes (beans)
- Fresh, whole fruit
- Grains and cereals
- Lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts, seeds
- Milk, cheese, yogurt, or other dairy alternatives
- Consider supplements. While a healthy diet should take care of most of your body’s micronutrient needs, prenatal supplements for folic acid can be helpful to your baby’s development. But, as always, be aware that any supplements you take are not designed to replace a healthy diet and lifestyle!
If you’re planning on starting (or adding to!) your family, the good news is that by researching this topic and reading this blog, you’re already on the right track. Taking an active approach to you, your partner, and your child’s health is a great first step on this exciting journey.
But wait, there’s more!
Are you looking for more health tips? Check out our recent post on scientific self-care and the role of new technologies for monitoring diet, exercise, and other areas of life. Or learn more about some of the unique health issues women face that have a surprising connection to gender.
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