This is it!
You’re pulling out all the stops, ditching the rubber, trashing the pills, popping out the birth-control implants, un-inserting the IUDs and everything else that stands between you and fertility, and you’re trying to conceive (TTC).
Congratulations on your commitment!
When we embark on this journey, we know where we want to end up–with a happy, healthy baby in our arms—but we don’t really know what it will take to get there.
The good news is that there are things you can do to help.
Optimising your nutrition–or in fact, making any beneficial changes at all–is likely to assist your chances of conception. In addition, you might also make a difference to the health and wellbeing of your baby, maybe even life-long, and your own as well.
Here are my 5 top suggestions
The first thing to say on this topic is that nutrition is a controversial area, and you are unlikely to find one comprehensive, consistent nutritional philosophy or program that all experts agree about. (Sorry about this!) Some current controversies include: low fat vs high fat and low carb vs high carb. (Not to mention Paleo and Mediterranean!)
In addition, everyone’s body is unique, and different things suit different bodies. What is deliriously delicious food for some is downright detestable for others.
This is good news however. Your body is smart and will tell you what you need, when we offer healthy choices. So my first suggestion is…
1. Follow your body
Your body knows what it needs, and can orient you to the best choices.
For most of human history, our bodies have guided us towards the healthy foods our bodies need for a healthy conception, pregnancy, birth and baby. While we now have a lot more information about diet and nutrition, we can still trust our body’s knowing to guide us.
In relation to micronutrients, the vitamins and minerals that we need in small but critical amounts–there are some that are especially beneficial for conception and early pregnancy.
2. Eat good amounts of high-quality fats
As well as good-quality fats and oils from nuts, seeds, animal, and vegetable sources (ideally organic), there are some fats that we especially need for our baby’s growth in pregnancy. The “essential fatty acids” (EPA and especially DHA) are needed for fetal brain development and are ideally consumed in fish, especially oily fish, and in fish oil supplements. It is hard to get these from a vegetarian diet, although new studies suggest that DHA in supplements made from algae may be an effective alternative.
3. Pay attention to zinc in your diet
This important mineral has been less well-known than iron, but is actually needed by every cell in the body. Zinc helps skin integrity as well as male sperm production, and will be an important nutrient to help your baby develop in the womb and, afterwards, will help your skin integrity- including helping your breasts and nipples to be in good shape for breastfeeding. Animal foods and nuts, including pepitas, are good sources.
4. Watch your Vitamin D levels
Vitamin D, the “sunshine vitamin” is also needed right through the body. Vitamin D may even help you to conceive, as well as reducing your chance of preterm birth. You are very unlikely to get sufficient Vitamin D from your diet, so you will need to get it naturally with good sun exposure or via a supplement. See below for some calculators to see if you can get enough sun exposure in your location and season. Unless you have recently had a lot of sun exposure (eg a long tropical holiday), I also suggest that you have your Vitamin D levels tested and take supplements if you can’t get enough sun.
5. Fabulous folate
Taking extra amounts of this B vitamin from pre-conception through early pregnancy has been shown to reduce the chances of the neural tube defects (NTDs) spina bifida, where the coverings of the spinal cord are incomplete, and anencephaly, where the brain is not fully developed. Folate comes from green leafy vegetables (“foliage”), and recent studies suggest that a good diet that is high in vegetables may have the same benefits for NTDs and also reduce congenital abnormalities such as cleft lip ( see Preconception diet link below). Many places also have fortified foods, so you may want to check if you are already getting your recommended intake (400 micrograms) from fortified foods.
There is obviously a lot more to say about preconception nutrition, but these are great places to start. Remember that any positive changes that you can make at any stage, from preconception to late pregnancy, will be beneficial.
For more about preconception and TTC, see my blog “Five Tips for Fertile Fun.”
Vitamin D and sunshine
DHA from Algae