You Are What You Eat - Even When Trying to Get Pregnant?

How diet impacts getting pregnant/fertility

90% of couples trying to get pregnant do so within a year.1 But just because it takes a little longer for some doesn't always mean something is wrong. Tools such as the Daysy fertility tracker helps couples optimize their chances of having a baby during each menstrual cycle. Using your basal body temperature, your tracker identifies your fertile and infertile days. 

Getting the timing right is great, but did you know your diet also holds the key to improving your chances of conception? Keep reading and you’ll find out how.

 

How Diet Impacts Getting Pregnant/Fertility

The need to eat healthily is hardly news to anyone. Good food keeps your body working properly. However, if you're hoping to become a parent soon, you may want to take your diet more seriously. Your reproductive system is directly affected by how much nutrition you get from food. 

What you eat also affects your fertility indirectly. For instance, many health conditions, such as metabolic syndrome, thyroid disease, and PCOS can make having kids more challenging. But that’s where what you eat can make a difference. Often, dietary interventions that help improve your health may boost your fertility as well. 

Luckily you can enjoy the benefits of healthy nutrition by making small changes. As you try for a child, some nutrients that you should get from your diet include: 

  • Antioxidants — Normal body processes produce harmful substances called free radicals. They can destroy DNA, proteins, and cells. Unchecked, this damage can extend to your reproductive cells, affecting fertility. Thankfully, your body has a defense system called antioxidants, some of which you get from your diet. Vitamin A, C, and E, present in fruits and veggies, are powerful antioxidants that may help improve fertility.
     
  • Healthy fat — The kind of fat you eat plays a larger role in fertility than you think. One study found that eating diets high in saturated fat is related to lower rates of successful egg retrieval; similarly trans fats decrease embryo quality. Experts recommend consuming more monounsaturated fats as it's related to higher birth rates.2
     
  • Folic acid — Folic acid is crucial for neural tube development. This structure becomes the brain, spinal cord, and other neural tissues. But even before you get pregnant, you need folic acid in your diet as it can improve a woman's chances of getting pregnant within a short period.
     
  • Vitamins and Minerals — Micronutrients are necessary for your reproductive health. Ensure that your diet provides manganese, copper, zinc, folic acid, iodine, magnesium, iron, and vitamins A, C,  D, E, and B complex. 

    Eating a varied nutrient-dense diet provides essential micronutrients. You can also support meals with dietary supplements, but not without consulting your doctor.

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Pre Pregnancy Diet: What Women Should Eat When Trying to Get Pregnant 

As you prepare for pregnancy, your diet should be getting more attention. Are you eating enough greens, fruits, and healthy fats? 

If you lack essential nutrients, this can affect your fertility by:

  • Disrupting your menstrual cycle
  • Reducing egg quality
  • Affecting hormone balance

Besides helping improve your fertility, changing your diet may help prepare your body for the stress of pregnancy and provide essential nutrients for the baby. Chances are that you’ll only figure out you’re pregnant when you miss a period. 

One survey found that one in three women confirm pregnancy past the six weeks mark. But consider this, the embryo begins developing organs by week three. Therefore, tweaking your diet even before pregnancy helps ensure your baby gets the nutrients they need for early development. 

 

How soon should you start a pre-pregnancy diet? 

We asked Daysy medical expert, Dr. Niels Van De Roemer, PhD, and he says that current research supports eating healthier about six to eight weeks before conception. This helps with hormonal regulation, prepares your body for pregnancy, builds a stable uterine lining, and ensures the health and development of the embryo. 

Here are some changes to make to your diet and lifestyle before pregnancy:

  • Folic acid — Folic acid supplementation can increase a woman’s chances of getting pregnant quickly. Additionally, it greatly reduces the occurrence of neural tube defects such as spina bifida. It also lowers the risk of heart defects and cleft lip in the child.3

    The US Public Health Service recommends that women in their reproductive years take 400 mcg (0.4mg) of folic acid daily. You can get it from dark green leafy veggies, legumes, citrus fruits, and whole grains. 
     
  • Calcium — Many biochemical processes involved in embryo development require calcium. It’s important for maintaining a healthy pregnancy and promoting the growth of the fetus. 

    Experts encourage adult women to get 1000mg of calcium daily, especially while trying to have a baby.Three 8oz glasses of milk can meet your calcium needs, but you can also get it from low-fat yogurt, sardines, rice, and cheese.
     
  • Vitamin E — Vitamin E is an antioxidant that helps reduce the damaging effects of oxidative stress. It encourages the growth of the endometrium and promotes successful implantation. It’s recommended to take about 15 mg of vitamin E daily.5 Great sources include sunflower seeds, spinach, peanuts, and almonds. 
     
  • Omega-3 fatty acids — A study found that taking omega-3s makes women 1.5 times more likely to get pregnant. When taken before in vitro fertilization, it improves the odds of high-quality embryos, a successful pregnancy, and a mentally and physically healthy baby.6 Fatty fish such as sardines, mackerel, and tuna are rich in omega-3s.
     
  • Vitamin C — Researchers observed the effect of vitamin C on 150 women with luteal phase defects. The results revealed that 25% of the women who received vitamin C daily got pregnant within six months.7 Fortunately, you can boost your vitamin C supply by increasing your intake of cherries, citrus fruits, bell peppers, and tomatoes.
     
  • Vitamin D — In addition to keeping your bones healthy, vitamin D is crucial for fertility. It was shown to increase the chances of pregnancy in women undergoing fertility treatments. It may also improve PCOS and prevent endometriosis and bacterial vaginosis. Get in the sun for a few minutes a day to help your body produce vitamin D.
     
  • Iodine — Your thyroid glands need iodine to function, but it also contributes to female fertility. It’s crucial for ovary function and maintaining the endometrium.
     
    Iodine deficiency can lower a woman’s odds of pregnancy by nearly 50%.8 Maintaining optimal levels of this nutrient is vital, especially if you’re looking to have kids. Eggs, dairy, and seaweed are rich iodine sources.

By now you’ll have realized how important diet is for fertility. As you monitor your fertile and infertile days with your Daysy fertility tracker, you can begin preparing your body too. Your tracker lets you grasp the details of your menstrual cycle and helps you take advantage of that knowledge. Tracking cycles and planned intercourse significantly improve pregnancy rates. 

 

Healthy Diet Tips for Male Fertility 

Making a baby is a job for two. Therefore, potential dads also need to take a look at their diet. Nutritional deficiencies can affect sperm quality and motility. Here are some dietary tips for the dads-to-be:9

  • Healthy fat — Although fat gets a bad rap, the type and source determine if it’s good or bad for you. Diets high in saturated fat negatively affect sperm count and health. Instead, go for healthier options such as polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), especially the  omega-3s which can improve sperm quality. 
     
  • Healthy diet — The traditional high fat and high sugar American diet can negatively affect male fertility. Experts often recommend the Mediterranean diet. Not only is it great for protecting heart health, but it protects your reproductive health too. 
     
  • Antioxidants — Oxidative damage affects sperm quality. Don’t skip your leafy greens and fruits to load up on antioxidants. A fertility clinic study analyzed the sperm quality of 250 men and found that those who ate lots of fruits and veggies had better sperm motility and concentration. 
     
  • Vitamins and minerals — Nutritional deficiencies aren’t great for your fertility. But before gobbling up supplements, start by tweaking your diet. Some studies show that nutrients such as folic acid, calcium, iron, and vitamins A, B12, C, D, and E, improve sperm health. A blood test at your doctor’s office will reveal your nutrient deficiencies if any.

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What to Avoid  if You’re Trying to Have a Baby

What not to eat as you prepare for pregnancy is just as important as eating right. Certain lifestyles and eating habits can negatively affect fertility or potentially harm the growing fetus. As you prepare yourself for the journey of parenthood, here are some things to consider:

  • Caffeine — Granted you need your caffeine boost to stay focused throughout the day but that might be harming your fertility. Taking over 200 to 300 mg of caffeine daily can lower fertility by up to 27%.

    Additionally, caffeine reduces your body’s ability to absorb iron and calcium, both vital nutrients for supporting a healthy pregnancy. Instead of turning to coffee, you could get your energy boost by regulating your sleep pattern and trying healthy snacks. 
     
  • Alcohol — Everyone knows that drinking while pregnant is bad, but did you know that it can lower the chances of getting pregnant? Frequent drinking can cause fertility difficulties in men and women. It’s associated with poor sperm quality and lower testosterone in men.10

    Furthermore, you could be pregnant for many weeks before you realize it. This means potentially exposing the fetus to dangerous alcohol levels that increase the risk of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. Bottom line: Avoid alcohol when trying to have a baby.
     
  • Tobacco — Smokers have double the infertility rates of the general population.11 It damages DNA in the reproductive cells, thereby increasing the risk of birth defects. A word of caution, second-hand smoke is just as toxic. Best to reduce your exposure to cigarettes altogether to improve your chances of conception. 
     
  • Pollutants — Toxins in the environment can lower a person’s fertility by damaging the reproductive system or disrupting hormones. Environmental contaminants, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in fish, can lower a woman’s fertility by about 50%.12

    Reducing your contact with toxins may improve fertility rates. For instance, switching to organic foods is a great way to limit your pesticide and herbicide exposure. The FDA also recommends avoiding the following fish because of their high mercury content:13
    - Tilefish
    - Tuna, bigeye
    - Orange roughy
    - Shark Swordfish
    - King mackerel Marlin
     
  • Stress — Trying to have a baby is already stressful on its own, but that could be affecting your chances of conception. Researchers found the women with the highest stress markers had 29% lower chances of getting pregnant.14 Indulging in stress-relieving activities such as yoga, Pilates, or breathing exercises may put you in the right mood for a baby. 

 

Pregnancy Nutrition: Tips for Creating a Healthy Pregnancy Diet 

The big moment arrives, and you’re staring down at two lines on a stick. 

You’re pregnant! 

All the emotions come crashing in. Hundreds of questions cloud your mind, but at the top of the list is probably, What next?

New life is growing inside you, and to care for your baby, start by caring for yourself. Contrary to popular belief, you’re not eating for two while pregnant. Although your nutritional needs increase during pregnancy, it’s not double. Eating healthy protects your health during pregnancy and encourages fetal growth. You’re also preparing yourself for a smoother recovery after the stress of pregnancy and childbirth. 

Here are some nutrients to pay close attention to during pregnancy:

  • Folic acid — Pregnant women should take 400 to 800 mcg of folic acid daily. This prevents neural tube malformations. 
     
  • Vitamin D —  You require more vitamin D during your pregnancy to help your baby grow strong bones. It lowers your risk of premature delivery and reduces your child’s risk of allergies and asthma. 
    Unfortunately, many moms-to-be lack this vital nutrient even while taking supplements. The recommended daily dose of vitamin D during pregnancy is 600 IU per day.15 Get some sunlight for more vitamin D. If you’re taking prenatal vitamins, speak with your doctor to ensure that it meets your needs.
     
  • Iodine —  Hormone production in your thyroid gland shoots up by about 50% during pregnancy. More work calls for more iodine. The growing baby also needs iodine for proper brain and thyroid gland development. The American Thyroid Association recommends that pregnant and breastfeeding women take 150 mcg of iodine daily.16
     
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids — Polyunsaturated fatty acids, especially Omega-3 fatty acids, are crucial during pregnancy. They drive brain and retina development. DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) helps the embryo grow and prevents premature childbirth. 

    Although pregnant women can get omega 3s from fresh fish, they must be careful due to the risk of mercury poisoning. Pregnant and breastfeeding moms are usually recommended 300 mg DHA daily.17
     
  • Iron — You need more iron during pregnancy to produce more red blood cells. Iron deficiency can increase your likelihood of premature births. However, Iron overload can also cause premature birth. Consequently, check your iron levels at your doctor’s office before buying supplements. Health professionals generally recommend 30 mg of iron during pregnancy.18

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Conclusion

Tracking ovulation with your Daysy fertility tracker helps you make the most of each menstrual cycle if you’re trying to have a baby. You can further optimize your chances by paying attention to what you eat. Healthy diets may promote hormone balance and keep your reproductive cells (eggs and sperm) healthy. 

Remarkably, the benefits of healthy eating extend through your pregnancy and the postpartum period. In other words, your baby gets nutrients to grow strong and your body is strengthened for pregnancy and postpartum recovery. 

To recap, as you monitor your menstrual cycle with your Daysy fertility tracker, remember to add essential nutrients such as antioxidants, healthy fat, folic acid, vitamins and trace minerals  to your diet.

 

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Sources 

[1] ABC of subfertility: Extent of the problem - PMC

[2] How Nutrition Affects Fertility

[3] Folic Acid and Orofacial Clefts: A Review of the Evidence - PMC

[4] Preconception Nutrition | American Pregnancy Association

[5] Vitamin E | The Nutrition Source

[6] Dietary supplementation with omega-3s found to improve female fertility

[7] Ernährung und Nahrungsergänzungsmittel bei Kinderwunsch der Frau | SpringerLink

[8] Iodine deficiency may contribute to women’s fertility problems | Reuters

[9] Diet and Nutritional Factors in Male (In)fertility—Underestimated Factors - PMC

[10] Alcohol and fertility: how much is too much? - PMC

[11] Smoking and Infertility

[12] Environmental Toxins and Infertility - PMC

[13] Advice About Eating Fish (October 2021)

[14] Preconception stress increases the risk of infertility: results from a couple-based prospective cohort study—the LIFE study

[15] Vitamin D: Screening and Supplementation During Pregnancy | ACOG

[16] Iodine Nutrition in Pregnancy and Lactation - PMC

[17] American Pregnancy Association

[18] Anemia and Pregnancy | Patient Education | UCSF Health