Are you finding it challenging to have a baby? Know that you aren’t alone. One in eight couples has trouble getting pregnant or sustaining a pregnancy in the U.S. Despite these statistics, there are steps that both men and women can take to strengthen their chance at having a child, many that include making better everyday nutritional choices.
However, navigating through nutritional advice from magazine articles, infertility blogs, internet stories, friends and family members can leave anyone confused, overwhelmed and anxious. All you want to do is get pregnant and have a baby, but everything you’re reading and hearing mentions conflicting diets. Keto? Paleo? Mediterranean? No sugar? No caffeine? High-fat? Low-fat? Are you exhausted from all of the do’s and don’ts?
No matter what you read, know that reproductive nutrition matters. Here are 10 nutritional best practices to improve preconception fertility and the likelihood of a healthy pregnancy.
How Can I Increase My Chances of Getting Pregnant?
Stop smoking – This is the single best thing anyone can do to increase the chance of getting pregnant and having a healthy pregnancy with a positive outcome. For men, smoking lowers sperm count, motility (energy) and semen volume. For women, moderate to heavy smoking (10–20 cigarettes per day) can raise urinary follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) levels, which can decrease the number of ovarian eggs and lead to menstrual dysfunction, infertility and earlier menopause.
Maintain a healthy weight – Being either over- or underweight can be detrimental to conception for both women and men. For women, being underweight, overweight or obese increases ovulation dysfunction and the chance of miscarriage. For men, being overweight can cause too much body tissue and heat around the testicles, which negatively affects sperm formation and motility.
Stop alcohol use – Women who drink alcohol during pregnancy run the risk of having the alcohol pass on to the baby, which can cause numerous birth defects. Alcohol should also be avoided if trying to conceive, as it not only doubly reduces the odds of pregnancy compared to those of women who abstain or reduce their alcohol intake, but also increases the chance of miscarriage and fetal death. For men, studies have shown that drinking alcohol when trying to conceive may negatively affect sperm motility and lower semen volume.
Take prenatal vitamins to boost fertility – For women, taking a prenatal DHA (an omega-3 fatty acid) vitamin and 800 micrograms of folic acid daily is crucially important to increase the likelihood of fertilization and pregnancy. For men, taking a daily multivitamin and the antioxidant Coenzyme Q10 helps prevent oxidative stress in sperm, which can negatively impact DNA and cause sperm damage.
Foods that Increase Fertility
Eat whole grains and high-fiber foods – If you’re eating a lot of high-sugar carbs, your body will store them as fat, making it harder to keep your blood sugar levels in check. This is called insulin resistance and can lead to ovulatory dysfunction, where a woman’s body doesn’t release an egg to be fertilized. Instead of high-sugar carbs, choosing to eat carbs that are high in fiber, such as whole grains, can help to decrease insulin resistance.
Eat clean fruits and vegetables – Pesticides can negatively disrupt the endocrine system, interfering with the body’s normal hormone production and preventing fertility. Thoroughly washing your fruits and vegetables — or eating organically grown varieties — limits the possibility of ingesting pesticides, which have been shown to lower the probability of pregnancy and live birth for women if ingested.
Increase intake of omega-3 fatty acids prior to and during pregnancy – These foods, which include seafood, nuts, chia and flax seeds, and Brussels sprouts help improve egg quality and lower inflammation throughout the body, both of which help promote ovulation and a healthy pregnancy. A preconception diet that includes one serving daily of full-fat dairy foods and monounsaturated fats can lower the risk of infertility related to ovulatory disorders.
Can a Plant Based Diet Increase Fertility? – Yes!
For protein, eat more vegetables and plants and less red meat and poultry – Protein from red meat and poultry contain more omega-6 fatty acids, which increase blood pressure, blood clotting and water retention if eaten in excess. These things don’t lend themselves to a high likelihood of pregnancy. Instead, plant-based protein, such as soy, beans, lentils and quinoa, has shown to decrease the risk of infertility related to ovulatory disorders.
Foods to Avoid if You’re Trying to get Pregnant
Avoid or limit processed foods – Foods such as processed meats, fast food and microwave popcorn contain trans fats, animal fats and unnecessary chemicals and calories, which all can increase the risk of ovulatory infertility. Additionally, avoid reheating foods in plastic containers, as they increase the risk of ingesting phthalates, solvents and BPA, all of which are endocrine disrupters that affect embryo development.
Avoid or limit all forms of caffeine (advice for women) – Caffeine is a stimulant that increases blood pressure and heart rate, both of which are not recommended for a healthy pregnancy. Women who consume high amounts of caffeine (more than 500 mg per day) are more likely to experience a harder time getting pregnant. When women drink tea or coffee during pregnancy, they have a higher chance of miscarriage, fetal death and stillbirth. The more caffeine a woman consumes per day while pregnant, the higher the likelihood of one of these negative outcomes occurring.
If you are having difficulty conceiving, or if you would like assistance with improving nutrition or weight loss to increase the likelihood of having a child, the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin reproductive medicine center can help. Staffed with knowledgeable and caring fertility experts, this off-campus department of Froedtert Hospital utilizes a cost-conscious approach to provide unique and effective treatment to help couples conceive. For example, fertility wellness visits provide participants with individualized nutritional guidelines to follow and goals to aim for that can increase their chances of becoming pregnant.