Nutrition whilst trying to conceive

Nutrition whilst trying to conceive

 
 

Prior to conceiving, both you and your partner have a unique opportunity through nutrition to provide your baby-to-be with the best start in life. Good nutrition supports a healthy reproductive system, lots of energy for baby-making and prepares your body for pregnancy. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, low-fat dairy foods and fish are food sources some rich in antioxidants, others in vitamins and minerals, that if consumed in adequate amounts, can support a healthy reproductive system and if conception should occur, meet your nurturing needs and that of the developing baby’s.

Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables

Each day you should aim to eat a generous amount of fruits and vegetables for they contain large amounts of antioxidants, fibre and other valuable vitamins and minerals, which can protect against nutritional deficiencies and diseases that may affect reproductive health and early pregnancy outcomes. It’s common for many women to enter their first trimester of pregnancy unaware of the little organs and tissues already beginning to take form and the amount needed from these foods to support this development. To safe guard the health of your baby-to-be, eat 2 servings of fruits (e.g. one apple or 8 strawberries) and 5 servings of vegetables (e.g. half a cup of lentils or one potato) daily. Prenatal vitamins are available to assist you in reaching this daily requirement.

Antioxidants

antioxidantsThrough various factors, such as stress and aging, the body accumulates free radicals (or oxidants). These compounds can damage surrounding tissues and organs including those of the reproductive system and most importantly, sex gametes (sperm and eggs). The result, the chances of fertility and a viable pregnancy reduce. However we can prevent or limit the damage of free radicals by readily supplying the body with antioxidants, compounds that neutralize free radicals. Fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of different antioxidants, thus if serious about conceiving, increase your daily intake of antioxidants.

The fertility benefits of eating your greens

vitaminB9Eat a variety of deep coloured fruits and vegetables, both in salads with dressing or cooked in stir fries, microwaved or steamed to obtain an array of essential nutrients and protective antioxidants. Antioxidants defend cells against the damaging effects of unstable molecules called free radicals that can arise from eating fatty foods and smoking cigarettes. When these troublemakers are in excess, they can negatively influence your health and reproductive system(1). Keep these stressors at bay and your health sky-high by eating fruits such as berries, pomegranates, oranges and vegetables including carrots, broccoli, kale, sweet potatoes and spinach. Here’s a healthy tip, have a side of greens with every meal, a fruit salad for dessert with a dash of low-fat yogurt (a great calcium source) and sliced carrots, celery or nuts for snacks.

Why all the fuss about folate?

When planning a pregnancy, you should start folate supplementation one month before conception and throughout the first trimester along with a diet rich in folate foods including green leafy vegetables, legumes and fortified grain products such as breads and cereals, to provide maximal protection against neural tube defects. The neural tube begins to develop well before some women even know that they are pregnant. This tube closes on the sixth week of pregnancy to develop into the baby’s brain and spinal cord. Folate (also known as B9 and folic acid) supports the DNA synthesis of these rapidly dividing cells. If folate deficient, this development is impaired causing malformations known as neural tube defects. To support foetal demands, an additional 400 mg/day (micrograms per day) of folic acid is recommended and can be obtained by consuming at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Meeting this requirement through diet alone can be difficult thus a folate supplement or a prenatal vitamin containing folate can help you meet the recommended 800 mg/day to protect against neural tube defects.

Protein

ironWhile pre-pregnant you can easily meet your protein requirements by eating a mixture of animal and plant derived foods, beans, nuts, seeds and fortified wholegrain products. Red meats, pork, poultry and fish provide high quality protein as well as other vitamins and minerals including iron, zinc, B12 and omega-3 fatty acids. Cheese, eggs, yoghurt, milk, soybeans, legumes, nuts and seeds also provide a valuable source of protein; fruits and fats provide no protein. Eat 1 sever of meat, fish, poultry or meat alternative daily; a serve is for example 65-100 g cooked meat, 80-120 g cooked fish, 2 small eggs or ½ cup of cooked lentils.

Stock up on your building blocks

During pregnancy, the creation of new tissues, muscles and organs for you and your baby, will require the building blocks found in dietary protein called amino acids. The body does not store amino acids and some amino acids cannot be synthesised without dietary protein therefore aim to entre pregnancy with a diet sufficient in protein to support the demands of foetal growth and maternal changes. For healthy women, 46 grams of protein daily is needed to replace protein loss and cover the needs of the body.

Iron woman

The mineral iron and vitamins B6 and B12 are needed for red blood cell formation which must expand during pregnancy to ensure that an adequate amount of nutrients and oxygen are being delivered to the foetus and that foetal wastes are well removed. To travel the distance, maternal blood volume may increase by as much as 50% and red blood cell count may increase by 20% therefore, to support this demand and to prevent problems that could arise as a consequence of maternal anaemia (low number of red blood cells), aim to enter pregnancy with maximal iron stores. Eat protein rich foods with citrus foods containing vitamin C to enhance iron absorption, B6 and B12 intakes are generally met when consuming a variety of these foods but deficiencies may occur in vegan diets (see a doctor if concerned). Iron deficiencies are common even though the body highly reserves iron because some iron is inevitably lost daily thus to maintain an iron balance it is recommended that non-pregnant menstruating women consume 1.5 mg/day(2) of iron for example, eating 85 g of chicken breast can satisfy this amount although this is not the case for every woman. If you are concerned about your iron content possibly because of past iron deficiencies, heavy menstrual cycles, recent blood donations or if your diet is vegetarian or vegan, then see a doctor before conception. If your iron levels are low, the doctor may recommend that you take iron supplements between meals and you should avoid taking these supplements with milk, coffee and/or tea as they can interfere with absorption efficiency.

Sugary foods

A sprinkle of sugar can sweeten up your day by making healthier foods more enjoyable to eat but foods high in sugar are typically high in calories and low in nutrients, not ideal for someone preparing to have children. Filling up on cakes, pastries, soft drinks and cordials can cause nutrient deficiencies, obesity and other health problems so should be eaten sparingly.

Saturated Fat and High Salt content in foods

Saturated fats should be avoided for example, choose low-fat dairy products, lean meats and eat less fried foods. Also cut out high salt foods (these are foods which contain more than 120mg per 100g) and limit added salt at the table (remember to buy iodised salt). These dietary changes will help you keep your body weight and health under control which is important for a successful pregnancy and delivery.

Alcohol

Moderate and excessive alcohol drinking has been suggested by some studies to reduce fertility therefore it’s best to drink alcohol sparingly before conception, that’s less than 3 standards drinks a week. If you are finding it difficult to cut back straight away, try gradually reducing your alcohol intake. This is an important action as once pregnant, you will need to restrict alcohol intake even further, so it acts as good preparation.

Caffeine

There is some evidence that suggests high caffeine intake can reduce fertility, thus to prevent this effect, it is recommended to restrict caffeine intake to no more than 200mg/day while trying to conceive. This equates to ≤2 cups of coffee/day or ≤4 cups of tea/day.

References
1. Ashok Agarwal PD, Sajal Gupta, MD, Hussein Abdel-Razek, MD, Natalie Krajcir, BS, Kelly S. Athayde, MT, MS. Impact of Oxidative Stress on Gamtes and Embryos in an ART Laboratory. The Clinical Embryologist 2006;9(3):5-22.
2. Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand 2006, NHMRC.