Even if you are not experiencing fertility problems, boosting your health before pregnancy will make it easier for you to conceive, reduce pregnancy complications and improve your baby’s health. The following recommendations can help increase your chances of conceiving.
Maintain (or work towards) a healthy weight
Being underweight or overweight can alter the body’s hormonal cycles and interfere with ovulation. Excess weight is also associated with insulin resistance. Men should also be mindful of their weight. Being overweight lowers testosterone and sperm production.
If you are underweight, gaining just 5 to 10 pounds could help restart ovulation and improve fertility. If you are overweight, losing just 5% to 10% of your body weight significantly improves fertility, even if you are well above the ideal body weight range.
Choose the right carbohydrates
For overall health and to improve fertility, it’s important to include high-quality carbohydrates in your diet every day.
Low glycemic index (GI) carbohydrates (whole grains, beans and legumes, and fruits and vegetables) stabilize blood sugar and insulin. They are better for fertility than high GI carbohydrates (white bread, pasta or rice, soda, fruit juice and candy). It’s unknown exactly how elevated blood sugar and insulin resistance contribute to infertility. But studies have found a link between diets high in low GI carbohydrates and ovulatory fertility.
Women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a disorder characterized by poor insulin sensitivity and infertility, have improved fertility rates following treatment with insulin-sensitizing drugs. In addition to keeping blood sugar steady, low GI carbohydrates also have more fiber, vitamins, minerals and protein than their refined counterparts.
Pick plant proteins
Research has found that replacing animal proteins with plant proteins reduces the risk of infertility by 50%. For a fertility boost, aim for at least half of your protein to come from nuts and nut butters, beans and legumes, edemame, tofu and eggs.
Including healthy fats in your diet, and avoiding the unhealthy ones, is an important step to improved fertility. Unhealthy trans fats (hydrogenated oils found in many baked goods, crackers and cookies) promote inflammation and insulin resistance.
Inflammation can reduce the body’s sensitivity to insulin by blocking key proteins, such as adiponectin and PPAR-gamma, involved in insulin-sensitivity. Also, insulin resistance has been associated with infertility. Mono- and polyunsaturated fats have the opposite effect – they reduce inflammation and are good for fertility. Replacing trans fats with mono- and polyunsaturated fats is a great way to improve your fertility and overall health.
Skip the skim
This is one case when whole milk gets the thumbs up. Research has found that women who drank one serving of whole milk a day had an easier time getting pregnant that those who did not drink milk or who ate low-fat dairy foods.
Whole milk contains fat-soluble hormones that appear to be important for fertility. These hormones are lost during the skimming process. Thus, whole milk’s better hormonal mix may explain the improvement in fertility among women who drank it compared with those who drank 1% or skim.
Take a multivitamin
Conception requires extra folic acid and iron. Folic acid is essential during the early prenatal period to prevent neural tube defects – birth defects of the brain and spinal cord. Taking a prenatal vitamin is associated with improved fertility in women. And daily multivitamin/mineral supplements improve sperm counts in men.
Women who are planning a pregnancy should take a prenatal vitamin that contains nonheme iron (from plant sources) as this appears to help fertility more than heme iron. Men who are looking to boost their fertility do best sticking with a standard multivitamin/mineral supplement.
Be leery of listeria
Listeria is a harmful bacterium found in ready-to-eat meats, soft cheeses, and unpasteurized dairy products. Pregnant women are 20 times more likely than other healthy adults to get sick from eating listeria-laced food. Those trying to conceive should also be on alert because listeriosis (the infection caused by listeria) can cause a miscarriage early in the first trimester – possibly before you even know you’re pregnant.
Pump up on iron
Fill your body’s iron reserves before you get pregnant, especially if your periods are particularly heavy, says Sam Thatcher, a reproductive endocrinologist at the Center for Applied Reproductive Science in Johnson City, Tennessee, and author of Making a Baby: Everything You Need to Know to Get Pregnant. “Bleeding every month is a constant source of iron depletion,” Thatcher says.
Load up now, because once you’re expecting, your body has difficulty maintaining its iron stores as your baby siphons the mineral from you. To make matters worse, too little iron at the start of pregnancy puts you at risk for postpartum anemia – a condition affecting new moms that causes your red blood cells to fall below normal and saps your energy level.
Eat your greens, and reds, and yellows
Think of produce as Mother Nature’s multivitamin. Fruits and vegetables not only deliver a wealth of vitamins and minerals, they’re also overflowing with free-radical-busting micronutrients, like phytochemicals and antioxidants. (Free radicals are harmful molecules that sneak into the body on the heels of everything from sunlight to car exhaust and can damage the ova, sperm, and reproductive organs.)
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