“What are the best foods to eat when trying to get pregnant?”. We hear this question a lot, and chances are it’s run through your mind before, too. With the launch of our brand new Trying To Conceive program on the Baby2Body app, we’re so excited to be able to dig deeper into these questions and support more women through the incredibly important preconception phase.
So let’s talk about: is there an optimal fertility diet? Can certain foods help increase your chances of conceiving? Will your diet impact your future baby’s health?
The quick takeaway is this: If you’re actively trying to conceive or even planning for pregnancy in the next few years then now is time to focus on a healthy, balanced preconception diet — because yes it can make a difference to you and your future baby’s health.
But let’s break each question down, shall we?
Is there an optimal fertility diet?
There isn’t a go-to gold standard diet that will help every woman increase her fertility. Unfortunately, it’s just not that simple. There are a lot of factors at play when it comes to fertility levels, such as genetics and pre-existing health conditions that diet can’t override on its own. But, the food you eat can and does have an impact on your chances of conceiving and the health of your future pregnancy. That’s why we like to focus your preconception diet not just on “increasing fertility”, but more on giving your body the nutrients it needs to be ready for baby.
Eating a healthy and balanced diet before conception helps ensure your body has all the vitamins, minerals, and energy needed for pregnancy — because as soon as you conceive, your body will start directing your nutrient stores into baby’s growth; if you are deficient in essential vitamins or minerals, it can have an impact on fetal development and your health as the mother.
Can certain foods increase chances of conceiving?
So it turns out our moms were right! They’ve been telling us to eat our vegetables our entire lives, and that might really pay off when you’re trying to conceive. A diet rich in vegetables can help lower blood pressure, regulate blood sugar, and even reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, and some types of cancers – all while providing us with vital nutrients and antioxidants that also help fight inflammation. When it comes to fertility, anti-inflammatory diets have become increasingly recommended by specialists due to the fact that two of the most common reproductive disorders (PCOS and endometriosis) are linked to inflammation.
But those veggies will do a lot more than help you just get pregnant — they might just help you carry a healthy pregnancy to term, too. A new study from the University of Queensland analyzed about 3,500 women and found that eating plenty of vegetables before conception was associated with a lower risk of premature birth. Babies born prematurely are at an increased risk for chronic diseases, lower cognitive development, as well as other developmental issues — so any efforts you can make now to reduce those risks are worthwhile.
In addition to a veggie-rich diet, here are some other fertility-friendly dietary recommendations:
- Don’t be afraid of fruits! But do say no to processed foods. A study of over 5,500 women showed those who ate high amounts of fast food and low amounts of fruit before conceiving took longer to get pregnant than those with healthier, more balanced diets.
- Make sure you’re consuming plenty of legumes, pulses, lean proteins, and nuts — as they’re also great sources of calcium, iron, folic acid, and other key nutrients that many women are deficient in before and during pregnancy (but which are key to healthy fetal development!).
- If you eat dairy, go ahead and switch out low-fat or no-fat dairy products for full-fat dairy products.
- Don’t be afraid of getting fat in your diet, it’s really important for pregnancy! But make sure your fat consumption comes from healthy fats (Omega-3’s baby!).
How your fertility diet can impact your future baby’s health
The nutrients that our bodies depend on when developing the placenta and fetal tissue are actually taken from our existing stores from the time conception occurs. So while your prenatal diet will sustain baby’s healthy development, your preconception diet is really what sets the foundation.
The placenta starts to develop within the first few weeks after fertilization, so having healthy stores of these nutrients already in your body is critical to fetal development. This is one reason why folic acid supplementation is recommended 3 months before you actively start trying to conceive, because deficiencies in this vitamin are strongly associated with neural development issues such as spina bifida — so making sure you have healthy levels of folic acid ahead of time is one way to prevent such birth defects.
You can also indirectly impact baby’s health by promoting your own health through your diet. A recent study found a possible link between plant-based diets in preconception with a reduced risk of developing gestational diabetes (GDM). Gestational diabetes not only impacts your immediate and longterm health, it does baby’s as well. It’s associated with a higher risk of miscarriage and preterm birth, and women with GDM have children with a higher risk of developing obesity and diabetes later in life.
On top of all of this, there is an incredible amount of emerging research in the field of Epigenetics, which looks at how preconception and pregnancy diets can influence baby’s gene expression — leading to lasting and longterm impacts on the child’s healthy functioning and development. We’ll dig into this more another time (because there’s just so much to talk about) but the moral of the story is this: consuming a healthy diet now can absolutely help set your baby up for a healthier future. So why wait?
We know that pregnancy is often joked about as a time when you have a free pass on the food you eat, because you’re ‘eating for two’ — but we encourage you to think about getting nutrition for two, even before you conceive. Your body is going to be your baby’s home for 9 months, so giving it a healthy balance of vitamins and minerals, maintaining healthy blood glucose levels, and balancing that with lean protein and healthy fat consumption is what it’s all about. Now is the time to prepare your body to be the best home possible for your baby-to-be.
Making these little adjustments now will make it that much easier once you actually are pregnant. And eating healthy is one of the many ways we can take our fertility, our health, and our baby’s health into our own hands.