When planning for a baby, health, diet and lifestyle play an important role in the ability to conceive. By focusing on nutrition and exercise, and removing environmental toxins which can have a negative impact on fertility, couples can prepare their bodies for conception. For men, this optimises sperm quality and quantity and for women it prepares their body for a successful pregnancy and birth.
For couples who have been unsuccessful in conceiving, pre-conceptual health can help with certain factors that interfere with fertility such as: low sperm count, polycystic ovaries, candida, hormonal imbalances and stress.
Below are some of the changes to focus on when trying to conceive:Body Weight
For women, attaining a healthy body weight before trying to conceive is important. If underweight, it can be difficult to conceive. People who are obese may also have difficulties with conception as well as increasing the risks of complications during pregnancy and delivery.
A healthy body weight is measured using the body mass index (BMI). A healthy BMI is between 18.5 and 25. People with a BMI of over 30 can increase their ability to conceive even with a small weight loss however crash dieting is not recommended as this can deplete essential stores of nutrients in the body.
For men, it is also important to have a healthy body weight. Nutrients such as zinc and selenium can improve sperm quality but the key factors are:
A sensible diet
- Achieving the right weight for your height (BMI)
- Eating a sensible diet
- Regular exercise
- Not exceeding three to four units of alcohol per day (and having some alcohol-free days)
- Quitting smoking
It is important to maintain a balanced diet before and during pregnancy and a sensible eating regime should include:
- Carbohydrates – bread, rice, pasta, cereals (avoid refined carbs found in sweets as these can disrupt blood sugar and hormone balance)
- Fruit and vegetable – five portions per day
- Low-fat dairy – milk, yoghurt
- Protein – meat, poultry, fish, beans, pulses, well cooked eggs
- Fluids – avoid alcohol and caffeine, drink filtered water (2ltrs per day)
Certain foods are rich in the nutrients that can help with fertility and pregnancy. These include:
- Magnesium – for hormone balance and stress resistance. Foods with magnesium include: broccoli, peas, spinach, lentils, almonds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds.
- Selenium – for ovarian and sperm health. Foods to eat include: mushrooms, kidney beans, hummus, sardines, mackerel, broccoli, brown rice, onions, tomatoes, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, cashew nuts.
- Zinc – a vital nutrient for sperm quality and quantity, immunity and hormone balance. Foods to eat include: peas, chickpeas, chicken, turkey, white fish, lean red meat, brown rice, oats, pumpkin seeds, sardines.
- Folic acid – for protection against neural tube defects. Foods to eat include: cabbage, bananas, prunes, peanuts, green veg, pulses, walnuts.
- Vitamin E & B6 – for hormone balance and fertility. Foods to eat include: blackberries, sunflower oil, peanuts, almonds, walnuts, Brazil nuts, cabbage.
Apart from diet, a few lifestyle changes can play an important part in improving fertility and for maintaining good health before and during pregnancy. These include:
Visit a healthcare professional
- Stress management – stress can have a major impact on reducing fertility so it is important to adopt some stress management techniques and find time to relax. Yoga classes, counselling and life coaching are recommended therapies.
- Exercise – keeping active is important for everyone and vital to achieving the optimal health in which to conceive.
- Removing toxins – toxicity can affect fertility so you should quit smoking and avoid processed foods. Filtered water is also recommended.
- Eating organic foods – it is recommended that you avoid food additives and preservatives from your diet when trying to conceive so try to buy organic and eat fresh home-cooked food.
If you're planning on trying to conceive it's a good idea to visit your GP and explain your plans as they can assess your current health and make any recommendations for changes to your lifestyle. Once the GP has given the all-clear, seek out trained therapists who can help you with your pre-conceptual health care regime.