Nutrition for a healthy pregnancy
When you and your partner make the decision to have a baby, you are embarking on an incredible journey together, a journey that ends with you bringing another human being into the world.
It may seem daunting, but as long as you tackle it a week at a time, following your healthcare provider’s advice every step of the way, you’ll be fine.
After you’ve made the decision to have a baby, it may seem obvious that the next step is to conceive. But so that you give yourself the best chance of becoming pregnant, there are a few other smaller steps you need to take beforehand. One such step is making sure your diet is as healthy and nutritious as it can possibly be so that you naturally boost your fertility. By doing so, you will not only be helping yourself conceive, but you’ll also be making sure your body is in the best shape to cope with pregnancy.
Why is healthy eating important?
First of all, having a squeaky clean diet can’t guarantee a problem-free conception. There will always be unforeseen issues brought on by other factors, but knowing which foods are beneficial and which ones to avoid can certainly help give you a boost along your pregnancy journey. And a particularly unhealthy lifestyle is bound to cause unnecessary problems.
Being overweight or underweight can make it more difficult to conceive, and it can lead to complications for you and your baby during pregnancy and may even affect your baby after he’s been born.
The earlier you can switch to an optimum diet, the better it will be for you and your baby because you’ll want to make sure that your body is able to sufficiently accommodate your baby from the day of fertilisation through the entire period of development.
Adopting healthy eating habits
Suddenly overhauling your diet overnight is difficult, and may create a shock to your digestive system. Instead, try gradually introducing new foods and replacing fatty, sugary foods with healthier alternatives. This will allow your body time to adjust to your new diet. A sudden change will make you more likely to miss your old diet more, meaning you might be tempted to give in and revert to your old ways.
If your aim is to cut down on your calories, the same applies. Instead of immediately trying to drop down to the recommended daily amount, try cutting back by 200 or 300 calories per day until you reach your goal.
This gradual approach is one of the reasons why making sure you plan ahead, well in advance, is a good idea. But, of course, it’s better to start late than never at all.
Foods to help boost fertility
So, what are the eating habits which are going to help you get pregnant and be as healthy as you can be? Below we have looked at some vital food groups and the specifics from each one that you should focus on eating.
Fruit and Vegetables
It will probably come as no surprise that you should be eating plenty of fruit and veg. Filled with antioxidants, fruit and vegetables are great to have when you’re trying to conceive, during your pregnancy, and pretty much every other time during your life.
In particular, dark, leafy green vegetables are one of the best choices you can make. Spinach, Kale, and chard are all great sources of Vitamins C and K – both essential for pregnancy.
Don’t limit yourself to the colour green, though. You should be eating at least five portions of fruit and veg a day (preferably with the number of veg outweighing the fruit), and it’s good if you try to eat the whole spectrum of colours – try to eat a rainbow from red peppers to purple aubergines, through green beans to blueberries – enjoy them all.
Vitamin C is particularly important as it helps your body absorb iron. You’ll need high iron levels for pregnancy, as a deficiency can lead to the development of anaemia in the later stages, increasing the chances of a premature birth and your baby having a low birth weight. Strawberries and citrus fruits are good sources of vitamin C.
Speaking of iron, it’s important that you get more than your fair share of it. Good sources include red meat, green vegetables, dried fruit, bread, and fortified cereals.
When it comes to carbs, you will need to make sure you stick to complex rather than simple carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates are made up of fibre and starch and take longer for the body to break down, while simple carbohydrates are mainly made up of sugar and are broken down rapidly.
Examples of complex carbohydrates include whole grains, peas, beans, oatmeal, brown rice, and vegetables. They are a source of B vitamins, vitamin E, and fibre. Refined carbohydrates – white bread, pasta, and white rice – won’t give you the same nutritional benefit and are best avoided (or at least to a minimum).
Though fat sounds like something you should avoid altogether, there are some essential fats that are good for you. Oily fish (such as salmon and trout), nuts, and seeds are all good sources of essential fatty acids. These Omega-3 fatty acids can help regulate your reproductive hormones, promote ovulation, help improve egg quality, and increase the blood flow to your uterus.
Eating fish does come with a warning, however. According to NHS choices, oily fish contains chemicals such as polychlorinated biphenyls, which can harm the baby’s immune system, so pregnant women shouldn’t eat more than two portions of it per week. You should also avoid the types of fish that are high in mercury. These include tuna and swordfish. Having high levels of mercury in your system is thought to cause problems for your baby’s nervous system.
Try to avoid artificial trans-fats as much as you can. These are found in a lot of sugary snacks as well as fried foods. Trans fats can reduce the body’s sensitivity to insulin, meaning that your body will struggle to regulate your blood sugar. During pregnancy, your body will be at an increased danger of not producing enough insulin because of other hormones being produced by the placenta. Eating a lot of trans fat will only increase your risk of developing gestational diabetes, which can be dangerous for your baby if left untreated.
Drink plenty of water – try to aim for one and a half litres each day. Making sure you drink enough water is vital for your overall health, as it helps your body to function properly. Water will help achieve hormonal balance by enabling the chemicals to travel throughout the body, and it helps the production of cervical mucus.
Zinc is a very important mineral for boosting fertility, so make sure you’re getting enough. Foods rich in zinc include mangoes, pumpkin seeds, oysters, yoghurt, whole grains, egg whites, and beetroot. Make sure your partner is getting enough zinc, too, because if a man’s zinc levels are low, it could affect his sperm count. If you’re both worried that you’re not getting enough zinc, you could try a supplement.
Folic acid, known as vitamin B9, is also a boost for conception, as well as being useful in early pregnancy (it can help prevent defects of your baby’s brain and spinal cord). The Family Planning Association suggest that pregnant women should take a 400mcg tablet of folic acid each day at least three months prior to conception and up until the end of the first trimester.