13 Dietary Top Tips for Fertility, Preganancy and IVF

Fertility Nutrition FAQs

This Life Nutrition specialise in taking a scientific approach to diet to help issues with Fertility and Pregnancy.

Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Eating For Fertility, Conception and Pregnancy...

What should I eat to conceive?

Ideally, you and your partner should amend their diet at least 3 months prior to trying to start a family as this is how long it takes for eggs to come to maturity before ovulation and for sperm cells to fully develop. Eating correctly from the start, before you even get to the dimly lit bedroom stage, will provide the best chances of conception.

Your diet should be full of fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains and good quality protein such as oily fish and eggs. Reduce your consumption of pre-packaged and processed foods so that your intake of trans-fats, sodium, sugar and artificial ingredients drops immediately.

Ovulation can be disrupted by excessive athletic training or eating disorders, and if body fat is less than 22% ovulation is unlikely. A healthy body fat of around 28% for women gives the best chances of conception, but women who are drastically overweight may struggle to conceive, especially if the weight is concentrated around the middle and they have a high waist:hip ratio.

Alcohol should be avoided whilst caffeine and sugar intake should be drastically reduced, be careful with chocolate, cola, tea and coffee. Also, even though you’re not yet pregnant, if you do smoke you should quit before attempting to conceive, your chances will be improved as will the health of any potential foetus.

Supplement with Folic Acid and a multi-vitamin including B6 and B12, Omega 3, Vitamin E and C. Iodine has also been linked to foetal brain development, so be sure to eat foods such as seafood and dairy products which are naturally high in Iodine.

What can my partner eat to improve his fertility?

Men should eat a healthy, balanced diet before attempting to conceive, avoiding caffeine and sugary processed foods and quitting if they are smokers. Folic Acid, or folate in its food state should be included in his diet as it is crucial for RNA/DNA gene development, as should zinc which is crucial for sperm synthesis and DNA.

Selenium is very important as an antioxidant to prevent free radicals during sperm development and can be found readily in seafood and liver, whilst Vitamins E and C are important for sperm motility. Omega 3, found in eggs, improves sperm quality and count, as does protein, while co-enzyme Q10 is a vital antioxidant which prevents sperm damage and improves motility. Find recipes in my eBook (link) which include all of these vital nutrients.

Is a vegetarian or vegan diet OK when trying to get pregnant?

Vegetarian diets vary between individuals, so it’s important that health care providers assess dietary intake on an individual basis to ensure that vegetarians are not at risk of any deficiencies. Studies have shown that vegetarian diets may be lacking in Vitamin B-12, Vitamin D, calcium, protein and iodine. So any dietary assessment of a pregnant or breastfeeding vegetarian should take into consideration both the potential nutrient inadequacies unique to vegetarians and those nutrients important for pregnancy and lactation.

Vegans should take the same precautions as vegetarians, making doubly sure that they get enough Vitamin B-12 which is severely lacking in vegan diets. Meat substitute products, soya milk, tofu, cereals and nutritional yeast are all good sources however a B-12 supplement is also recommended. Eggs are a very good source of Omega 3 which is vital during pregnancy, however vegans can substitute with algae which also contains Omega 3 and fits into a vegan diet.

What should I avoid eating/doing during pregnancy?

Alcohol is best avoided before and during pregnancy, too much is known to have negative health effects but it is difficult to know how much is too much. Therefore, I advise that you avoid it altogether to be safe.

Smoking. We all know it’s bad for our health and it has been linked to miscarriage, preterm delivery and sudden infant death. Use the opportunity of pregnancy to give up if you do smoke, and do it with your partner if you can, a smoke free environment is far better for a baby to grow up in. Make sure to supplement with Vitamin C, as smokers are often deficient in this vitamin.

Caffeine takes longer to be eliminated from the body during pregnancy so should be avoided as much as possible, research indicates that high caffeine intake is linked to miscarriage and low birth-rates. Many pregnant women show an aversion to coffee, but you should also take care to avoid cola, teas and chocolate. Guidelines indicate that you shouldn’t take in more than 200mg a day.

Although consumption of Omega 3 polyunsaturated fats is to be encouraged during pregnancy because of it’s role in development of the foetal brain, eating large oily fish should be avoided. This is because larger oily fish can accumulate mercury in their flesh, which when eaten by the mother can be transferred via the placenta or breast milk and is toxic. I recommend that you avoid eating tuna, king mackerel, shark, swordfish and marlin; however, try to include salmon, sardines, trout and pilchards to keep your Omega 3 intake high.

What do I need to eat more of during pregnancy?

While some requirements increase during pregnancy the human body is a marvellous engine and most of the extra requirements are mobilised through maternal adaptation rather than requiring diet change. This is particularly true for the already well-nourished.

However, extra protein is required for the growth of the baby and mother, but only 6-10g extra per day, so make sure you include plenty of cooked eggs in your diet, not just sausage rolls!

Vitamin A is needed for cell differentiation, but there are problems associated with over-supplementation, so I advise that you eat plenty of fruits and vegetables so that your body can convert as much as is needed for your baby’s development.

25% of the UK population are considered to be deficient in Vitamin D, and deficiency during pregnancy is associated with spasms in the baby and weak, malformed bones. For this reason, I recommend that you supplement with Vitamin D as it is a safe supplement and all pregnant women are advised to take it. In addition, make sure you get some sunshine as often as you can for a natural Vitamin D boost.

Vitamin C. Your baby is taking yours! With most nutrients the mother has a monopoly on supply but with Vitamin C your baby has first dibs, therefore make sure you eat plenty of fruit and vegetables.

What should I eat in the 1st trimester?

Follow the same guidelines as above, but concentrate on getting enough Folic Acid in particular as it is essential for cell division and growth. If you have issues with methylation then supplemented Folic Acid may not be properly utilised, therefore your diet should be high in folate (the natural form of Folic Acid) which is more easily absorbed. Folate is found in green vegetables, and also oranges, walnuts and pulses, so make sure to include these in your diet.

Iodine is important throughout pregnancy but especially when the brain is developing rapidly, low levels have been linked to mental health issues in children such as cretinism, ADHD or autism. Be sure to include dairy, fish, chicken and seaweed in your diet to ensure you get enough iodine.

Zinc is also crucial at this stage for DNA and cell replication and can be found in sardines, whole grains, chicken, peas and seeds.

What should I eat in the 2nd trimester?

Your iron intake should start to rise around this time, especially as many women enter pregnancy with low iron stores or even anaemia. Iron-deficiency anaemia may increase the risk of preterm delivery and low birth weight so sources of easily absorbed iron are crucial at this stage. Iron levels should be monitored by a midwife and adjusted as necessary, sardines and red meats are good sources. Vegetarians should increase Vitamin C alongside vegetable sources of iron to increase absorption, such as in green leafy vegetables, pulses and wholegrains.

What should I eat in the 3rd trimester?

Around 2/3 of the baby’s calcium needs arise in the last 10 weeks of pregnancy as the skeleton develops, so be sure to get enough calcium in your diet at this time, dairy products are a good source.

Fibre is also important for your health at this stage of pregnancy; as the pressure increases on your digestive system water needs rise and constipation increases. Include plenty of leafy greens and whole grains in your diet to make things more comfortable for you.

What can I eat to prevent morning sickness?

Ginger is the most often recommended food to help with morning sickness and is certainly very safe. It can be taken in food as a flavouring, or as a tea or even as a supplement. Some women recommended freezing very strong ginger tea to use as ice cubes in hot weather. Some research studies have linked nausea and vomiting to a reduced chance of miscarriage so there is a silver lining… Although very excessive vomiting (Hyperemesis Gravidarum) should immediately be reported to your midwife and GP.

Why do I want to eat coal/pickles/chalk/only oranges?

The commonly perceived rationale behind weird cravings is that your body is telling you that you are deficient in certain nutrients. Who knows? The best bet is to consult a Nutritional Therapist who can assess your diet and will let you know if you really do need to increase schoolroom stationary in your diet… However, smell and taste sensitivity does increase during pregnancy so maybe oranges just suddenly start smelling so much nicer?

How can I adapt my diet to prevent miscarriage?

Miscarriage can happen for myriad reasons but when it has happened you need to give yourself a break. It takes 3 months for sperm to develop and for eggs to mature so take that time to take the mental strain off yourself, to grieve if necessary for your lost baby but to also improve your nutritional chances for next time.

Specific nutrients can also help depending on the reason for miscarriage. For example, if blood flow and clotting are causing issues then increasing consumption of Vitamin E can help to thin the blood and prevent clots. Omega 3 also prevents inflammation and can improve blood density.

High levels of serum homocysteine are commonly linked to heart disease, but are also associated with recurrent miscarriages. Homocysteine is an amino acid which, when present in large amounts, can cause damage to blood vessels. It results from low levels of Folic Acid and Vitamin B-12 so be sure to eat plenty of food containing B Vitamins.

Make sure you and your partner are getting enough zinc and selenium in your diets as they play an important role in cell reproduction and chromosome synthesis in the egg and the sperm cell. Miscarriage can result from chromosomal reproduction issues so this is very important both before and during pregnancy.

Low levels of co-enzyme Q10 and Vitamin D are both linked to miscarriage so make sure that these are kept up throughout the pregnancy. Reduce caffeine intake and stop smoking as both are related to miscarriage. Obesity is also a risk factor, so try to lose weight before attempting to fall pregnant if you have a BMI above 30 or a waist above 80cm for women.

How can I improve PCOS?

The crux to any nutritional intervention to help PCOS sufferers is the low Glycaemic Load (GL) diet. PCOS can lead to insulin resistance, and in some cases Diabetes Type II so it is crucial that blood sugar levels are bought under control by incorporating protein, fibre and healthy fats with each meal. Reducing caffeine will also help reduce the production of insulin and keep blood sugar levels stable.

In addition, quality protein and fats will be crucial for helping to balance the production of female and male sex hormones. Not all women with PCOS suffer from weight issues but any nutritional plan for those that are should be tailored for weight loss. Adipose fat, particularly that around the belly can create its own hormones, which further skews the hormonal picture. The diet should help the liver to do its job so that it can synthesise more SHBG to help the utilisation of hormones and also excrete those that have been used and need to be metabolised. Foods from the brassica and allium families (e.g. broccoli and onions) are excellent for liver health.

Chromium is generally recognised to be useful for glucose metabolism and insulin control. Don’t overeat at meal times and snack moderately, breakfast before you become hungry so that you’re not tempted to reach for ready energy in the form of white toast or biscuits or sugary snacks. Breakfast should contain a lot of protein to set up a steady release of energy. Reduce reliance on carbohydrates and only include those that are whole grain such as wholegrain breads, pastas or rice, or use pulses. Eliminate sugary snacks such as cakes and biscuits and foods that are known as simple carbohydrates such as white bread and pasta which get converted quickly in the bloodstream to glucose and again stimulate the production of insulin. If you have a sweet tooth have a couple of pieces of fruit or a few squares of dark chocolate after a meal.

Do not drink fruit juice and minimise fruit consumption, have fruit at the end of a meal or in conjunction with a protein such as nuts to slow down the release of their fruit sugars. Milk contains a sugar called lactose and some studies have found a correlation between milk drinkers and diabetes so it would seem sensible to avoid excessive milk drinking whilst trying to balance blood sugars. Avoid fizzy drinks and sugar laden beverages too, and don’t be tempted to add extra sugar (in whatever form be it honey, table sugar or agave syrup) to your meals. Replace fruit consumption with vegetables or salads so that vitamins, minerals and other phytonutrients are still obtained. Cinnamon has also been shown to be very good at balancing blood sugar levels.

How can I improve endometriosis?

As with PCOS intervention, a diet to help with endometriosis should be focused on achieving a hormonal balance in order to minimise the painful symptoms of the womb lining growing where it shouldn’t. A diet rich in healthy fats and quality proteins will help to ensure the synthesis of sex hormones.

An anti-inflammatory approach will help to minimise swelling and inflammation. Ensure that your diet is full of bright and colourful vegetables rich in antioxidants, whilst including oily fish for Omega 3 and sunflower seeds for Vitamin E.

Liver health is important to metabolise spent hormones and prevent hormonal imbalances, so make sure you eat foods like broccoli, sprouts, cauliflower and onions which are high in sulphur and B vitamins. Magnesium is also essential to prevent painful menstrual cramps and can be found easily in green leafy vegetables.

How can I conceive with fibroids?

Fibroids will grow when there is a hormonal imbalance and are associated with oestrogen dominance, when oestrogen levels are high and progesterone is low. In order to combat this, liver health is key so that “spent” hormones are metabolised and excreted efficiently. In case of stress, the adrenals would also need supporting as they may have been creating cortisol at the expense of progesterone so exacerbating any imbalance.

Fibroids can also lead to heavy bleeding so iron intake should be addressed, as low iron levels have been linked to infertility. If you are a non-meat eater then iron such as that from dried fruit, grains or pulses should be included in your diet, and ensure that you have plenty of fruit and vegetables alongside these as iron from these sources needs plenty of vitamin C for absorption.

To help with heavy bleeding you need Vitamin A for blood production, B vitamins for liver health and to prevent clotting and Vitamin C for capillary strength. Reduce a certain sort of fat called arachidonic acid which is inflammatory and found in red meats and diary, replace this with the polyunsaturated fats found in seeds, nuts and oily fish.

How can nutrition help to control gestational diabetes?

The recommendations to control gestational diabetes are the same as for PCOS (see above), as this is also a condition where controlling blood sugar levels is of paramount importance. Make sure you exercise regularly as this helps to regulate blood sugar too.

How does methylation affect my pregnancy?

Unless you’re a biochemist methylation can be complicated. And, as I’m not a biochemist this is not going to be an in-depth answer. For that there are many others out there which will take you through the complexities much clearer than I would ever be capable of.

But, as a very crude explanation methylation is nutrition at a molecular level where methyl-groups (CH3- 3 Hydrogen atoms around a central Carbon atom) transfer from one compound to another. At the initial stage of the process methyl-groups are obtained through diet from the amino acid methionine commonly found in many protein rich foods. Among many roles methylation is critical for gene expression and protein synthesis, both of which are innately tied to conception and pregnancy.

If you are having trouble conceiving, or are experiencing recurring miscarriages, a problem in this complex pathway may be the reason, specifically as it relates to the MTHFR (MethyleneTetraHydroFolate Reductase) gene. Two specific mutations (C677T and A1298C ) on this gene crucially impact methylation.

As we inherit genetic information from both our parents this means, if we are affected, that we may have one gene that expresses incorrectly (heterozygous) or both genes (homozygous / compound heterozygous).

There are laboratory tests available which can find out this information. Companies such as 23andme will review over 100 genes but this may provide more information than you would be comfortable receiving. On top of trying to conceive, would you really want the additional anxiety of realising that you may (or may not), at some point in the future, develop other diseases? And of course 23andme is backed by Google, all big brother stuff (add hyperlink) It may be better, and less stressful, to just have specific gene mutations tested that are relevant to your situation.

Once these have been tested and you have the results there are nutritional measures which help the methylation process so that you are not entirely at the behest of your genetic make-up. They can’t change the situation but can help your body to work around them. Some of the nutrients that can be supplemented to help the situation are the B family of vitamins (including folate) and also co-factors such as magnesium, zinc/copper, molybdenum, manganese, Co-Enzyme Q10 and vitamin K. Testing for levels of these nutrients can also signify faults in the methylation process by showing if they’re at an elevated or depleted levels.

If you are experiencing recurrent miscarriages, are failing to conceive at all, if all conventional tests have found nothing then please contact me for further information. We can discuss the testing that is available and how to interpret the results of them to develop a nutritional protocol that is applicable to you and your partner.

Within a few weeks I really noticed a difference, I’m sleeping

better than I have in a long time. Saffron took the time to understand

my lifestyle and habits and then made recommendations and

adjustments that were easy to build into my everyday life.

Dawn Lillington

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