Trying to get pregnant? Wondering what you can do to improve your fertility and your chances of having a healthy pregnancy? While there are many treatments and options out there, if you are having a difficult time, you may feel helpless as to what you can do for yourself. Having a healthy weight, eating well, practicing food safety, watching your nutrient intake, limiting caffeine, and avoiding alcohol are all ways to help improve your chances of getting pregnant and giving birth to a healthy baby.
1. Watch your weight by eating a healthy balanced diet
Having a healthy balanced diet is essential. This includes eating a variety of foods that incorporate all four foods groups (vegetables & fruits, grains & cereals, milk & alternatives, and meat & alternatives).
Being a healthy weight is incredibly important, not only for a healthy birth, but also for being able to conceive in the first place. In fact, many studies have shown that both males and females have decreased fertility if they are either overweight (BMI>25) or underweight (BMI<20).
With alarmingly high overweight and obesity rates, many people are having difficulty conceiving. Since being overweight has been associated with having a negative outcome with fertility treatments, losing weight can increase your chances of getting pregnant. Therefore, you should try losing weight prior to conception.
For the best results, it is recommended to eat well, participate in physical activity, and have a healthy weight with a BMI between 20 and 25.
2. Limit your mercury intake
Fish that are higher up on the food chain have increased mercury levels. This can have a consequential role in conception and fetal development. Avoid consuming shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tile fish as well as limiting your intake of tuna to no more than two servings per week.
3. Prevent foodborne illness (salmonella, campylobacter, listeria)
It is extremely important, especially during pregnancy, to ensure your own safety as well as the safety of the fetus by taking extra precautions in food safety. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Make sure to wash your fruits and vegetables well
- Use separate cutting boards for ready-to-eat foods (fruits and vegetables), raw foods, and cooked foods
- Cook foods well. Avoid soft cheese, unpasteurized milk and juices, paté, raw eggs, raw fish, hot dogs, deli meats, undercooked meats and re-heated leftover meats.
- Refrigerate foods properly at the appropriate temperatures. Check expiry dates and throw out old and expired items.
- Don’t wash your chicken before you serve it, according to a new food safety campaign
4. Take your vitamins
Women of child-bearing age are always recommended to take a folic acid supplement. Many people do not get enough folic acid from their diet and need 400 micrograms daily. Studies have shown that getting adequate amounts of folic acid at least three months prior to conception can decrease the risk of neural tube defects of the unborn child by up to 70%!
Vitamin D is another vitamin that tends to be lacking in people’s diets. Deficiencies in women can have dire consequences, and these deficiencies can be passed on to the infant, putting them at risk for rickets and convulsions. Talk to your physician about having your levels checked before taking any supplements.
While it is important to be getting enough of certain nutrients, too much can also lead to negative outcomes. While vitamin A is essential for immunity and vision, too much of it during pregnancy can lead to congenital defects for the fetus. It is important to avoid excess amounts prior to conceiving and during pregnancy. Speak to your physician or dietitian to make sure you are getting the right amounts.
5. Watch your alcohol intake
Alcohol is known to have an adverse effect on the health of an infant if it is consumed during pregnancy. Because the consequences are so severe, it is critical to avoid alcohol entirely for the duration of the pregnancy. While its role in fertility is not as well understood, it may also have a negative effect on fertility in both males and females. Therefore, both partners should avoid alcohol consumption and throughout the pregnancy (for the woman).
6. Limit your caffeine intake
While the research is still limited in this area, it is thought that caffeine may play a role in delaying pregnancy. Animal studies have shown that caffeine consumption may lead to birth defects, premature labor, low birth weight infants, and increased risk of still births. Complete avoidance is not necessary. Therefore, if you are trying to conceive or are already pregnant and are one of those people that cannot function without their morning coffee, limit your intake to no more than two cups of coffee per day.
While these are all great ways to improve your chances of conception and ensure a healthy pregnancy, make sure to speak to your physician or dietitian to make sure you are getting the proper nutrients and taking the appropriate supplements. This can be an exciting time and an ideal time to make healthy changes and habits that you can reap benefits from for the rest of your life.
Anderson K., et al., “Preconception lifestyle advice for people with subfertility,” Cochrane Database System Rev 2010; 4.