Congratulations, you’re planning to have a baby. Are you ready?
In the U.S., about one in seven couples experience infertility and 50% of the time the issue is with the woman, 19.6% with the man, 17.6% with both, and 10.5% of the time the problem is unknown.
The most common contributors to infertility for women include endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome, blocked fallopian tubes, rare or irregular ovulation, and lack of progesterone production. It is also more difficult for women to conceive after the age of 34. For men, infertility issues include abnormal or low sperm count or erectile dysfunction. The women’s cervical mucus could also attack the sperm, which could damage or kill it. Stress is also known to be a huge factor.
Your diet and lifestyle also play a big part with any infertility problem. It is a good idea for women and men to take a look at their diets and lifestyle before trying to conceive a baby. Some sources suggest making diet and lifestyle changes for at least two months before trying to conceive; however, a year sounds like a good time period to ensure a healthy pregnancy.
Major Damaging Infertility Factors
There are several lifestyle factors that can affect infertility such as:
- Smoking: A couple who smokes cigarettes or drinks alcohol is considered four times more likely to have a miscarriage. Smokers may lower fertility by directly affecting the eggs, uterus, and embryo. Smoking can prematurely age eggs by as much as 10 years, according to research.
- Alcohol: Drinking alcohol is known to lower sperm count in men and couples are about four times more likely to lose their baby when five or more drinks are consumed per week. Alcohol intake during pregnancy can lead to fetal abnormalities. It can also cause chromosomal defects in the sperm or egg prior to conception.
- Caffeine: Do you ever enjoy a cup of Joe? That morning coffee could very well be a reason you are not able to have a child. Having more than 300 mg per day of caffeine (coffee, tea, or cola) can damage DNA in your baby. Consuming coffee frequently can increase the time it takes to conceive a child and can even promote the chance of miscarriages. Also, the diuretic properties in caffeine help increase the loss of nutrients, which are known to benefit the fertility process.
- Environmental Factors: Even in your environment you may be exposed to various agricultural chemicals, which impact infertility in men and women. Oxidative stress and damage can be caused by environmental toxin exposure to radiation, heavy metals, and other chemicals.
Lowering your intake of refined carbohydrates and sugars is beneficial for both men and women. It is also wise to reduce your intake of animal fats and highly processed vegetable fats, which includes hydrogenated and trans fats. Grass-fed and organic meats and wild cold-water fish are a better option. Organic fruits and vegetables are the only way to go when trying to conceive a baby, which allows the couple to avoid pesticides and GMO (genetically modified organism) foods. Other general dietary suggestions include eating more fiber in the diet and drinking eight to 10 glasses of water daily.
Aside from the general diet, there are specific foods and nutrients women and men should also keep in mind.
Fertility Diet for Women
Women are recommended to consume more high-fiber, low-glycemic carbohydrates such as whole grains like brown rice, buckwheat, quinoa, or millet. It is also a good idea to consume greater amounts of high-fat organic dairy products, which are known to reduce the risk of infertility because of lack of ovulation by more than 50% over low-fat dairy foods. It is also a good idea for women to be physically active for at least 30 minutes daily.
A pre-natal multi-vitamin is extremely important for women before and during pregnancy, especially since the nutrients are essential for the development of the baby. The multi-vitamin and mineral is the foundation; however, the woman requires specific nutrients that are found in pre-natal vitamins. Folic acid helps prepare the fetus for nervous system development. Iron helps increase red blood cell production, which is important for hormonal balance, and the development of sperm and egg fertilization. B vitamins help create new red blood cells, provide energy, and help with the brain development and cell division within the fetus. Calcium helps provide the baby with strong bones, while magnesium contributes to relaxation of uterine lining, also builds bones, and regulates nerves.
Essential fatty acids and probiotics are also essential for proper fertility. Essential fatty acids such as fish oils or flaxseed oil are needed for healthy hormone function, brain development, and also because the mother needs extra nutrients during pregnancy. The probiotics help the mother avoid any reproductive failure and adverse pregnancy outcomes like miscarriages, preterm labor, and spontaneous preterm birth, which are linked to subsequent genital and intrauterine infections, and alterations in the microflora of the vagina.
Fertility Diet for Men
It’s very important that a man’s sperm are healthy and several dietary factors will keep them swimming strong. Essential nutrients to avoid infertility include antioxidants (vitamins A, C, and E), zinc, EFAs (essential fatty acids), and vitamin B12.
Men should eat more foods that contain zinc such as oysters, organic beef, poultry, and dairy, as well as nuts, eggs, whole grains, and beans. Zinc is important for all aspects of reproduction, including sperm formation, hormone metabolism, and sperm mobility.
Free radicals are found in the semen of 40% of infertile men, which makes antioxidant foods very useful. Vitamin A prevents sluggish sperm, and dark green leafy vegetables, carrots, red peppers, and apricots are a few good food options. Vitamin C is considered the most protective factor for sperm, and it can be found in tomatoes, grapefruit, broccoli, and cauliflower. Vitamin E can protect sperm against damage and can be found in vegetable oils. It is best to go with extra virgin olive oil and avoid cottonseed oils, which may contain toxic residues because of heavy spraying and it also contains the sperm inhibitor gossypol.
It’s a good idea to have more omega-3s than omega-6s in the diet and great omega-3 food sources include pumpkin seeds, flaxseed, almonds, or fish like sardines or salmon. B12 is also an important vitamin for sperm production, motility, and cellular replication. Organic eggs are your best source for B12 in your diet.
Diet and lifestyle are very important when it comes to the health and wellness of not just you, but your baby as well. The woman and man both play a big part in making a healthy baby and avoiding any complications in the magical process of childbirth.
Murray, M., et al, The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine (New York: Atria Paperback, 2012), 726-728, 738-739.
“Fertility Foods for Men,” What to Expect web site; http://www.whattoexpect.com/preconception/fertility-foods-for-men.aspx, last accessed March 25, 2014.
Rodriguez, H., “The Natural Fertility Diet: How to Eat for Optimal Fertility,” Natural Fertility Info web site; http://natural-fertility-info.com/fertility-diet, last accessed March 25, 2014.
“17 things you should do before you try to get pregnant,” BabyCenter web site; http://natural-fertility-info.com/fertility-diet, last accessed March 25, 2014.