Nutrition for baby making
How does what we eat effect our ability to start new life? No, we aren’t talking about food babies.
Real babies. Their health in the womb is greatly affected by parental nutrition. So let’s start at the very beginning.
Both genders have equal parts in ensuring the conception of a healthy baby. It’s not just the female’s pre-conception nutrition status that matters, but the male’s too.
If you are having trouble conceiving, you can improve your chances simply by improving your diet. As always, consult your health professional first as underlying non-nutrition related issues such as age, illness, contraceptive medications and physical abnormalities of the reproductive system may be effecting your fertility.
For any healthy adult, the chances of conceiving are 20 to 25 percent each menstrual cycle1. To maximise these chances maintaining a healthy weight and correcting nutrient deficiencies are most important.
The recommended BMI for optimal fertility is between 20 to 301. More information about BMI and a handy BMI calculator can be found here2.
Weight loss of more than 10 to 15 percent of your total body weight is not recommended before conception as this can effect ovulation cycles and sperm health1. But having said that, a loss of 3 to 10 kilograms in overweight females can increase fertility1. So if you have been recommended to lose weight in order to conceive by your health professional, take the weight loss process slow and steady and try to conceive again once you are able to maintain your recommended weight.
The oxidising effects of some dietary practises (vegetarian diets, low-fat high fibre diets, soy, caffeine and alcohol) will interfere with the release and function of an egg and with a sperm’s ability to ‘lock on’ to an egg1. Alcohol decreases the levels of hormones required for fertility in both males and females and can decrease conception chances by 39 percent (1-5 drinks per week1). Caffeine3 will also increase the time it takes to conceive with a 27 percent reduction in conception chances with a daily intake of 300mg1.
Vegetables and fruit are an excellent source of antioxidants4 which will help fight oxidation:
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin C
Zinc is particularly important for males as it helps sperm to mature and synthesise testosterone4. Here’s a quick fact, oysters which are thought to be an aphrodisiac, are high in zinc. Oysters don’t actually induce feelings of, well, sexiness, but they certainly help your sperm!
Now come the big guns:
- Iron reduces risk of complications during early pregnancy. Ladies, aim for 18mg/day pre-conception then 27mg/day5 once you have conceived to compensate for increased blood volume during the third trimester and healthy foetal development.
- Folate is vital for cell division, in other words, making a baby! Both males and females should aim for 400µg/day5. Ladies, a folate supplement is recommended pre-conception and during pregnancy ( >600 µg/day5) to prevent neural tube defects in the foetus.
- Iodine deficiency can have devastating effects on the foetus resulting in reduced mental and neurological (brain) development and stillbirth. Both males and females should aim for 150µg/day and 220 µg/day during pregnancy5.
This has been a small snapshot of how we eat impacts fertility. There is much more detail to go in to and there are other factors that contribute to fertility.
If you have questions or would like more information, leave a comment below.
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- Radcliffe, Dr. J. (2016) DTN4LPN, Lecture 1, Topic 1, Pre conception [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from Department of Rehabilitation, Sport and Nutrition, La Trobe University, https://lms.latrobe.edu.au
- Better Health Channel. (2014). Body mass index (BMI). Retrieved from https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/body-mass-index-bmi
- Food Standards Australia and New Zealand. (2014). Caffeine. Retrieved from http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/consumer/generalissues/Pages/Caffeine.aspx
- Croxford, S., Itsiopoulos, C., Forsyth, A., Belski, R., Thodis, A., Shepherd, S., & Tierney, A. (2015). Food & nutrition throughout life. Melbourne, Australia: Allen & Unwin.
- Nutrient Reference Values. (2015). Nutrients: The nutrients reviewed. Retrieved from https://www.nrv.gov.au/nutrients