When it comes to preparing for pregnancy the general recommendation for women is to start three months before they hope to get pregnant. However, when it comes to nutrition and lifestyle changes, I actually think four to six months preparation time is optimal and a more accurate timeline for women to prepare physically and mentally for pregnancy.
During this time, your diet needs to provide you with sufficient energy and an abundance of nutrients to meet your usual requirements, as well as laying down stores of nutrients required for foetal development, lactation and the needs a growing baby.
By the time a woman finds out she is expecting, she is usually about six weeks pregnant, and it is the first eight weeks of pregnancy are the most significant for embryonic development. This is why making sure you have optimal stores of nutrients in place that are ready for the developing foetus, and that you keep topping up those stores is so important. While there are many aspects of pregnancy we can’t control, making sure you have the best possible nutritional foundations for your baby to develop from is within your control.
It’s important to know that nutrients have the potential to affect both eggs and sperm quality, so make sure your partners are as actively involved in the preparation as you are! During pregnancy, our nutrient requirements increase in response to all the changes that are occurring in the body, so it is of great importance that you are aware of what nutrients you need and what foods you can find them in as you prepare to fall pregnant.
While all of the nutrients play various individual and collective roles in reproductive health, there are a few, in particular, that stand out as key nutrients for fertility (for females and males). Here are my top five foods for fertility:
Eggs from pasture-raised chickens are extremely rich in an array of fertility-boosting nutrients. Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA; the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, vitamin K2 and B12 are just some of the many nutrients boasted by eggs. However, the key nutrient found in eggs that's many people haven’t heard of is actually Choline. Choline isn’t talked about much but is, in fact, one of the most important nutrients for pregnancy as it is essential for the fetal brain development, placental function and the prevention of neural tube defects. Egg yolks are the highest food source of Choline, with one egg yolk containing approximately 115mg.
Eggs yolks are also a great source of cholesterol and yes, we need lots of cholesterol to make a baby! All of our sex hormones are made from cholesterol and we need an extra dose of it while we are pregnant to support the growing bub.
It is important to remember not all eggs are created equal. The nutritional value greatly varies between eggs (especially the levels of Omega-3 fatty acids) and is very dependent on the life of the chicken and what it has been fed. Always go for organic, free-range, pasture-fed eggs and try to buy them locally.
Leafy greens are a valuable source of folate, which is probably the best-known preconception and pregnancy nutrient. Folate is required for DNA synthesis (the production of new DNA) and blood production. Insufficient intake of folate during the preconception period and the first trimester is associated with a higher risk of neural tube defects. In addition to being a rich source of folate, leafy greens are also a great source of fibre which helps support the digestive system and detoxification pathways, both essential for hormone health and therefore reproduction. Vitamin K1, Vitamin C, Magnesium, and many of the trace minerals can also be found in leafy greens.
When choosing leafy greens try to buy organic and eat a variety of different greens where possible. For maximum nutrient absorption consume greens with fat (extra-virgin olive oil, grass-fed butter, ghee or coconut oil).
Wild, sustainably caught oily fish are swimming in fertility-boosting benefits, thanks to the high levels of omega-3 fatty acids they contain. Oily fish contain the omega-3 fatty acid DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) which is specifically indicated during pregnancy as it supports growth and development. DHA is also a significant structural fat in the human brain and eyes, representing about 97% of all the omega-3 fats in the brain and 93% of all omega-3 fats in the retina.
It is important to be conscious of where your fish is coming from, especially as you prepare for pregnancy. You need to be mindful of mercury contamination, so limit fatty fish to two serves per week and opt for 2x servings of for low-mercury fish per week (sardines, herring, salmon, trout, anchovies and halibut).
Okay, so I’m cheating a little here… not technically a specific food, but there are too many antioxidant-rich foods to choose from, and ultimately we want to be getting as many as in our diets as possible. I find lots of my clients can get stuck in the ‘green vegetable mindset’ and while yes, green vegetables are great and should definitely take up a large proportion of our diet, the colourful vegetables are just as important. We want to be consuming a rainbow of different coloured fruits and vegetables so that we can absorb as many different antioxidants as possible.
Antioxidants are important as they help protect our cells from oxidative stress. High levels of oxidative stress have been shown to lead to negative fertility outcomes in both males and females. Increasing your antioxidant intake by eating lots of different coloured fruits and vegetables will help to protect your cells from damage and improve your overall health, which may help improve your reproductive outcomes.
A healthy gut is essential to our long term wellbeing. Your growing babes digestive tract will be colonised by the same bacteria in yours. Fermented foods provide beneficial bacteria and enzymes which help to promote a healthy digestive tract. The microbiome plays an important role in almost every aspect of our health, so it is important that babies inherit the best microbiome possible.
Try to consume one form of fermented foods every day, but don’t worry about eating a giant portion with every meal straight away. It’s best to introduce fermented foods gradually and you have a few options to choose from - kimchi, sauerkraut, full-fat yoghurt, kefir, beet kvass and tempeh.
If you are looking to conceive, are already pregnant or just want to take care of your fertility please reach out. I’d love to be part of your journey. My new ebook "A Holistic Guide to Pregnancy and Preconception" is now available to buy here.