Three in five Irish women are worried that they won’t be able to conceive, yet less than half of those planning a baby make diet and lifestyle changes, writes Clodagh Finn.
However, looking at what you eat can make a significant difference to your chances of having a baby, says nutritionist Gaye Godkin.
“It’s absolutely and utterly everything,” she tells Feelgood.
While some 82% of women hoping to get pregnant take daily folic acid supplements, according to a recent MummyPages.ie survey, many of them don’t look at their diets.
Godkin says she has seen couples who have spent thousands on assisted fertility treatment but have never thought to look at the fuel they are putting into their own bodies.
While fertility issues are multifactorial and sometimes outside a person’s control, looking at diet, exercise and stress is a great place to start.
Good nutrition is vital for both men and women as it influences the production of sperm and eggs, says Godkin.
In recent years, low sperm quality has become a big issue as environmental issues, including diet, have led to DNA fragmentation or damaged sperm.
However, sperm is generated in the body every 74 days so changing the diet and introducing the right proteins, healthy fats and amino acids can help address that issue.
It is important for both partners to avoid processed foods and trans fats, which are found in foods such as chips, pizzas and reheated foods.
When it comes to fruit and veg intake, nine is the new five, says Godkin. She recommends green vegetables, in particular, which are high in folate, a vital nutrient for a baby’s healthy growth and development.
Folate is different from folic acid, but it’s important as some people don’t respond well to the latter.
Protein diversity is important too.
“Get it from a number of sources, such as chicken, fish — mackerel is the best — and pulses, beans and lentils. They are high in flavins which affect hormones,” she says.
Omega 3 and vitamin D are also important and Godkin recommends that her clients take the prenatal fertility supplement, Proceive.
Often, women who are having difficulty conceiving will have some sort of digestive issue so it’s important to address the underlying causes, she adds.
“Everyone is different and the causes of infertility are very complex but looking at the diet and lifestyle is a great place to start.”
Spokesperson for MummyPages Laura Erskine echoes that view. Commenting on the parenting website’s survey on conception, she said that the idea of making food choices with the optimum conception-inducing vitamins and minerals is one which is embraced today.
“We know sugar is one of the greatest inhibitors to getting pregnant, but only a third of mums-to-be are making efforts to reduce their intake. Not only does it play havoc with the hormones required for successful egg release, conception and implantation, but it also depletes a woman’s vitamin and mineral stores,” she says.
Age is also a big factor as, increasingly, women are choosing to wait until they are in their mid or late 30s to try to have a family.
However, says Erskine, while women can’t do anything about their age, they can take steps to ensure that they are providing the best possible physical environment to aid conception.
“Losing weight, taking prenatal vitamin and mineral supplements, reducing sugar, caffeine and alcohol in their diets, and avoiding stress will all help the baby-making process,” she says, referring to the latest research on pre-pregnancy health.
However, it’s important not to lose too much weight. Earlier this year, Irish nutritionist Dr Ciara Wright warned against the dangers of intense dieting when trying to conceive.
Speaking at a medical conference on assisted reproduction in Egypt, she said that while obesity has been shown to increase the risk of failed IVF cycles and miscarriage, losing weight can also be an issue.
Fasting or starving the body of vital nutrients has an impact on the production of sex hormones.
Wright recommends that women trying to conceive eat three small meals a day, with good-quality protein and healthy fats, along with two healthy snacks.
She said a Mediterranean-style diet had proven benefits for fertility as it increased antioxidants, minerals and omega 3, which can benefit egg and sperm quality.
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