Preconception Dietary Guidelines

For pre-conception nutrition and fertility issues, this diet should be followed by both partners as closely as possible for at least 4 months before you are planning to conceive. This is to ensure that you have the healthiest possible sperm and egg meeting up to make your baby. Careful pre-conception dietary planning and optimal nutrient intake has been shown to reduce the incidence of genetic diseases, miscarriage, morning sickness, pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes and post natal depressive disorders.

Here are the guidelines

Eat regular meals

You’re aiming for optimum health. Your body (and fertility) is relying on you to provide all it needs to function properly. So don’t starve it avoid snacking on foods that will give you sugar highs. Regular wholefood meals and snacks containing small amounts of protein should help control sugar cravings.

Avoid junk foods and sugar

Irregular blood sugar levels can prevent the body’s uptake of progesterone which is one of the hormones required to sustain a pregnancy, particularly before the embryo implants into the uterine wall. Also, low blood sugar levels mean an increase in the production of adrenalin creating symptoms of stress in your body. Sugar consumption is a vicious circle – one sugar hit leads to another sugar craving; each hit gives you an initial surge of high energy followed by a slump. Junk foods and snacks – even if they are savoury – often include high levels of sugar. If you get hungry between meals, try eating a piece of fruit, some nuts and seeds, or some form of whole grain complex carbohydrates. Avoid sugary soft drinks and bottled fruit juices especially ‘diet’ alternatives.

Use wholegrain products and avoid white flour products

To avoid the sugar highs, you need to eat complex carbohydrates. These include whole grain bread, sweet potatoes, rye, oats, millet, wholemeal pasta, brown rice and barley. Increasing your intake of these foods should also help any problems with constipation you may have and proper bowel function means you will be able to get rid of the toxins and chemicals that could affect your fertility. White flour has the same effect on your blood sugar levels as sugar itself.

Eat plenty of vegetables and one to two daily servings of fruit

The benefits of this are obvious; fruit and veg are great sources of vitamins and minerals, they’re easy to eat, and they also help prevent constipation. Try to eat organic where possible to avoid chemicals and pesticides which can affect your hormones. Avoid high quantities of dried fruit as it can be high in sugar.

The reason I recommend limiting the fruit to 2 servings per day is to reduce the amount of sugar in your diet.

Make sure you have enough protein in your diet

Proteins are essential for building body tissue, hair, muscles and digestive enzymes. You should eat a portion of protein a couple of times a day. Protein sources include: fish, nuts, chicken, meat, eggs, dairy products, nuts, seeds, legumes and tofu. Snacks of nuts and seeds will provide small amounts of protein throughout the day, helping to keep stable blood sugar levels.

Drink plenty of water

Water ensures toxins are flushed out of your body, and that your muscles and cells operate effectively. Your optimal water intake is 33ml per kg of body weight. So if you weigh 60kg you should be drinking approximately 2L per day. This is a universal law. You can apply it to preconception, pregnancy, breastfeeding and for the whole rest of your life.

Eliminate caffeine

Caffeine is proven to have a harmful effect on reproductive health. It adversely affects the way sperm move forward, and can reduce and delay your chances of conceiving. Studies have shown that women who drink coffee find it three times as difficult to conceive within a year as those who don’t. Remember, it’s not only coffee that contains caffeine – so does tea, chocolate, and cola drinks. You’re likely to get withdrawal symptoms (including nasty headaches) if you dramatically reduce your consumption, so you can do so gradually if you feel this will be a problem. Don’t switch to decaffeinated alternatives because the chemicals that are used in the decaffeination process can be worse than the caffeine.

Alternatives to the usual tea, coffee and chocolate drinks include:

  • Dandylion or chickory coffee substitutes
  • Green tea
  • Naturally occurring low caffeine teas such as Bancha and rooibos tea
  • Herbal teas- The Natural Transition Creation Tea contains safe herbs which have been used throughout history to enhance fertility. It tastes great and is safe to drink when you become pregnant.

Eliminate alcohol

This can be tough for some people especially in social situations when you suddenly have to start giving an explanation as to why your not having a glass of wine with dinner. But alcohol severely affects the body in all sorts of ways including the liver, nervous system, heart, and vitamin absorption. It is mutagenic which means that it can cause abnormal sperm and egg formation. Even moderate consumption of alcohol can reduce your chances of conception. And once you are pregnant ongoing drinking can lead to a low birth weight for your baby. There is no safe intake of alcohol for pregnancy. Ideally both you and your partner should give up alcohol completely – if you find that too difficult, cut down as much as you can.

Pre-conception nutritional supplementation recommendations

I like to keep it simple.

For the mother

A good quality pregnancy multivitamin and mineral formula

There have not been comprehensive conclusions reached on the optimal amounts of vitamin and mineral supplementation in pregnancy but there is a consensus that nutritional deficiencies are reasonable for both male and female fertility problems, pregnancy complications and birth defects. This in mind I say: as well as a nutrient rich diet, take a broad range of vitamins and minerals at a low to moderate dose in the during the 4 months prior to conception.

The formula should not contain any vitamin A because the high amounts of vitamin A commonly found in vitamin formulas can cause all kinds of developmental deformities of the head, heart and brain. Beta carotene is a substance that your body converts to vitamin A and it has been found to be a safe alternative to vitamin A during pregnancy.

A pre-natal vitamin and mineral supplement should contain a daily dose of between 400 and 800 micrograms of folic acid. Folic acid, sometimes called folate, is a B vitamin (B9) found mostly in leafy green vegetables like kale and spinach, orange juice, and enriched grains. Repeated studies have shown that women who get 400 micrograms (0.4 milligrams) daily prior to conception and during early pregnancy reduce the risk that their baby will be born with a serious neural tube defect (a birth defect involving incomplete development of the brain and spinal cord such as spina bifida) by up to 70%.

The formula should also contain the minerals zinc, copper, iron and calcium and magnesium to avoid the mineral deficiencies which can cause fertility problems, miscarriage as well as a variety of pregnancy complications and post-natal depressive disorders.

Quality is a big issue when it comes to vitamins supplements. If you are buying an over the counter vitamin and mineral supplement for pre-conception, make sure it is a good quality and formulated specifically for pre-conception rather than for pregnancy or for general use. This is definitely a case of you get what you pay for.

You will find a good preconception and pregnancy vitamin and mineral supplement in the Natural Transition shop.

Take a fatty acid supplement or eat at least 3-4 fish meals per week

There is now clear evidence that dietary supplementation of omega-3 and 6 fatty acids are essential for normal eye and brain development and are an important supplement for every step in the reproductive process. Essential fatty acids are also essential for healthy sperm production and egg development.

Fish and flaxseed oils are the best supplements to provide these nutrients. You can get fish oil supplements on their own or get combination fish and flaxseed oil supplement that provides a mix of the different types of omega 3 fatty acids. The combination is best because this will provide a full spectrum of the different types of omega 3 fatty acids. For vegan parents, flaxseed alone can be provide the majority of omega 3’s.

There has been some concern over the safety of taking supplements which contain evening primrose oil, borage or black current seed oil until the very last stages of pregnancy because it is thought that it may cause uterine contractions. There is nothing really to confirm this and there are many women who have safely used these oils in pregnancy but given the safety concerns it is best to avoid them.

What about fish during pregnancy?

Be aware that there are some fish that contain high levels of a particularly nasty form of mercury which can cause developmental problems in unborn babies.

Eating fish containing mercury can cause raised mercury levels in the mother which can then be passed on to the baby through the placenta. Mercury appears to slow the baby’s development during the early years of childhood.

The risk appears to be particularly high during the third and forth months of pregnancy when the baby’s brain is developing very quickly. The effects of this may not be noticed until developmental milestones are delayed. Memory, language and attention span may also be affected.

Fish to avoid

  • Shark
  • Swordfish
  • Barramundi
  • Gemfish
  • Orange roughy
  • Ling
  • Southern bluefin tuna

Safer fish

Examples of fish that contain lower levels of mercury include:

  • Shellfish including prawns, lobsters and oysters Salmon
  • Smaller tuna such as yellow fin
  • Snapper
  • Fresh water perch
  • Spanish mackerel
  • Lobster

Basically, the smaller the fish, the lower it will be in the food chain and less mercury it will contain. Mercury levels can also change within the same species depending upon the level of contamination of the area that it lives in.

Studies of the brain development of children whose mothers ate significant amounts of fish with high mercury levels during pregnancy have been carried out in New Zealand , the Faroes and the Seychelles .

The Joint Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO) Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) reviewed these studies in June 2003. These researchers recommended reducing the amount of fish known to contain mercury in the diet, for pregnant women. Since this review, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) has also begun to review its advice on the consumption of fish during pregnancy. There is no review on these guidelines currently available.

A probiotic supplement

This will help get your digestive system working properly, helping you to get the most from all the good food you are eating in preparation for pregnancy. It will also relive any digestive disturbances and may help with a host of other common health complaints. There have been studies which have confirmed that probiotic supplementation during pregnancy can reduce the incidence of eczema in the first four years of life. This is significant because approximately 46% of all four year olds suffer from atopic eczema; probiotic supplementation of the mother during pregnancy almost halves this risk.

Pre-conception supplementation for Dads

A good quality men’s multivitamin and mineral formula

Look for a formula that contains a mix of antioxidant vitamins and minerals. The most important being zinc, beta carotene, selenium, vitamins C and E and grapeseed extract. These nutrients will help to make good quality sperm and reduce the number of those that are poorly formed. It will also protect formed sperm from being damaged.

Amino acids

L-Carnitine – This plays a vital role in the process of sperm development, in promoting proper development of sperm, and in ensuring the maintenance of sperm quality and vitality.

Fatty acid supplement

See the Natural Transition Shop for a pre-conception supplement pack which contains all supplements required for both partners.

If either partner has fertility problems then you may need a more tailored approach to pre-conception supplementation. You can see a naturopath for help with this or contact me for online consultation services.

Additional Information

For couples who want to have a child, the chances of conceiving are better if neither of them are suffering from alcohol dependency or any similar addictions.