The Ultimate Trying-to-Get-Pregnant Diet: What to Shop for and How to EatDiana Davis, RD, RN, CMT
A woman trying to conceive begins eating for two long before she becomes pregnant. While there are no miracle foods that will guarantee a healthy baby, there is much a woman can do to stack the odds more in her, and her baby’s, favor.
The perfect diet for women who are trying to get pregnant is basically the same healthy diet urged for everyone, but with a bit more emphasis on the following guidelines…
Your Grocery List
Go Heavy on Protein and Folates
Choose meals that include protein sources such as:
- Lean meat
- Beans and lentils
- Nut butters (such as peanut, almond, or cashew butter) as well as seeds and nuts
- A generous portion of whole-grain products
- Low-fat dairy products
Also look for foods rich in folates, such as:
- Pinto and navy beans
- Orange juice
Say No to Artificial Sweetners
Although the scientific evidence is scant regarding the safety of artificial sweeteners and pregnancy, it’s better to play it safe than to enter unknown artificial territory.
To please the sweet tooth, try these healthy alternatives:
- Frozen bananas
- Fruit smoothies
- Naturally sweetened, nonfat frozen or regular yogurt
- Low-fat, naturally sweetened sorbet
- Fresh fruit
Skip the Caffeine
If you’re a caffeine lover, there is research to consider on caffeine and fertility. According to the National Institute of Health, ingesting 300 milligrams of caffeine a day (that’s equivalent to about three 8-ounce cups of coffee, seven cups of tea, five 12-ounce cans of cola, or 23 cups of cocoa) decreased a woman’s chances of conceiving by as much as 27 percent compared to ingesting no caffeine.
So if you’re looking for pick-me-up, instead try:
- Decaf coffee or tea (not herbal, unless cleared by your doctor)
- Naturally sweetened lemonade or fruit juice mixed with low-sodium sparkling mineral water
- Filtered water steeped with cucumber slices
- Naturally sweetened vegetable juices (such as carrot, tomato, or wheat grass)
Even though a woman trying to conceive may be banished to decaf, her mate may actually benefit from drinking the high-test. Studies show that caffeine may increase a man’s fertility by stimulating sperm motility.
Cut Back on Desserts and Refined Sugars
Excess sugar in the bloodstream can lower the body’s ability to manufacture the necessary hormones for reproduction. So, skip those bakery-counter sweets, cookies, and other processed desserts that use refined sugars. Instead try making your own fruit-juice sweetened treats. You can find recipes online today for everything from applesauce cakes to carrot muffins sweetened with pineapples, with little or no refined sugar. You might try apple-juice sweetened fig bar snacks or apple cinnamon bran muffins.
Don’t Forget Your Vitamins!
Multi-nutrient supplementation is recommended for women who are even considering pregnancy to cover the increased nutrient needs. When shopping for a vitamin, be sure to look for: folic acid; vitamins B-6, C, and D; calcium; copper; iron; and zinc.
When looking for good vitamin, also first be sure to check with your doctor to discuss the right mix of nutrients for you. And remember that more isn’t always better. In a study of over 22,000 pregnant women, those who took supplements with more than 10,000 international Units (IU) a day of pre-formed vitamin A (retinol) were almost five times more likely to give birth to a baby with a birth defect than women who consumed 5,000 IU or less. A good vitamin A alternative is beta-carotene, which the body will convert into vitamin only if needed. (These days, many supplements have beta-carotene added to its formula but list it under Vitamin A activity.)
Another important note to make when looking for a good vitamin to take when trying to conception is regarding folic acid. Research strongly suggests that taking folate and multivitamins just before and in the first few weeks of pregnancy may be the most protective measure against the later development of one of the most common types of childhood brain tumors. The recommended intake is 400 micrograms of folic acid a day. Once you are expecting, the Institute of Medicine recommend 600 mcg of folate; however, some doctors are pushing for 800 mcg of folate.
Making the Right Foods Work for You
There are many advantages to eating well. And if you are trying to get pregnant, this diet delivers four benefits that are particularly important:
- A well-balanced diet helps bring your body chemistry into balance and increases your likelihood of getting pregnant.
- You’ll be able to deliver all the right nutrients to that soon-to-be tiny individual developing inside of you.
- By the time your child begins eating adult food, your healthy habits will have taken root in your lifestyle; you’ll be an excellent role model for your child!
- You’ll decrease your risk of chronic diseases that the typical Western diet inflicts, thus increasing the quality of life for you and your family.
Even though the basics of a healthy diet are simple, it takes time and effort to figure out how to prioritize a healthy diet into your lifestyle. Changing your dietary habits is a process, so you may as well get started now. (And read about encouraging a healthy fertility diet for him, if you can.)
Experts estimate that your body will create approximately 5 million cells each day based on what you’ve eaten in the past 24 hours. Not only do you create new cells, you influence your hormones, enzymes, and every cell in your body based on what you eat.
Think about all the food you have eaten in the last 150 days. Yes, all the food. That means those hot dogs at the ballpark and those super-sized French fries. It all counts. It takes 150 days for the majority of your body’s cells to be replaced. In fact, every atom in your body is replaced within a calendar year based on what you have consumed. So as you’ve thought about your eating patterns over the last five months, know that each and every morsel you put into your mouth contributed (or didn’t contribute!) to your body’s current make-up. If you’re trying to get pregnant, the expression “you are what you eat” applies to your soon-to-be-baby as well.
Now that you know this, you can see that the quality of the food you eat becomes a high priority if you want to make healthy cells that will balance out your hormones and increase your chance of getting pregnant and building a healthy baby. Think about it another way: If you eat an average of three meals per day, you have more than 1,000 opportunities per year to select foods that make you feel more balanced or more off-balanced. There’s really no other right choice but to eat incredibly well!
Learning to Listen to Your Body
Decreasing stress and tension clearly is beneficial for everyone, and it seems to be especially beneficial for conception. Some research out of the Mind/Body Infertility Program at the Beth Israel Medical Center in Boston reveals that approximately 44 percent of women who complete their relaxation program conceive within six months. The relationship between participation in the program and subsequent conception is less clear. It is not known if this conception rate is due to the direct influence of the program, a coincidence, or whether there is an indirect relationship.
But one thing is for sure, participants experience significant improvements in depression, anxiety, anger, confusion, and fatigue following completion of the program. That alone can go a long way to helping a woman conceive, not to mention enjoy the process more!
So, while shopping healthier foods and eating a well-balanced diet, also remember to listen to your body. Make sure you’re taking time for yourself to rest and relax and enjoy some romance with your partner on the road to conception!