The guidance on this page will help you make the right food choices when thinking about your fertility diet plan. It is very true that eating a good, balanced diet with fresh food is important for your health and is just as important before conceiving as during pregnancy.
This is because the unborn baby is most vulnerable in the first three months while the organs are still being formed. It is these first fragile days and weeks of life, when many women do not even know they are pregnant, that optimal reserves of vitamins and minerals are needed to sustain the pregnancy and allow development of the baby's vital organs. Later, in the middle and last months of pregnancy, the unborn baby is able to become far more effective at taking what it needs from the mother.
With the exception of folic acid and possibly iron, it is not usually necessary to take any extra vitamins or mineral supplements unless advised to by your doctor, but a preconception check-up will establish this. Think ahead about your diet and essential food groups and why not follow your own fertility diet plan based around guidance from your doctor.
If you are trying for a baby then it’s best to avoid soft cheeses such as brie or camembert and mould-ripened cheese such as Danish Blue or Stilton because of the risk of listeria. Also avoid raw or lightly cooked eggs because of the risk of salmonella. This includes foods containing raw eggs such as homemade mayonnaise, ice creams, cheesecakes and mousses. Raw or lightly cooked meat can carry the risk of toxoplasmosis which can harm the developing baby.
Growing a baby takes a lot of protein. If you eat eggs, fish and cheese then you easily take in as much as you need. But vegans, who avoid these foods as well as cutting out meat, need to take special care. If you do not drink milk or eat milk products, then substitute soya milk and foods. Eat a good supply of nuts, pulses and seeds daily to supply protein. Vitamin B12 is found almost entirely in animal foods so take the advice of your doctor or ask to be referred to a dietician.
Folic acid: is crucial for the healthy development of the foetus. It can reduce the chance of brain and spinal cord defects (called neural tube defects) such as spina bifida. Folic acid is found is leafy green vegetables, beans, nuts, wholegrain breads and wholegrain cereals, fruits and citrus juices. At your preconception check up your doctor will advise you to take a folic acid supplement It is very important that this is taken prior to becoming pregnant, ideally starting three months before conception and continuing until you are 12 weeks pregnant.
Calcium: is important for your bones and teeth as well as a developing baby’s too, but pre-pregnancy you only need to maintain normal levels which you can get through dairy products, green leafy vegetables, some fish (such as salmon and sardines), fruit (like figs and rhubarb), many nuts and calcium-fortified soy milk. If you’re not getting enough calcium – for example, if you’re lactose intolerant or don’t eat dairy foods – ask your doctor about a supplement.
Iron: is key for creating the haemoglobin that carries oxygen in red blood cells to all parts of your body. If you’re lacking in iron, you could develop anaemia (check with your doctor). If you’re not anaemic you can get enough iron through your diet from meat, oily fish and poultry as well as fruits, beans, nuts, vegetables and grains.
Magnesium: has a number of important functions including helping turn the food we eat into energy and helping the parathyroid glands work normally. The parathyroid glands produce hormones which are important for bone health. It’s found in leafy vegetables, dates, apricots, nuts, seeds, avocado, bran, whole wheat breads and dairy products. Also, some breakfast cereals are fortified with magnesium. Different mineral waters also have different magnesium levels.
Zinc: has been shown to help with egg production. It can be found in oysters and other sea foods, baked beans, eggs, nuts, whole grains and pumpkin seeds.
While eating a healthy, balanced diet, drinking lots of water, exercising regularly and avoiding alcohol and cigarettes is the best way to get your body in shape for conceiving, there are certain foods which are said to boost (or at least optimise) your fertility.
Whole grains: such as oats, brown rice, whole wheat and quinoa are complex carbohydrates and so not only give you lots of energy by releasing sugar into your blood slowly and evenly, but are also a rich source of B and E vitamins that are essential for cellular reproduction, the production of healthy eggs and hormonal balance.
Oily fish: such as salmon, mackerel and sardines are the best source of essential fatty acids (EFAs) omega-3 and omega-6 which play an important role in regulating the reproductive cycle. Flaxseed oil is a good EFA alternative for those who don't eat fish.
Full fat dairy: it is widely thought that women who eat at least one portion of full fat dairy a day have fewer fertility problems than those who consistently eat low fat or non dairy alternatives. Dairy products are also a great source of calcium which is important in the development and maintenance of the nervous system, bones and blood.
Garlic: a great source of the mineral selenium which is thought to help prevent the chromosome breakage that may play a role in early miscarriage. Garlic also contains vitamin B6 which helps to regulate hormones and strengthens the immune system.
Lean red meat: is a great source of iron which helps to prevent anaemia, decreases the risk of ovulatory infertility and plays a role in the production and function of red blood cells. Red meat is also a good source of vitamin B12 which is essential in the maintenance and development of the nervous system.
Honey: has been considered a fertility food for centuries and is incredibly rich in the minerals and amino acids that nourish the reproductive system and stimulate ovarian function.
Spinach: and other leafy greens are an excellent source of iron and folic acid which is important in facilitating regular, healthy ova production and helping to prevent neural tube defects during early pregnancy.
Oysters: It is the abundance of zinc found in this seafood delicacy that gives it its fertility-boosting qualities.
Chillies: stimulate endorphin production which means more fertility-boosting, stress-releasing, happy hormones circulating around your body. They are also an excellent source of vitamin C which helps with iron absorption.
Avocado: provides a rich source of vitamin E which is a powerful antioxidant and an essential fertility nutrient as it helps to regulate both ovulation and the production of cervical mucus. It is also an excellent source of unsaturated fats which are essential for healthy hormone functioning.
When you are trying for a baby (and when you are pregnant) always go for good quality, fresh unprocessed foods as these are likely to be much richer in vitamins, minerals and nutrients and also freer from pesticides and added oestrogens that may affect your ability to conceive.