If you are trying to conceive, either naturally or through fertility treatment, good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle is an essential first step and may even improve your chances of falling pregnant.Remember that it is also important for the male partner to follow these healthy eating guidelines too.
The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating provides a great starting point. Aim to enjoy a wide variety of healthy foods:
• Wholegrain Breads and Cereals
• Vegetables and Salads
• Milk and dairy foods
• Protein foods
• Nuts and seeds and oils
• Drink plenty of water
• Choose foods that are low in saturated fats, sugar and salt
Carrying extra weight can greatly affect your fertility. If your are overweight or obese then losing weight slowly and sensibly has been shown to increase your chances of becoming pregnant. This is no time for fad diets that can affect your nutrition and health. A healthy balanced diet with increased physical activity is the way to go.
Keeping physically active will help to keep weight in the recommended range but also has numerous other benefits for your health and well being. When trying to conceive you should not suddenly introduce a strenuous training program but should slowly build up your level of physical activity. This may be attending a gym or structured exercise, but might be simply walking or riding your bike. Remember that incidental exercise such as walking to the bus, taking the stairs instead of the lift or walking to the corner store are all ways to increase your overall physical activity levels.
Folate is a B vitamin that plays an important role very early in pregnancy in the normal development of your baby. It helps to prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida. It is also important later in pregnancy for the growth of new red blood cells. Foods rich in folate include green vegetables (broccoli, green beans, peas, avocado, asparagus) fruit and wholegrain breads and cereals. Folate is also added into bread making flour, so bread is an excellent source. Folate is destroyed by heat, so lightly steam or microwave vegetables rather than boiling them. Also try to eat some raw, for example, in salads.
The National Health and Medical Research Council recommends that women who are planning a pregnancy should take a daily folic acid supplement for at least one month before and 3 months after conception. Look for a supplement with at least 400ug of folic acid. A pregnancy multivitamin is ideal.
Iodine is an essential mineral that is important for the normal growth and development of your baby. The natural iodine content of the Australian soil is low and as a consequence the iodine in the Australian diet is relatively low. In the past we obtained much of our iodine form iodised salt but most of us eat far less salt than our parents or grandparents used to. Seafood is a great source of iodine but the amount in other foods depends on where it is grown and how it is manufactured. In Australia the salt used to make bread is now supplemented with iodine. A pregnancy multivitamin that contains iodine will ensure that you have a sufficient intake.
It is recommended that you avoid alcohol, smoking and recreational drugs. Check with your doctor about any prescribed and over the counter medications that you might be taking. This applies also to multivitamin supplements and herbal supplements. Any vitamins that contain excess Vitamin A may be harmful and it is unknown what effect many herbal preparations may have on the unborn foetus.
It is not known what level of alcohol is safe during pregnancy but it is clear that even small amounts in the first few weeks of pregnancy can cause foetal alcohol syndrome. It is wise to avoid it when trying to conceive.
Excess caffeine can have an effect on fertility and may increase the risk of miscarriage. Limit your intake to 3 or 4 cups of tea or coffee per day (or only one espresso style coffee). Remember that cola drinks and chocolate and many ‘energy’ drinks can also contribute to caffeine intake.
There is no evidence that colours and flavourings and preservatives are harmful to your baby, but the foods that are high in these additives are not necessarily the healthiest foods, so minimising intake does no harm. Avoid the artificial sweeteners saccharine and cyclamate as these are known to cross the placenta into the baby’s blood stream.
Also it is wise to minimise your exposure to chemicals in the environment e.g. paint fumes, lead, excess pollution etc.
Although fish is a healthy food and we are advised to eat fish 2 or 3 times a week, there are a few types of fish which are naturally higher in mercury. Shark, broadbill. Marlin and swordfish should be eaten no more than once per fortnight. Orange roughy (sea perch) and catfish can be eaten once per week but no other fish in that week.
Listeria is a food poisoning bacteria which can cause miscarriage. Listeria can grow when food has not been stored or handled correctly. You can reduce your risk by avoiding certain high risk foods, finding alternatives and practicing good food hygiene.
You can find more information about Listeria from the FSANZ website.
Establishing good healthy eating patterns is essential when trying to conceive, but these habits should continue right through your pregnancy and beyond. There is emerging evidence that our health in the long term can be affected by our mother’s nutrition whilst still in the womb. In addition, babies are great imitators. If the parents eat healthy then babies and young children eat healthy too!
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