The other day, I was talking to my friend and her husband about their plans for getting pregnant when she said, “I think we’ll just grab a bottle of wine and give it a go.” As fun as that sounds, it’s unfortunately one of the worst ways to conceive. Think about it: your future child is half of you (your egg) and half of your partner (his sperm), which means the state of your bodies and the nutrients you’re both eating and absorbing are literally the bits that become your baby.
If you don’t think that dad’s diet is important, consider this: sperm counts among men in western countries have decreased 50% in 50 years and sperm quality has sharply and steadily declined since the late 1930s. What men eat contribute vastly to this number, but the good news is that switching diet gears before knocking boots can boost your chances of conception.
Eight Nutritional Changes To Make Before Trying For Baby
Embrace high-quality fats
The war on low-fat is thankfully starting to die, but it’s left quite a bit of confusion in its wake. Every cell in our body needs fats to function. Fat form our cell’s barriers, meaning it’s responsible for the cell’s shape, as well as the gatekeeper for what gets in and out.
When we’re eating good quality fats, our body’s cells are happy because they’re getting top-notch fuel and are able to function normally. When we’re eating bad fats, our cells are forced to incorporate them into their structure, but because they’re not of high-quality, our cells aren’t of high-quality either. That means they’re not able to do their jobs efficiently, which leads to a host of problems from fatigue to muscle weakness to you guessed it, infertility.
Good fats are usually the least processed and most readily found in nature. These are easily recognizable fats including coconut oil, lard, butter from grass-fed cows, avocados, olive oil, fatty fish like sardines, wild salmon, herring and mackerel, plus nuts and seeds, especially walnuts, pumpkin, chia and hemp.
On the other hand, bad fats typically cause you to pause and think about how they’re made. Vegetable oil is a good example of this. In order to make vegetable oil, manufacturers can’t just squeeze a vegetable. Instead, they have to use chemical processes to extract the oil, then alter it to be unhealthy. The oils to avoid are vegetable, canola, safflower, cottonseed, soybean, corn, margarine, shortening and fried foods. And especially if you’re trying to get pregnant, never, ever consume any hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils.
Give gluten the boot
If the war on low-fat is on the way out, the war on gluten is picking up speed– and for good reason. Gluten can be highly inflammatory and anything that contributes to chronic inflammation is a no-go for pregnancy and overall health. Research has shown that even if you don’t have celiac disease, gluten can make conditions like endometriosis worse. For the over 3 million people with undiagnosed celiac, studies say that it’s a major cause of infertility.
And before you point out that wheat gluten has been around for 10,000 years and humanity has fared just fine, thank you very much, keep this in mind: the wheat of our ancestors had 14 chromosomes. Today’s modern wheat contains 42, meaning what we’re eating isn’t even the same food.
Kick out sugar, refined carbs and processed foods
Sugar and refined carbs cause your blood sugar to spike, resulting in a hormonal cascade that’s simply no good for your baby-making pieces and parts. Hormones rule your body and when they’re out of whack, there’s a good shot that infertility is in your cards.
Processed foods also contain high amounts of bad fats, sugar, gluten and chemically processed sodium, so stick to the perimeter of the grocery store and skip the canned soups, bags of chips and frozen TV dinners.
Go organic, grass-fed and pasture-raised
It’s always a good idea to keep this in mind, but it’s even more imperative when you’re planning for pregnancy. In women, pesticides can decrease the likelihood that you’ll get pregnant.
In men, pesticide residues on fruits and veggies have been linked to poor semen quality, as well as a decrease in sperm counts and motility. Fewer, slower swimmers are not the ones you want checking into the game.
Grass-fed meats and pasture-raised eggs also have higher levels of omega-3s, a healthy fat that’s essential for reducing inflammation. When you do get pregnant, they also support development of the baby’s brain, eyes and central nervous system, as well as your own.
Up the offal
As you may have surmised by now, nutrients play a big role in your ability to reproduce. Liver and other offal, including kidney and heart, are the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet, making them ideal for baby making. They’re packed full of natural sources of vitamin A and B12, folate, choline and selenium, all of which are important for your reproductive system and your baby’s eventual growth.
If you can’t stomach the idea of eating liver, try sneaking it into a creamy pate (with ghee!) or you can buy beef liver supplements so you’ll only have to take a pill. If you go that route, just be sure they come from a grass-fed source.
Consider an elimination diet
Underlying food sensitivities and allergies can wreak havoc on your system, sending a warning signal that your body is not a safe place for growing a baby. To figure out if there’s a food that needs avoiding, eliminate the most common offenders (gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, corn and nuts) for three weeks, then add each food in one at a time. Monitor your symptoms, including upset stomach and digestive trouble, fatigue, acne, brain fog, anxiety and any other unpleasantness for three days. If you don’t notice any symptoms, add the next food and keep repeating until you’ve identified the foods that bother you.
A faster, easier way to test for intolerances is the Coca Pulse Test. Take your resting heart rate for a full minute, then put a piece of the food in question in your mouth without swallowing. After 15-30 seconds, take your pulse again. If it went up by 6 beats or more (or 4+ beats if your blood type is O) that’s a food that stresses out your body and should be avoided.
Bring on the H2O
We’re made mostly of water, so it makes sense that we’d need a lot of it to keep us working optimally. Water moves nutrients around our body, flushes out toxins, helps our cells and hormones communicate with each other, cushions our bones, tissues and vital organs, aids in the production of cervical mucus, increases sperm count…the list goes on and on.
You may also need to drink more water than the typically quoted eight cups. In general, you should be drinking half of your body weight in ounces, so someone who’s 140 pounds needs about 70 ounces a day.
Cut back on the booze
This one might seem obvious but alcohol is high in sugar and can also be highly inflammatory. Not to mention, it’s a good idea to get into the habit of saying sayonara to the sauce before you get pregnant. In men, moderate weekly drinking (about five drinks) has been tied to lower sperm quality.
The good news is if you’ve had a few drinks and then find out you’re pregnant, it likely won’t have an impact on your future babe. The pre-embryonic cells during the first two weeks of a pregnancy don’t have designations (like heart, arms and eyes) yet, so if you injure any from a night boozing it up, they’ll die off and others will take their place. Still, because you probably won’t know if you’re pregnant until after your missed period when alcohol could have serious effects on the embryo, it’s best to err on the side of caution and nip this habit ASAP.
These days, most everyone in the western world could use a hand from supplements. There’s a number of reasons why supplements are a must: our soil quality (and therefore our food’s nutrient density) isn’t what it used to be even 50 years ago, the world is more toxic and stressful than ever so we need more reserves to deal, and most of our digestive systems aren’t doing such a hot job at absorbing what we do eat.
When you’re thinking about getting pregnant, it’s important that your body is firing on all cylinders, which means supplementation is probably necessary. Before you start taking whatever the clerk at CVS recommends, head to a naturopath, functional nutritionist or integrative medicine doctor to get a full workup on what you’re deficient in. That way, you’ll be supplementing exactly what you need and your health care provider can recommend reputable brands, as not all supplements are created equal.