By Bianca Colceru (Associate Nutritionist)
First of all, what is fertility? And can we really improve it?
Fertility is the natural ability of the body to induce conception and therefore become pregnant. However, for this to happen, it is required for a woman to have a healthy egg, ovulation has to occur and the embryo has to be successfully implanted in the uterus. That's great but how on earth can fertility be improved? This is actually possible by looking after the following:
Diet & Supplements
Do you wonder what you should do at this stage? Try adopting a healthy, balanced and varied diet. But what does it look like? Think of it as the Mediterranean diet. A diet rich in antioxidants as it contains fruits & vegetables (at least 5 portions per day) and which also include wholegrain carbohydrates (e.g. wholegrain bread, pasta, oats, brown rice, quinoa, etc.), more plant-based protein (e.g. lentils, pulses, nuts, seeds, beans), reduced in red meat, fewer animal proteins (e.g. chicken, turkey, fish, eggs & dairy products) and unsaturated fats (e.g. nuts, seeds, olive oil, oily fish and avocado) instead of trans & saturated fats (e.g. butter, lard, coconut oil, palm oil).
Make it work for you based on your food likes and dislikes, lifestyle, health status as well as what your body needs especially at this phase when focusing on fertility improvement and conception. Therefore, I would like to share with you a few key nutrients that can help you enhance your fertility. You can take them from your diet or as a supplement. However, it is better to go and see a specialist (i.e. GP, dietitian, nutritionist) before taking supplements so that you can know exactly if you really need it as well as the right dosage for you.
Food sources: Green leafy vegetables, broccoli, brussels sprouts, chickpeas, kidney beans, avocado, peas, whole grains, liver, poultry, pork, orange juice and fortified food (e.g. grains and cereals)
Food sources: Oily fish: salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel, nuts & seeds: chia seeds, walnuts and flaxseeds, plant oils: canola oil, flaxseed oil and soybean oil and fortified food: milk, bread, yoghurt
Food sources: Liver, egg yolk, oily fish, fortified food (e.g. milk, dairy products, plant-based dairy, fat spread and breakfast cereals)
Another natural source: sunlight (UVB rays)
Food sources: Dairy products, meat, eggs, seafood, fortified food (e.g. breakfast cereals, plant-based beverages/yoghurt, yeast extract)
Food sources: Dairy products, figs, green leafy vegetables, sardines and fortified food (e.g. plant-based drinks)
Food sources: Green leafy vegetables, red meat, nuts, seeds, legumes, pulses and tofu
Additionally, if trying for a baby, it is recommended to consume less than 200mg/day of caffeine (e.g. 2 cups of coffee, 3 cups of tea, chocolate, high energy drinks) and avoid alcoholic drinks as it will make it harder to become pregnant, also increasing the occurrence of miscarriage & birth defects. Do not forget to drink water (i.e. around 1.5-2 litres of fluids per day) to stay hydrated!
Weight & BMI
This is another aspect that we should look after when thinking about improving our fertility and getting pregnant. It was found that having a higher body mass index (BMI) (i.e. over 30) can have a negative impact on fertility (i.e. decreased egg quality) and therefore, it may take longer for women to get pregnant. But not just a higher BMI is problematic for fertility. It was found that having a lower BMI (i.e. under 19) can also affect the fertility rate. For a healthy and regular ovulation, it was recommended to stay on a healthy BMI range which is between 19-30 kg/m2. I know that it can be quite stressful to go through this journey of losing weight or putting on weight, therefore, consider doing this by following healthy methods (e.g. regarding diet, physical activity, mental health, etc.) that can become a lifestyle instead of trying different restrictive diets/FAD diets that can cause you more harm than good (i.e. they can lead to essential nutrients deficiency which will lower your chances of getting pregnant). If you don’t find it easy to lose or gain weight, why not ask for help, guidance and support from a nutritionist or dietitian? This way, you can make this journey easy and more enjoyable by adopting a healthy lifestyle.
Are you an active person? If yes, then this is amazing! Keep moving but try to not overdo it/exercise in excess as it can cause you fertility issues (i.e. as you may lose too much body fat and this can stop ovulation, egg release).
If you are not an active person, then try to implement in your lifestyle some regular, moderate physical activity as this will increase your chance of getting pregnant. Start slowly! For adults, it is recommended to do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week. If you are a beginner, you can start with at least 20 minutes of moderate exercise per day and increase this time until you reach at least 30-40 minutes of exercise/day. But most importantly, if you are new at this, do what physical activity you like (e.g. dance, play tennis, swim, do jogging, water aerobic, brisk walking, biking, etc.). Do it your way and make it fun!
As poor sleep quality & quantity can affect fertility, it is important to have an uninterrupted sleeping time of 7-9 hours per night. If you find this difficult, why not try some sleep hygiene interventions that I shared with you below.
Avoid electronic devices with at least 30 minutes before bedtime;
Remove electronic devices from the bedroom;
Make a habit! Go to sleep at the same time every night;
Make your room quiet, relaxing, dark and set a comfortable temperature;
Avoid alcohol, caffeine and large meals before bedtime;
Exercise/be active during the day as this will help you fall asleep more easily during the night.
Stress, stress, stress. I know that it can be difficult to have a stress free life but we can at least try to reduce it. How can we do this I hear? Well, first let’s try doing things that you find enjoyable and relaxing such as having a walk in the local park, painting, reading a book, playing tennis, swimming, doing yoga, playing with your pet, connecting with friends/loved ones, having some ‘me time’ or anything that helps you forget about the thing/s that make you feel stressed. Reducing the stress factor/s in our life is another way of lowering the stress level. There are factors such as a colleague from the job that probably annoys you (interact less with him/her if possible), the job itself (consider changing it or discussing it with your boss) or different discussion topics such as body image, career, family, ongoing events etc. that you may have with people around you (change the topic, tell that person that you prefer not to talk about it), just to name a few. Also, why not consider going to a specialist (e.g. psychologists, psychotherapists) that can help with stress management? This could be a lifesaver!
Join our course, The Egg and Sperm Race to work with us and discover other ways in which you can optimise your fertility and prepare for conception.