Prime Your Body for Pregnancy: Nutrition for Fertility
There’s lots you can do to better your chances of getting pregnant, and consuming these vitamins and nutrients to increase fertility is an easy place to start. Begin making healthy changes 3 months to a year before you conceive.
A proper multivitamin (with a combination of folic acid and omega-3 supplements) or a comprehensive prenatal vitamin will include the majority of vitamins and minerals that follow. If yours is lacking, we’ve also listed some great natural food sources that are part of a healthy diet.
Before you go overboard on one vitamin or mineral, consult your doc. Don’t automatically start taking additional supplements until you know you’re deficient. Get blood work done first and talk to your physician or a nutritionist about the best sources for your situation.
And don’t forget to start your partner on a regimen too. He could see a potent boost in sperm health and motility from a single multivitamin!
What it does: This crucial phytonutrient helps regulate your hormones, possibly preventing early miscarriage once you’re pregnant.
Food finds: Carrots, cantaloupe, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, spinach, broccoli, and kale
What they do: The entire group of B vitamins is thought to aid your ovaries in releasing an egg around ovulation. B6 in particular also increases levels of progesterone, which is necessary to maintain your pregnancy once you conceive.
Food finds: Chickpeas, whole grains, leafy greens, meat, and eggs.
What it does: This group of enzymes primarily digests protein in the body but it’s also thought to assist implantation of a fertilized egg. That’s why it’s especially important to have sufficient intake right after ovulation.
Food finds: Only in pineapples (great excuse to indulge with a pi?a colada mocktail, no?)
What it does: This immunity-boosting vitamin promotes iron absorption and progesterone production. For women who have luteal phase defect, an issue characterized by insufficient progesterone, increased C appears to promote fertility. In guys, it helps improve sperm health and motility.
Food finds: Citrus, mangoes, tomatoes, strawberries, cherries, peas, and potatoes.
What it does: Women should be getting at least 1,000 milligrams per day of calcium while trying to get pregnant. Preparing for pregnancy includes building healthy bones. If there is not enough calcium in the pregnancy diet, the fetus may draw calcium from the mother’s bones, which can put women at risk for osteoporosis later in life. Three servings of milk or other dairy products each day equals about 1,000 milligrams of calcium.
Food finds: Cheese, yogurt, milk, almonds, tofu, dried figs and sardines.
What it does: A water-soluble nutrient that’s great for brain health in the baby and mom, choline has also been shown to reduce neural tube defects. Women require 425 milligrams of choline daily (and more when pregnant and lactating).
Food finds: Egg yolks and cauliflower.
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)
What it does: Already known to promote heart health, this natural enzyme could be a future superstar supplement for fertility, based on preliminary research. Egg and sperm quality has improved dramatically in animal testing, so much so that it may actually reverse some of the signs of age-related reproductive decline.
Food finds: Fish; organ meats such as heart, and kidneys; and wheat germ.
What it does: Vitamin D, a fat-soluble vitamin, is vital for proper production of sex hormones. Research has shown that infertile women generally tend to have lower vitamin D levels; one study at Yale University School of Medicine found that almost 40 recent of women with ovulatory dysfunction had levels that were actually low enough to be clinically deficient. It also reduces inflammation in the body, improving your overall fertility.
Food finds: Fortified dairy products, fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel and tuna, cod liver oil, and exposure to the sun (for as little as10 to 15 minutes per day can be helpful)
What it does: Experts believe that good E levels are important because the vitamin is found in the fluid around your developing eggs. (Deficiencies in rats have also been linked to poor fertility.) When taken by guys, vitamin E also helps boost sperm health. It also has powerful has antioxidant properties for both genders.
Food finds: Avocados, wheat germ oil, sweet potatoes, leafy greens, whole grains, nuts such as almonds and peanuts, and seeds.
What it does: Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate, which is actually a B-vitamin known as B9. Folic acid is the most important vitamin for pre-pregnancy health because it can help lower the risk for problems with the baby’s brain and spine — called neural tube defects (NTDs). That happens as early as two or three weeks after conception, when some women may not even know they’re expecting.
The reason a synthetic supplement is recommended is that few Americans get enough of folate in their diet. Hence, it’s important for all women of reproductive age who may become pregnant to take a supplement of at least 400 mcg (micrograms) daily. Taking a multivitamin that contains folic acid is also correlated with less ovulation-related infertility. Start taking folic acid at least 1 month before you start trying to get pregnant. The first few weeks of pregnancy are a really important time for fetal health and development. Folic Acid is great for your guy as well, as it helps him produce healthier sperm. One study at the University of California Berkeley found that men with highest levels of folic acid in their diet had a greater than 20 percent reduction in the number of abnormal sperm compared with guys who had lower intake levels.
Food finds: Beans, orange juice, leafy greens, and fortified cereals.
What it does: A wonderful supplement for cycle regulation and mood stability, Inositol is particularly beneficial for women with Polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS.
Food finds: Oranges, peaches, and pears, whole grains, bell peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, and asparagus, and eggs.
What it does: Because of its physical tolls on the body, pregnancy commonly makes women anemic. Low levels prior to conception, however, may actually contribute to lack of ovulation. But if you have a high iron intake going into the babymaking process, you’re more likely to sidestep both ovulatory issues and pregnancy-related anemia. Women who take iron supplements report less instances of infertility; check with your doctor before adding an additional supplement on top of a multivitamin.
Food finds: Meat, eggs, fish, beans, tomatoes, beets, broccoli, spinach, pumpkin, and whole-grain cereals.
What it does: While not necessary for conception, consider this supplement if stress is a factor for you. For most people, magnesium helps decrease stress and improve sleep (you can take it right before bed for maximum benefit).
Food finds: Almonds, cashews, spinach, pumpkin seeds, avocados, cultured yogurt and dark chocolate.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids (Fish Oil)
What they do: Essential because we cannot produce them naturally in our body, these nutrients help ovarian follicles release eggs, increase blood flow to the uterus, and balance out your hormones. A wonderful anti-inflammatory supplement, preliminary studies show that they may also assist with fetal brain and eye development and IQ. Not all vitamins include omega-3s so you may want to invest in an additional supplement. Note: Unless you are eating high quality, low-mercury fish several times a week, you are likely NOT getting enough omega-3s for ideal preconception.
Food finds: Flax seeds, flaxseed oil, salmon, mackerel, cod, sardines, anchovies, herring, walnuts, and eggs from chickens that are fed omega-3s.
What they do: This should be on everyone’s list, trying to conceive or otherwise! Many illnesses start in the gut, and an influx of healthy gut flora helps prevent those. This is especially important if you are taking antibiotics or have had gut issues in the past. When we take proper care of our digestive system, the whole body thanks us—and this includes the reproductive organs.
Food finds: Yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh, cottage cheese, pickles, kombucha.
What it does: Great for aiding sperm motility in guys and estrogen metabolism in ladies, selenium is a powerful detoxifier. It may also help your eggs defend against free radicals that contribute to declining quality of your eggs.
Food find: Brazil nuts, leafy greens, whole grains, and fish.
What it does: Zinc is a must-have for guys because it helps improve sperm motility and boosts the general quality of sperm. It’s equally important for female reproductive health as it contributes to ovulation and fertility. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has linked low levels of zinc to early miscarriage. Maintaining the recommended dietary allowance of zinc (15 mg a day) can help keep your reproductive system functioning well.
Food finds: Oysters, fish, meat, eggs, poultry, wheat germ, and pumpkin seeds.
Beyond fertility supplements, we recommend making sure the basics are taken care of. This is just as important when trying to conceive. For example, focus on making sure you are properly hydrated, getting all of the nutrients you need, and sleeping for at least seven hours each night.