Women who want a baby are probably all too aware of the need to eat properly during their pregnancy, but what about beforehand? A recent study has shown that women who eat more fast food and who consume less fresh fruit are more likely to take longer to get pregnant and are less likely to get pregnant within the year.
The study used data obtained from more than 5000 women in the UK and Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand and who had not had a baby before. Women who ate fruit only a few times each month took slightly longer to become pregnant compared to women who ate fruit several times each day. Women who regularly consumed fast food four or more times a week took nearly a month longer to get pregnant compared to women who rarely had fast food.
Out of all the women in the study, just 8% were classified as being infertile which is defined as taking longer than a year to conceive. When researchers assessed the impact of women’s diet on infertility, they discovered that the risk of infertility increased to 12% in women who ate the least amount of fresh fruit. Amongst women who regularly consumed fast food several times a week, the risk of infertility rose to 16%.
The research is slightly different to studies carried out in the past that tended to focus on the diet of women who had been diagnosed with fertility problems or who were receiving treatment for infertility. As part of the study, midwives collected detailed information at the women’s first antenatal visit around 14 to 16 weeks gestation. The information included details about their diet the month before conception, how frequently they consumed leafy green vegetables and fruit, fast foods and fish.
The type of fast food you can buy at supermarkets and heat up at home wasn’t included in this study. Interestingly, researchers discovered that the amount of leafy green vegetables or fish consumed by a woman before pregnancy didn’t have any effect on the time taken to conceive.
Most of the women taking part in the study didn’t have a history of infertility, and the data was adjusted to consider body-mass index, the maternal age of the mother and external factors such as alcohol intake and smoking. Although the study has its limitations, not least because it didn’t consider the father’s diet, it does show the importance of women considering their preconception diet. In fact, if you are trying for a baby, then it’s the ideal time to improve your eating habits.
Eating More Healthily While Trying to Conceive
Both partners should try to eat more healthily, and essential foods to include are fresh fruit and vegetables, calcium-rich foods such as cheese, milk, and yogurt, and whole grains. In women, failing to get sufficient nutrients can affect periods making it difficult to predict ovulation. Women who are significantly underweight or overweight may not ovulate at all. In men, certain vitamins and minerals such as vitamins C and E, zinc and folic acid are all essential for healthy sperm.
Although the study may not have proven the benefit of eating fish, it does contain lots of essential nutrients for a developing fetus. Fish is a low-fat source of protein and provides plenty of omega-3 fatty acids. However, it is important to choose fish that is proven to be lower in mercury, for example, canned light tuna and salmon. Fish that tend to be higher in mercury include swordfish, mackerel, and tilefish. It can be better to avoid processed meats, especially those that are smoked or raw.
Alcohol Smoking and Caffeine
While many women will cut out alcohol entirely once they know they are pregnant, it can be worth playing it safe and at least cut down on drinking when trying to conceive. The jury is out on whether caffeine affects the chances of getting pregnant and low to moderate caffeine consumption is generally considered to be safe. However, it could be worth checking with your health care provider to make sure.
If you have a balanced diet, then most of your nutritional needs should be met, but some experts believe taking a prenatal vitamin can be useful. A prenatal vitamin should only be used to supplement a healthy diet, and it’s important to choose a pill specially formulated for pregnancy.