Fertility rates in the U.S. have fallen to a record low as of 2013. Of the estimated 1 in 6 American couples who struggle with getting pregnant each year, there is compelling evidence that lifestyle, nutrition and environmental factors are a major culprit.
To avoid becoming part of these dismal, conception and fertility statistics, future parents should educate themselves.
From a health and wellness perspective, there are two key reasons to ask some tough questions prior to conception.
- The health of the man and/or woman may be insufficient to the degree that it negatively affects fertility; and
- Poor health, especially of the woman at the point of conception, may cause developmental issues of the fetus. Soon-to-be parents have a very long list of decisions and plans to make, but rarely if ever do they sit down together and discuss whether or not they are healthy enough to try and conceive a child.
Are there things I can do a few months in advance of becoming pregnant to increase my fertility and chances of having a healthy baby?
Yes there are! Asking this question at least 6 to 8 months in advance of trying to get pregnant, gives you the right amount of time (in most cases, not all) to implement the changes necessary, improve your health status and thereby improve fertility and development of your fetus.
Here are a few other things to consider:
Do I have a history of one or more health conditions in my immediate family that could impact my fertility?
A genetic predisposition to certain health issues can contribute to infertility such as: diabetes, thyroid or hormonal issues, insulin resistance, over or under weight, and allergies. Getting some of these issues under control in advance of becoming pregnant will help improve fertility.
Other family factors to consider include alcohol abuse, drug abuse or use of tobacco. Science is proving that what we eat alters cellular communication and can thereby change how the human body genetically expresses health or illness. Knowing your family history gives you the opportunity to offset genetic tendencies with good nutrition and help avoid fertility issues.
Is my current diet supportive of fertility or damaging it?
To determine this you first have to know what is considered “healthy” to the human body and fertility and what isn’t. Here are a few key points:
- Minimize intake of food additives, pesticides, marijuana smoke, bisphenols found in plastic containers and other harmful substances. These chemical additives are known as “excitotoxins” that can disrupt hormone production, increase production of free radicals leading to inflammation in the body, all of which can contribute to infertility and a poorly developed fetus.
- Inflammation in the gut and elsewhere in the body can minimize nutrient absorption which can lead to deficiencies in available nutrients needed for healthy sperm, egg and hormone production.
- Consuming dairy products that are made from cows fed with hormone additives can disrupt the endocrine system leading to hormonal imbalances which can cause male infertility as well as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and endometriosis in women.
- A healthy diet for prospective parents between the ages of 30 and 40 is important when trying to maintain fertility levels. Eating healthy can bolster hormone production at a time when it is naturally starting to diminish.
- Avoiding package and processed foods and a high-sugar/high carbohydrate diet. These foods can lead to weight issues, insulin resistance, blood sugar dysregulation, kidney and liver problems – to name a few, all of which can affect fertility.
- Consume 4-5 servings each day of organic, fresh vegetables, 1-2 small servings of organic, low-glycemic fruit and 2-3 servings of organic protein.
What lifestyle changes and sacrifices am I willing to make to improve my chances of conception and delivering a healthy baby?
I have listed a few of the lifestyle and nutritional changes that should be made by the man and woman 6 to 8 months prior to conception in order to achieve an adequate, supportive health status. A couple of these I consider “show-stoppers” – responsible, future parents would not have to think twice about discontinuing them; non-compliance is really unacceptable.
Stop drinking alcohol – a show-stopper. Even small amounts of alcohol before conception can create a greater risk for retardation, hyperactivity, deformities and heart problems in a new-born child, as well as later developmental stages.
Drugs – a show-stopper. Recreational drugs, cigarette smoking, pharmaceutical medicines, aspirin or cannabis all contribute to infertility, stunted fetus growth and below average IQ in children exposed during pregnancy.
Minimize stress. Stress activates a response from the adrenal glands which impacts hormone regulation and can interfere with fertility and conception.
Stop dieting. Once pregnant, the time for eating healthy has begun, but the time for “dieting” (a reduced calorie diet) is over. The woman should get any weight issues under control several months before trying to conceive. Restricting the intake of nutritious foods after conception has occurred will cause the fetus to use protein and other nutrients from the mother’s body, potentially causing difficulties during labor and delivery.
You should congratulate yourself for taking the time to do some homework before you begin the incredible journey of having a baby – you will be so glad you did! It can mean all the difference in the world in your ability to conceive, your health while carrying the baby, and ultimately the long-term health and development of your child.
Wishing you health and happiness!
Note: This information is provided as a resource and for educational purposes only. These recommendations are not intended as a substitute for consulting a physician or licensed healthcare practitioner. If you are pregnant, consult your doctor before beginning any nutritional or dietary changes.