Written by Consumer Advocates, Guest Blogger
As closely as we watch our bodies while trying to conceive—from tracking our cycles to charting our temperatures to studying our cervical changes—it’s amazing how many women experiencing infertility are still surprised when they get pregnant. But preparing to be pregnant is actually part of the job of trying to get pregnant. That’s why the medical community recommends both women and men pay close attention to nutrition as they’re trying to conceive.
Some scientific findings on the link between nutrition and fertility might contradict your long-held beliefs about healthy eating. Nutritionists across the board advise us that using low-fat dairy products can help you manage your weight and contribute to heart health. But a recent study indicated that women who are trying to conceive can actually benefit from consuming full-fat dairy products. You may have heard that substituting soy protein for animal protein is also good for the heart. But eating too much soy can lower your partner’s sperm count. Can I get a big yay for ice cream and filet Mignon?
One of the smartest nutritional moves you can make is to start taking prenatal vitamins before you get pregnant. While prenatal vitamins haven’t been proven to increase fertility, they will help ensure the health of your baby once you do conceive.
The best prenatal vitamins combine four key nutrients: folic acid, which is a B vitamin, iron, calcium, and vitamin D. Doctors typically recommend you start taking these vitamins at least a month before becoming pregnant. So if you’re trying to conceive, today is the day to start.
What makes these particular nutrients so special? Let’s take a look at how each contributes to your baby’s development during pregnancy.
Folic acid is essential to your baby’s developing brain, spinal cord, and spine. Studies have shown it reduces the incidence of incurable and usually fatal neural tube defects like anencephaly and spina bifida. You may have heard that you can increase your intake of this nutrient by choosing foods high in folate like broccoli and leafy greens more often. But the synthetic folic acid found in prenatal vitamins is absorbed by the body more effectively than the folate found in whole foods.
Just as calcium helps keep your teeth and bones strong, it will also strengthen your baby’s. Calcium also supports the development of a healthy heart and nervous system. Taking calcium has an added benefit for pregnant women. Consuming extra calcium has been demonstrated to prevent hypertension and preeclampsia during pregnancy, two contributors to preterm birth. Since your body diverts calcium from you to your baby, taking extra calcium is also essential to maintain bone health during pregnancy.
During pregnancy, your body creates extra blood (hemoglobin) to nourish and bring oxygen to your baby. It uses iron to do that. Consuming extra iron during pregnancy prevents you from anemic, which can not only make you more fatigued, but also contribute to low birth weight ad pre-term birth. If you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, bear in mind that the iron found in plant-based food isn’t as bio-available as the iron found in meat and fish. So it’s even more important that you supplement your plant-based diet with synthetic iron.
The most common source of Vitamin D is sunlight. It’s also found in Vitamin D-rich or Vitamin D- fortified foods like salmon, milk, and breakfast cereals. But Vitamin D deficiency is common and especially problematic for pregnant women. Without enough Vitamin D, you’re at higher risk for preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and pre-term birth.
So next time you stop at the pharmacy to pick up a pregnancy test, put some prenatal vitamins in your cart. Why not be prepared for the best?