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Fertility Factors:

Heathy eating

Women and men can improve the chances of a pregnancy and give their baby the best start in life by having a healthy diet, well before a baby is conceived.

Being a healthy weight can improve the chances of a pregnancy because it improves the health of sperm and eggs, prevents erection problems and helps balance men’s and women’s hormones. As we know, eating healthy food and moving more is the best way to drop a few kilos if you’re above the healthy weight range. 

For a healthy diet, include these 5 food groups, every day:

  • vegetables and legumes (beans)
  • fruit
  • grains and cereals
  • lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts, seeds
  • milk, cheese, yoghurt or alternatives

Soft drink and fruit juices contain a lot of sugar and should be avoided.

Women who have a healthy diet in the year before they get pregnant lower the risk of their baby having birth defects such as spina bifida and cleft palate.

  • Vitamin and mineral supplements before pregnancy

    Vitamins and minerals (known as micronutrients) are essential for our bodies to function. They occur naturally in the food we eat but can also be taken as supplements.

    A healthy diet is the best way to ensure you're getting the nutrients you need, but it is recommended that women who are planning a pregnancy supplement their diet with folate and iodine.

    If you're trying to conceive, the risk of birth defects can be reduced by supplementing your diet with certain micronutrients, described below. Some may also help improve fertility.


  • Folate

    Folate is a B-group vitamin that supports the baby’s brain and spinal cord to develop properly, during the very early stages of pregnancy. It is difficult for women to get enough folate in their diet. Therefore, it is recommended that women take at least 400 micrograms of folic acid each day, starting at least one month before conceiving, and during the first few months of pregnancy. Your doctor will recommend the right dose for you during pregnancy.

    You can get folate through a multivitamin tablet; it’s best to take one specifically for pregnancy or pre-conception because some vitamins, such as Vitamin A, are dangerous if taken in high amounts during pregnancy.

    Some studies suggest that folic acid supplementation can improve fertility in some people but it is not yet known if this applies to everyone.

  • Iodine

    Iodine is also important for the baby’s development. Women planning a pregnancy should supplement their diet with 150 micrograms of iodine each day to support the development of the baby’s brain and nervous system.   

    It is not known if iodine supplementation directly improves fertility.

  • Vitamin D

    Vitamin D supplements may improve fertility in women and men who are vitamin D deficient.

    During pregnancy vitamin D is involved in transferring calcium to the growing baby. You can ask your doctor for advice about testing whether you need vitamin D supplements.

  • Zinc and selenium

    Zinc and selenium can reduce the damaging effects of free radicals. Free radicals are waste products from various chemical reactions in the cells in the body. Substances that produce free radicals include fried foods, alcohol, tobacco smoke, pesticides and air pollutants.

    High levels of free radicals can cause health problems. Studies of infertile men have found that zinc and selenium can reduce the damage to sperm caused by free radicals and improve sperm quality. Whether this improves their chance of fathering a child is not yet known but it may be a good idea for men who want to be fathers to boost their zinc and selenium intake. The easiest way to do this is through a healthy diet. Supplements are also available from pharmacies.

    It is not known if zinc or selenium supplements improve female fertility.

  • It’s best that women planning a pregnancy avoid eating fish that have high levels of mercury, including ling, orange roughy, shark and swordfish, as it can affect their unborn baby’s health. Find out more at Better Health Channel

  • References
    • Buck Louis, G. M., et al. (2016). Lifestyle and pregnancy loss in a contemporary cohort of women recruited before conception: The LIFE Study. Fertility and Sterility, 106(1), 180-188. doi: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2016.03.009
    • Chiu, Y.-H., Chavarro, J. E., & Souter, I. (2018). Diet and female fertility: doctor, what should I eat? Fertility and Sterility, 110(4), 560-569.
    • Day, J., et al. (2016). Influence of paternal preconception exposures on their offspring: through epigenetics to phenotype. American Journal of Stem Cells, 5(1), 11-18
    • Homan, G. F., Davies, M. J., & Norman, R. J. (2007). The impact of lifestyle factors on reproductive performance in the general population and those undergoing infertility treatment: a review. Human Reproduction Update, 13(3), 209-223.
    • Nassan, F. L., et al. (2018). Diet and men's fertility: does diet affect sperm quality? Fertility and Sterility, 110(4), 570-577.
    • Salas-Huetos, A., et al. (2017). Dietary patterns, foods and nutrients in male fertility parameters and fecundability: a systematic review of observational studies. Human Reproduction Update, 23(4), 371-389. doi: 10.1093/humupd/dmx006
    • Sharma, R., et al. (2013). Lifestyle factors and reproductive health: taking control of your fertility. [Review]. Reprod Biol Endocrinol, 11(66), 1477-7827.

Page created on: 29/08/2018 | Last updated: 24/01/2022

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