When trying to conceive it is important to review your diet to ensure you're eating healthily. By making sure your body is getting all the nutrients it needs - and avoiding all the unhealthy stuff - you will improve your chances of getting pregnant and give your body the best building blocks to make a baby.
Being overweight or underweight will make it more difficult to conceive, so aim to get to an appropriate weight for your height by eating a varied diet that's full of good, fresh food, exercising and avoiding over-eating and under-eating.
What to eat when you're trying to conceive
A healthy pre-pregnancy diet should include:
- Plenty of fruit and vegetables - they will give you lots of lovely vitamins and fibre.
- Fresh foods - make your meals from fresh ingredients and steer clear of processed ready meals which are often high in salt, sugar and fat.
- Carbohydrates - low-carb diets that focus heavily on protein and very little or no carbs are not so good when you're trying for a baby. Your body needs energy, and carbohydrates are the main energy-givers of the food groups. Complex carbohydrates that give slow-release energy are best, so opt for wholegrain bread, pasta and rice if you can and approach simple carbs, based on white flour and sugar, with caution and eat them only in small amounts.
- Dairy products are a great source of calcium, which will help with baby building. Vegans can get their calcium from soy or green veg.
- Proteins – choose lean meat, chicken, eggs, pulses, fish (but no more than two portions of oily fish a week) and tofu. Try to limit the amount of red meat you eat - moderation is the key.
- Folic acid supplements are recommended to help reduce the risk of neural tube defects. Other prenatal multivitamins can be helpful. Try to eat fortified cereals (but beware those with high sugar content).
- Essential fatty acids are, well, essential, and have a big part to play in hormone production. Try to consume fats from nuts, avocados, seeds (such as flax seeds and hemp seeds) and fish rather than red meat.
- Water - you need to drink plenty, about 1–2 litres a day. It's a women's mag cliché, but it's also true.
• Lentil stew with brown rice
• Spinach and pesto lasagne
• Mango and avocado salad
• Chilli non carne
• Vegetable tart
• Pot luck veggie stew
• Chocolate and prune mousse
What to avoid eating when you're trying to conceive
- Too many processed foods.
- Too much vitamin A - liver is a no-no and fish liver oils and any multivitamins with vitamin A should be avoided. Too much vitamin A from meat and fish sources can cause birth defects.
- Shark, swordfish and marlin and the larger types of tuna. Bigger fish that swim deeper in the sea contain high levels of mercury, which could have an adverse effect on your baby's nervous system. Tuna has lower mercury levels but intake should be limited to no more than two portions of fresh tuna steak a week or up to four medium cans.
- Simple carbohydrates and sugars.
- Alcohol - government recommendations say that alcohol intake should be minimised when you are trying to conceive. If you do drink, keep it to 1–2 units, 2–3 times a week and avoid binge drinking (so no saving up your units for the weekend).
- Caffeine - drink in moderation. There is inconclusive evidence that caffeine can affect your ability to conceive. There are no guidelines for pre-pregnancy but once you do get pregnant you are advised to only have 200mg a day because of the increased risk of miscarriage. Remember a lot of soft drinks and some medicines contain caffeine so it's not just tea and coffee you need to cut back on.
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Exercise and lifestyle when you're trying to conceive
As well as eating well, you should stop smoking and do some exercise to prepare your body for the stresses and strains of pregnancy and motherhood.
Swimming, walking and yoga are all good, as well as aerobic exercise, which will build up your stamina. Aim for 30 minutes of exercise a day.
Pre-pregnancy diet tips for men
A healthy diet is just as important for men when a couple is trying to conceive. To boost fertility, make sure men are eating foods that contain zinc, selenium and folates, such as Brazil nuts, green veg, walnuts and figs. They also need to drink lots of water to stay hydrated and boost sperm count.
What Mumsnetters say about pre-pregnancy diet
- Men need zinc to make good sperm. Folic acid is meant to be good for both sexes. The woman must drink plenty of water. I also aim to eat lots of fresh food, especially fruit, veg and wholegrain. It doesn't always go that way though! ScaryHairy
- You need lots of (good) protein to kick-start conception. I eat fish and dairy but no meat, so my nutritionist suggested protein from brown basmati rice, quinoa, beans and lentils, and hummus. Moomin