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Effective nutrition for conception and pregnancy

Effective nutrition for conception and pregnancy
Effective nutrition for conception and pregnancy

March kicks off National Nutrition Month, an annual nutrition education and information campaign created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. We speak to Cindy Charles, Fertility Coach at the LWC, about bringing into focus the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits to enhance your chances of conceiving a child.

Pre-conception health

It is recognised academically that pre-conceptional health is an important factor in the ability of women and men to conceive and has an impact on pregnancy and the long-term health of offspring. Research into Preconception Care and Fertility by Kermack/Macklon in 2013 states that the ‘provision of preconception care and the modification of lifestyle factors such as diet, body mass index (BMI) and smoking are essential for improving infertility.’

But where should potential parents start and what’s the correct advice to follow? Also, is it realistic to factor in changes to an already busy life when trying to conceive through fertility treatment?

Losing weight

Cindy regularly talks with our patients about strategies for improving their dietary intake and general wellbeing. She leads the clinic’s Fertility Fit Club, which is designed to support patients trying to lose weight prior to treatment, as statistically chances of conception reduce for women and men with a BMI over 30.

“Sometimes people feel overwhelmed by their infertility and the need to undertake fertility treatment,” says Cindy, “therefore making dietary or lifestyle changes, such as reducing the amount they drink or exercise can seem yet another barrier to overcome.” Our advice to patients is to use the time prior to treatment to review their current habits and begin making small changes on a weekly basis to optimise their health in preparation for conception and potentially pregnancy. Minimising exposure to smoke is particularly important for men and women as it affects absorption of nutrients, blood flow and wider health.

“Finding ways to motivate yourself is key, maybe by buddying with someone with similar goals. As too, is investigating sources of support through your GP, dieticians and within your clinic - seeing this period as short-term project with long term outcomes for you and your family” says Cindy.  

A healthy diet

Making sure that you get enough essential nutrients is key to weight management and overall health. A varied diet with colourful antioxidant rich fruits and vegetables, good quality protein including eggs, seeds/nuts and carbohydrates with a low Glycaemic index, such as pulses, lentils and wholemeal is recommended. Avoidance of heavily processed foods, which are high in calories and trans fats but low in nutritional content is important to optimise overall health and improve energy levels. The NHS recommends 400mcg of Folic Acid for women actively trying to conceive and until 12 weeks of pregnancy as it is essential for neural tube development. Supplementation is important as it is often difficult to obtain the required amount of folate from a standard diet.

Reducing alcohol intake

Regarding alcohol, the Chief Medical Officers for the UK recommendation for women is that if you’re pregnant or trying to become pregnant, the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all to keep the risks to your baby to a minimum. Men should drink no more than 14 units of alcohol a week, which should be spread evenly over 3 days or more. Drinking alcohol excessively can affect the quality of sperm.

The NHS website also provides evidence-based information on what to eat and do when trying to conceive. Helpfully, there is also a BMI calculator and Quit Smoking section for those that need it. So, the good news is that help is on hand and that small changes may just bring you that one step closer to creating your longed-for family.

If you are a patient at LWC and would like to know more about the wellbeing support on offer and our Fertility Fit Club please email patient.support@londonwomensclinic.com

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