FACTSHEET. Trying for a Baby. Some nutrition tips. Think about vitamin D. The British Nutrition Foundation

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1 Trying for a Baby Deciding to have a baby is a really exciting time and you will be thinking about many aspects of your life. You may take a look at your lifestyle and think about making some changes to your diet. This factsheet will provide you with some useful information to help you prepare your body for pregnancy. It is particularly important that your diet and lifestyle are healthy when you are trying for a baby and during pregnancy. This is because your eating and lifestyle habits not only influence your own health and fertility, but can also affect your growing baby, if you get pregnant. If you are planning on having a baby, this is a great chance for you to change your lifestyle and eating habits before your family grows. Your GP can check your health status and give you some tips based on your current health. It takes 2! Don t forget men are not exempt diet and lifestyle affects their fertility too! Some nutrition tips A healthy and varied diet based on starchy foods (including wholegrain varieties), with some lean meat, fish, eggs and other sources of protein and low fat dairy products with plenty of fruit and vegetables is important for good health throughout life. When you want to become pregnant, it is even more important that you follow a healthy, balanced diet to get all the nutrients you need. Dietary advice for women who are trying for a baby is mostly the same as for other adults. But there are some top tips that women who want to become pregnant should follow: Think about vitamin D Vitamin D is needed for the normal development and maintenance of bones. Between late March/early April and September, the majority of people, including most pregnant women, will probably obtain sufficient vitamin D from sunlight when they are outdoors, alongside foods that naturally contain or are fortified with vitamin D. From October to March, everyone should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D. If you don t get much sunlight exposure during the summer months (e.g. you cover up when outdoors) or you have dark skin, you should consider taking a vitamin D supplement all year round. The British Nutrition Foundation

2 Take a folic acid supplement This vitamin is particularly important before you become pregnant and also during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Extra folic acid during this time (for most women a supplement of 400 micrograms per day of folic acid is recommended) reduces the risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect (problems affecting the baby s spine and neural tubes, such as spina bifida). If there s a family history of neural tube defects, or you re taking anti-epileptic medication or you re diabetic, speak to your GP as you may need a higher dose. It is also a good idea to eat foods that are high in folate (the natural form of folic acid) found in foods like green leafy vegetables, wholegrains, nuts, peas, oranges and berries. Look at your iron intake When you re pregnant there is a chance that you could become iron deficient. Try to build up your iron stores when you re trying to become pregnant by eating a balanced diet including iron-rich foods. Good sources of iron are red meat, poultry and fish. Some plant food such as beans, dark green leafy vegetables, nuts and wholegrains also contain iron, but it is not as well absorbed into your body as the iron you eat from animal sources. However, vitamin C helps absorb the iron from plant sources. Try to include foods or drinks containing vitamin C (like orange juice, tomatoes and peppers) with your meals to increase your iron uptake! Reduce alcohol intake If you are trying to become pregnant it is best to avoid drinking alcohol. High intakes of alcohol may affect your baby s development, particularly in the early stages of pregnancy. As there may be a gap between when you conceive and when you find out that you are pregnant, it is best to simply avoid drinking alcohol during this time. If you do choose to drink alcohol, to minimise risk to the baby, the government s advice is to not have more than one to two units of alcohol once or twice a week and not to get drunk. One unit is half pint standard strength beer, lager or cider or a pub measure of spirits (25ml). A regular (175ml) glass of wine is about two units and alcopops about one and a half units. The British Nutrition Foundation

3 Limit caffeine intake You should also limit your caffeine intake when you are trying for a baby and whilst pregnant. A high caffeine intake has been linked to an increased risk of miscarriage and a low birth weight. Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, chocolate, some sports/energy drinks, some soft drinks and some cold and flu remedies. You should limit your intake of caffeine to around 200mg per day, roughly two mugs of instant coffee, one and a half mugs of filter coffee or two and a half mugs of tea. A standard bar of dark chocolate contains around 50mg caffeine, a can of energy drink contains around 80mg caffeine and a can of cola contains around 40mg caffeine. Coffee from a coffee shop or restaurant may contain higher levels of caffeine compared to coffee made at home, if you are concerned about the level of caffeine, opt for a reduced strength or decaffeinated coffee. Fish You should try to eat two portions of fish per week; at least one portion should be oily fish (such as salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines, pilchards, herring, kipper, eel and whitebait). Oily fish is rich in long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, and this type of fat is required for the development of your baby s brain. Try to stick to this recommendation when you are trying for a baby. But you should limit eating oily fish to two portions per week because contaminants that may be present in some fish can be harmful if consumed in large amounts. If you are trying for a baby or are pregnant, you should also avoid eating shark, swordfish and marlin and you should not eat more than four medium-sized cans of tuna or two fresh tuna steaks a week. This is because these fish can contain more mercury than other kinds of fish, and this may harm your baby s nervous system. The British Nutrition Foundation

4 Aim for a healthy weight Being underweight or overweight can affect your chances of becoming pregnant. Women who have too little body fat are more likely to have irregular periods (menstruation) or no periods at all, which can affect your ability to conceive. If you are very underweight and you have problems becoming pregnant, try eating a healthy diet and achieving a healthy weight to improve your fertility. Having too much body fat can also lower your fertility. Some women who have excess body fat don t ovulate (produce fertile eggs each month) normally. So if you are overweight and you want to have a baby, it can help increase your chances of becoming pregnant if you lose some weight. This is best achieved through a healthy diet and lifestyle, including regular physical activity. Very low calorie diets, fad-diets and those that exclude a wide variety of foods or a whole food group should be avoided as they can result in low intakes of some nutrients. Losing weight whilst you are pregnant is not advised as it may harm the health of the unborn child, so it is best to get to a healthy weight before you become pregnant. You are a healthy weight if you have a BMI (body mass index) between 18.5 and 25. Tip: You can easily calculate your BMI if you divide your body weight in kilograms by your height in metres and then divide the result by your height in metres again. For example if you weigh 65 kg and are 1.67 m high, the calculation is: = 23.3 A result of 23.3 means that you have a healthy body weight. The British Nutrition Foundation

5 Advice for men It is also important for men to eat a healthy, varied diet. Men should also be a healthy weight. Obese men are more likely to have low sperm counts and lower fertility. Men should also limit their alcohol intake (they should not regularly drink more than three to four units of alcohol a day one unit is equivalent to half a pint of normal strength lager or a 25ml measure of spirits). This can help improve sperm quality and increase the chance of conception. Certain nutrients are known to influence fertility in men: Selenium Selenium is needed to make healthy sperm. Foods such as Brazil nuts, fish, meat and eggs provide selenium. Zinc Low levels of zinc have also been linked to reduced testosterone levels. Men can help keep their zinc levels topped up by including meat, shellfish (such as crab), nuts and wholegrains in their diet. Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids Oily fish, such as salmon, sardines and mackerel, are a good source of longchain omega-3 fatty acids. There is some emerging research that such fatty acids may be important for sperm health but the impact of increasing omega-3 fatty acids on fertility needs further investigation. The British Nutrition Foundation

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