A common question that I am asked as a fertility dietitian and nutritionist, is “when should I start a fertility diet?”
It is never too early to start thinking about your diet with respect to your future fertility!
After all, you carry your eggs with you from when you were in your mother’s belly, which means what you eat, drink and expose yourself to across your life really does add up when it comes to egg quality.
It is never too early to start thinking about your fertility diet
But… here is my answer depending on some common issues I see amongst women I work with.
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If you’re healthy with no diagnoses
I would strongly recommend you take 3 months (as a couple, by the way) to focus on your nutrition and lifestyle before starting to conceive.
So, why 3 months?
Well, this is because it takes about 90 days for an egg to mature. So that means the eggs that are starting the process of maturation today, will be released in the process of ovulation in 3 months time.
So, nourishing yourself in the 3 months leading up is key to support optimal egg health and build up critical nutrient stores such as iron, iodine and folate which are needed in early pregnancy in increased amounts.
Going into pregnancy deficient leaves you well and truly behind the eight ball.
This is also the time period you should start a prenatal supplement containing folic acid and iodine. More on this in my blog post on how to choose a prenatal vitamin.
For those of you with men as your significant other, it takes about 64-72 days for a sperm to fully mature, so what your man is eating in the 3 months leading up to conception can impact sperm quality too.
Bottom line is at least 3 months if you are in good health.
If you have a diagnosis affecting fertility
If you have a diagnosis that you are aware of that affects your fertility such as:
- Insulin Resistance
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Primary Ovarian Insufficiency (POI)
- Thyroid issues such as hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
- History of an eating disorder
- Known issue with sperm health or quality
I would recommend if you know you have one of these conditions and you want to have a baby one day (but not necessarily sometime soon) start working on your diet and nutrition, as soon as you can!
Try and get started with a dietitian when ready after a diagnosis to ensure your diet is tailored to your exact needs to promote optimal future fertility
Prevention is better than a cure, wherever possible, so ensuring your diet and lifestyle is supporting your unique medical needs well before trying to conceive is key.
If your body fat is too low or too high
Body fat being too low or too high can cause your body to stop ovulating, which is critical when it comes to trying to conceive.
If you have very low body fat due to an active or past eating disorder, or being a competitive athlete, your body will shut down many reproductive processes and often cease ovulation completely.
Without ovulation, or the monthly release of an egg, conceiving unassisted cannot occur. Replenishing body fat stores by eating well is crucial to help reinstate regular ovulation and a regular period too.
If your body fat levels are above where they usually are, or have increased over your lifetime, then working on this well in advance of conceiving is a good idea.
Carrying extra body fat can be a cause of hormone imbalance, as fat can produce its own estrogen, and can lead to anovulation.
You don’t have to make drastic weight changes, but sustainable and incremental shifts in body fat can help improve the chances of ovulation naturally, and improve the response to some ovulation medications and IVF too.
Allow 6-12 months or more, if you are trying to change your body composition before conceiving to optimise your chances.
In the case of making significant body composition shifts, I recommend allowing 6-12 months, if not more, to ensure healthy sustainable changes occur and you avoid crash dieting or rapid dietary changes which may be harmful to your health, such as intermittent fasting.