Nutrition and Baby Planning
Eating your way towards better fertility! Nutrition and dietary supplements for those who want to have a baby:
Are you planning to have a baby in the near future? Then now is exactly the right time to think about your diet. Studies show that the better a woman is supplied with folic acid, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamins such as C, D and E, the more likely she is to have a healthy baby.
That's why it's best to start by taking stock, for example: How often do you eat spinach, dark green leafy salads, cabbage or legumes, which provide you with folic acid? Are you getting enough omega-3 fatty acids, for example from algae or fatty sea fish? Are you getting enough vitamin C and magnesium from fresh, plant-based foods? Do you use high-quality vegetable oils or eat nuts for your vitamin E supply? And do you spend enough time outdoors during the day to boost your vitamin D production?
Well supplied even before ovulation
If nutritional supplements - in technical terms: supplements - are useful for you, current research suggests that they should be taken 6 to 8 weeks before conception (1). Why so early? There are four good reasons:
- An optimal nutrient level increases the chance of the perfect interaction of fertility hormones - the chance that you will get pregnant and stay pregnant increases.
- The uterine lining can build up particularly well in this way - the best conditions for a stable pregnancy.
- This is the only way you can have a positive influence on the development and supply of the egg and the embryo right from the start - when you don't have your period, conception has already taken place about two weeks ago.
- You will feel fitter and more comfortable during pregnancy if your body is not lacking key nutrients.
Additionally, you can have your vitamin and nutrient status checked by your family doctor or gynecologist at any time!
Vitamins, minerals, trace elements for fertility
As early as 1992, a study involving more than 8,000 participants found that the supply of nutrients can influence fertility. Half of the women received supplements with copper, manganese, zinc and vitamin C, while the other half received supplements with the same and additional nutrients. These included vitamins A, D and E, B vitamins, iron, folic acid, and magnesium. In the group supplementing the variety of nutrients, significantly more women became pregnant during the nine-month study period than in the control group2.
Folic acid, we now know, may have played a role here, but a second study in 2012 suggested that other vitamins, trace elements, and minerals, are also important for fertility. All 58 participants wanted a baby, suffered from luteal insufficiency, and were treated with clomiphene. In addition, some of the women were given supplements containing the above nutrients as well as iodide. The control group received folic acid only. The women taking the multivitamin supplements were more likely to become and remain pregnant3.
There are now detailed results on some nutrients and their effect on fertility:
- Folic acid increases the probability of becoming pregnant within a short time. In addition, taking it even before conception can reduce the risk of a neural tube defect (e.g. spina bifida / "open back") by up to 100 percent. It also reduces the risk of heart defects and cleft lip and palate in the offspring1,2.
- Vitamin E in addition to fertility treatment causes the endometrium (the lining of the uterus) to build up more1.
- Omega-3 fatty acids, taken before in vitro fertilization, improve the prospects for high-quality embryos, a successful pregnancy, and a mentally and physically healthy baby1.
- Vitamin C improves the likelihood of pregnancy in women with luteal insufficiency1.
- A high level of vitamin D increases the chance of pregnancy in women undergoing fertility treatments. It also provides some protection against bacterial vaginosis (amine colpitis), which can lead to preterm delivery1.
- Iodine deficiency is associated with fertility problems1.
It should be noted, of course, that the studies mentioned included women with an unfulfilled desire to have children and that the supplements were mostly taken as part of fertility treatment. If your health and fertility are unimpaired, you spend time outdoors every day, and you eat a balanced diet, your levels of the above nutrients may be perfect "just so". If you have any doubts, please ask a doctor you trust.
Nutrients for dad too!
If you want to eat (and drink) more nutrients from now on to create the best conditions for your pregnancy, it's best to involve the future father as well! Even though the influence of nutrition on male fertility has not yet been extensively researched, it is clear that vitamins and minerals are also indispensable for optimal sperm quality and motility4.
There are impressive study results on vitamins A, B12, C, D, and E. If the man is well supplied with them, the chance of a high number of healthy, fully motile sperm in the ejaculate increases. Folic acid, iron, and calcium also support fertility, as do omega-3 fatty acids4. However, it is also true for your partner: Wild supplementation is not very useful. If he doubts that his nutrient supply is sufficient, he can also ask his doctor for a blood test and ask for advice.
Coffee in moderation - yes, alcohol and cigarettes - no
The most sophisticated supplements are of little use if toxins disrupt the sperm, the egg, or both. In the past, it was sometimes said that drinking a lot of coffee was contraception. However, this is by no means true for men. According to studies, coffee drinkers produce more testosterone and more sperm. At most, extremely high coffee consumption is currently considered harmful4.
It's a little different for you: morning coffee doesn't get in the way of your desire to have a child. However, if you drink more than two cups of coffee a day, it becomes a concern, even during pregnancy. According to a Danish study, fertility is even impaired after five cups a day - this was shown in studies with women who were already considered subfertile and were undergoing fertility treatments5. That's why less is more now.
Coffee aside, the sooner you both manage to steer clear of alcohol and cigarettes, the better your pregnancy will start.
After the positive test: Which supplements are good for you and when?
Hooray, it worked! Congratulations. Now you are certainly very motivated to keep your - or rather your joint - nutrient supply in the healthy range. To keep your body happy, and your baby’s growing body happy too, here are some important facts:
If folic acid is supplemented after pregnancy has been established, the risk of a neural tube defect can still be greatly reduced1.
With a high vitamin D level, you can go some way toward preventing allergies and asthma in your child and lower the risk of premature birth1.
Iodine helps keep your thyroid balanced and your child's thyroid developing at its best. Iodine supply is also crucial for brain development1.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for the development of your child's brain, neural pathways and vision. Supplements containing the omega-3 fatty acid DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) have been shown in studies to have a positive effect on embryo growth in early pregnancy and to reduce the risk of premature birth in late pregnancy1.
Iron is needed by your baby and you for blood formation. Your baby's oxygen supply and brain development also use a lot of iron. With a pronounced iron deficiency in pregnant women, the risk of premature birth also increases (8). However, because an excess of iron also increases the risk of premature birth and can also have other undesirable effects on your health, you should not buy supplements on suspicion, but have your iron status checked during pregnancy10.
Basically, in the event of a nutrient deficiency, your baby will be taken care of first, then it's your turn. So don't worry too much overall and rely on your appetite, your overall well-being and your "gut feeling" to tell you when something is missing. If in doubt, or if you have any questions, contact your doctor.
The German Federal Center for Nutrition (BZfE) generally recommends that women who want to have children eat a balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals. In addition, the experts recommend the following nutrient intake per day of pregnancy:
- 400μg folic acid
- 20μg vitamin D
- 200mg DHA, unless you eat fatty sea fish once or twice a week
- 100(-150) μg iodine
- Iron if you have a proven deficiency11.
From a gynecological point of view, there is a lot to be said for starting with the extra nutrient-rich diet or supplements as soon as you are consciously practicing for a baby1.
Whether you manage everything through your diet or take the extra nutrients through supplements: You will see that the new habits will become second nature to you within a short time. You'll soon get used to them and be happy that you've set the course for a healthy, active life with your baby.
1) Bühling, K.J. Ernährung und Nahrungsergänzungsmittel bei Kinderwunsch der Frau. Gynäkologische Endokrinologie 17, 3–10 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10304-018-0229-4
2) Czeizel AE, Dudás I, Vereczkey A, Bánhidy F. Folate deficiency and folic acid supplementation: the prevention of neural-tube defects and congenital heart defects. Nutrients. 2013 Nov 21;5(11):4760-75. https://dx.doi.org/10.3390/nu5114760
3) Agrawal R, Burt E, Gallagher AM, Butler L, Venkatakrishnan R, Peitsidis P. Prospective randomized trial of multiple micronutrients in subfertile women undergoing ovulation induction: a pilot study. Reprod Biomed Online. 2012 Jan;24(1):54-60.https://www.rbmojournal.com/article/S1472-6483(11)00536-0/fulltext
4) Vanderhout SM, Rastegar Panah M, Garcia-Bailo B, Grace-Farfaglia P, Samsel K, Dockray J, Jarvi K, El-Sohemy A. Nutrition, genetic variation and male fertility. Transl Androl Urol. 2021 Mar;10(3):1410-1431. doi: 10.21037/tau-20-592