What to Eat When You’re Trying to Conceive


A good friend recently told me that she was trying to conceive, and then launched into this hilarious b*tch-fest over all the dos and don’ts she’s now faced with as a result of her baby dreams. It’s true. You think the off-limits food and drink rules only begin the day you pee on a stick and get that glorious BFP, but it’s actually much more involved. From the second you decide to try to get pregnant, it’s time to get serious about what you eat and drink. Studies show that diet can effect on fertility, from egg health to hormone levels and beyond. We’ve got the most up-to-date list of fertility boosting foods, and a few that you should stay away from, too. Think of this as the ultimate fertility diet…

1. Fill up on fruits and veggies. That means eating five servings of both fruits and veggies, every day. According to Jennifer Hirshfeld-Cytron, MD, an ob-gyn and reproductive endocrinologist with Fertility Centers of Illinois, fruits and veggies stop free radicals (unstable uncharged molecules in search of electrons to pair with) from spinning out of control. “Excessive free radicals in the body can cause DNA damage to eggs, as well as deteriorate the egg cell membrane and inhibit fertilization,” she explains. Antioxidants from fruits and veggies are great at zapping free radicals, so fill up on such high-antioxidant choices as spinach, red beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, broccoli, blueberries, cherries, cranberries, and artichokes.

2. Eat herbs and spices. Herbs and spices are another way to get those awesome antioxidants that protect our cells from free radicals. Sprinkling fresh or dried herbs into the dishes you cook at home is a great, easy way to add nutrients (and flavor!) to your food. Try ginger, turmeric, clove, cinnamon, sage, oregano, and marjoram. 

3. Don’t skimp on protein. Dr. Hirshfeld-Cytron says that  25 percent of your overall diet should be comprised of protein to help boost embryo development. Based on a 1,800-calorie-a-day diet, women should aim to get about 113 grams of protein a day. Some great high-protein ideas include an egg, three ounces of fish, two tablespoons almond butter, or one ounce of cheese — each of which contain 7 grams of protein and can be snacked on throughout the day.

4. Get your Omega-3s. These healthy fats improve embryo development and baseline estrogen levels. “By focusing on ‘healthy fats,’ you’ll be heart and fertility healthy,” says Dr. Hirshfelt-Cytron. Great options filled with Omega-3s include fish oil (in capsule form), salmon, sardines, flax oil, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, and walnuts. 

5. Skip Omega-6s. It can reduce egg quality, lower egg production, and mess up estrogen and progesterone levels, so stay away from processed foods containing plant oils (like corn, sunflower, and soybean). 

6. Don’t eat processed meats. According to The World Health Organization, ham, bacon, sausage, and hot dogs are carcinogens and probably cause cancer—yikes! – so keep your diet as clean as possible by eating meats that are high in protein, vitamins, and minerals (like zinc and magnesium). Try eating boneless, skinless chicken breasts; turkey cutlets; and lean beef cuts (like roasts, top loin, top sirloin, and “90 percent lean” ground beef for burgers).

7. Restrict alcohol consumption. The occasional drink is okay, but if you know your cycle, skip the booze between the time you ovulate and your next period. If you get your period, you can have a glass of wine, but studies show that drinking can definitely decrease your chances of getting pregnant. “In a study of 221 couples undergoing IVF, female drinking during the year prior to treatment was associated with a 13 percent decrease in the number of eggs for each additional drink consumed,” says Dr. Hirshfeld-Cytron.

8. Quit smoking. Need yet another reason to quit? Smokers require twice as many fertility treatments as non-smokers. According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, smokers frequently can’t conceive, they produce inferior eggs, have more miscarriages, preterm deliveries, and/or experience hypertension during pregnancy. Talk to your healthcare provider if you need help kicking the habit.

9. Take vitamins and supplements for a fertility boost. Your friends or doctor might have specific brand recommendations, but make sure you’re taking:

Prenatal Vitamins. A pregnant or TTC woman’s best friend is folic acid, which is known to help prevent birth defects. Make sure your prenatal contains folic acid (400 mcg), calcium (200-300 mg, for bone strength/development), iron (17mg, to help blood carry oxygen), zinc (10-15mg, to help DNA production and function), and copper (1 mg, for production of red blood cells). Plus, your prenatal should have vitamins D, C, A, and E.

Related: Secrets to Finding the Best Prenatal Vitamin for You & Your Baby

Co-enzyme Q10. Although we all have this nutrient in our bodies naturally, taking 200 mg three times a day can act as an antioxidant, and boost mitochondria function which will improve the quality of eggs.

Fish Oil (EPA/DHA). We already mentioned the importance of Omega-3, but 1,200 to 1,500 mg of EPA + DHA daily can additionally aid with egg quality and reproductive function in older women who are TTC.

Melatonin. According to Dr. Hirshfeld-Cytron, taking 3 mg of melatonin daily can boost antioxidants, as well as give your ovaries extra support and help you sleep. “This may be particularly important for night shift workers whose circadian rhythms are negatively impacted by the schedule shift.” However, once you get pregnant you should only continue to take your prenatal vitamin, unless your healthcare provider recommends additional supplements, she adds, since many vitamins haven’t been studied in pregnant women. 

10. Get to your optimal weight. Your Body Mass Index has a huge effect on your ability to get pregnant. In fact, being overweight or underweight is known to mess with hormone patterns and maybe even stop your period. Additionally, excessive exercise or obesity can make already-crazy free radicals even crazier, and lead to reduced fertility and egg quality. Aim for keeping your BMI between 19 and 25 (get your BMI here).

11. Get moving. If you need help getting your weight under control, as little as 30 minutes of physical activity per day could help. You don’t have to become a body builder, just go for a brisk walk, hit the elliptical machine at the gym, or do a workout online. “Exercising consistently will positively impact fertility and weight loss,” says Dr. Hirshfeld-Cytron. She also recommends investing in a fitness tracker, like FitBit or Jawbone, which can help keep your fitness goals and progress on track.

Sounds like a lot, but once you establish a routine, it should be pretty easy to maintain. Keep in mind though, if this is going to be a big shift, you should definitely consult your health care provider before jumping in. 

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