One of the many reasons that women, and occasionally men, come to see me for weight loss advice is because they want to start a family, but are struggling. Did you know that obesity is a major cause of difficulty getting pregnant - and can increase the risk of miscarriage or problems during pregnancy and childbirth? In fact, there is a significantly greater risk of diabetes during pregnancy if you are overweight - and this can affect the future health of your child as well as you.
Research evidence shows that being overweight can contribute to period problems, hormonal imbalances, lack of ovulation, resistance to fertility treatment and therefore fertility problems particularly in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
In women with PCOS who have infertility due to problems with ovulation, even a 10% loss in weight can result in return to normal ovulation. As such, losing weight before trying to conceive will improve the likelihood of ovulation, improve fertility and reduce the risk of problems in pregnancy and improve the chance of having a healthy baby.
In men, being obese can cause the following problems: reduced semen volume, a reduced sperm count and increased sperm DNA damage. Losing weight will improve these parameters.
So, if you are thinking of starting a family, it is a great incentive to lose weight. But you have to make sure you do it in a way that is good for you - not by fad dieting which will starve your body of essential nutrients just at the time when you and your unborn child need them most.
The good news: eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and veg, wholegrains, dairy (or alternatives) and protein at each meal will help you to reach and maintain a healthy body for conception. However there are a few nutrients to be particularly aware of when trying to get pregnant
It is advised that women hoping to become pregnant supplement their diet with folic acid from the moment you start trying to become pregnant until at least 10 weeks gestation. This is to ensure good neural development in the foetus and prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida, which can develop in the foetus. Folate-rich foods include dark green leafy veggies like kale, spinach, broccoli and cabbage and pulses such as chickpeas and lentils.
Deficiency in selenium has been found to be a risk factor for infertility; it is particularly important in sperm development, so your partner may like to consider upping his selenium intake too! Selenium rich foods include Brazil nuts (just 1 per day is enough!), seafood, egg yolk, meat and mushrooms.
Evidence on the link between caffeine and fertility is mixed. Some studies suggest that there may be a link between overconsumption of caffeine and oestrogen production or metabolism. ...and don’t forget there’s caffeine in energy drinks, cola and chocolate too!
The Department of Health advise women trying to get pregnant to avoid alcohol altogether and if you are to have some then stick to just 1-2 units (1 unit = 175ml glass wine), up to twice a week. A study conducted at Harvard University found that if undergoing IVF treatment, women who drank more than 6 units per week (which equates to less than 175ml wine per day) were 18% less likely to conceive and men were 14% less likely to conceive.
We get most of our vitamin D from the sun touching our skin, so between the months of April-September, 20 minutes of sun per day is good for us. It may also be worth going for a vitamin D supplement to boost your levels, especially in winter, aim for 10 micrograms per day, and upping your vitamin D-rich foods such as fortified breakfast cereals and dairy or alternative products, eggs and oily fish.
Baby will use up some of your iron stores during development and breast feeding, so topping up your stores and ensuring you’re not deficient in iron is important. If you have symptoms of iron deficiency such as tiredness, lethargy, hair loss or unusually pale skin, see your GP. Iron-rich sources of food are red meat, dark green leafy vegetables, pulses, eggs and fortified foods such as breakfast cereals.