The health of your children starts before they’re even born. In fact, it starts before conception! Your health is so important in making sure that your children are healthy. That’s why, today, we’re talking about fertility diets!
If a woman’s body is deficient in nutrients before she gets pregnant, then she faces the possibility that her baby will have less than optimal health — including the possibility for disorders (like spina bifida and other neural tube dysfunctions, stemming from folate deficiency) up to, unfortunately, miscarrying that baby (a deficiency in vitamin A has been known to lead to miscarriage).
Ideally, a woman will prepare for conception starting six months before she intends to get pregnant. At this point, she should be eating a nutrient-dense “fertility diet” and not trying to do any form of cleansing or healing herself. (However, if she needs healing or cleansing, ideally she should do this before entering the “fertility diet” stage.)
If you’re already pregnant, or already trying, and have not or did not eat a fertility diet for six months prior to conception — have no fear. It’s not “ideal,” but as long as you are nourishing yourself now, everything will probably turn out fine. (I ate a SAD diet during my first pregnancy and my daughter had several allergies, which we eliminated with GAPS, but she is otherwise just fine. Eating a nourishing diet in my later pregnancies did make a difference in a lot of ways, though.) Life’s not perfect so as soon as you know what to do…do it! 🙂
Preparing to Conceive
In a perfect world, all babies would be planned. Obviously, that’s not true…but let’s talk about this for a second. Fertility is optimal for women from their late teens to their late 20s. It begins to go down a bit from there, until they enter menopause in their late 40s to 50s and are no longer fertile.
When a woman is planning to conceive a baby, it is important that she nourish her body. Now is not the time to cleanse, heal, or diet. If a woman is severely overweight or has known health problems, then she should seriously consider addressing these before attempting to conceive. Pregnancy is high-risk when a woman is not healthy, and the baby is at higher risk of developmental disorders, diabetes, genetic disorders, and so on. It’s possible to have a healthy pregnancy and baby when a woman’s health is not optimal (especially the first baby), but it’s certainly not what we want.
In addition to eating a nutrient-dense diet (and I’ll cover what that includes in just a minute), light exercise, enough sleep, and taking cod liver oil and perhaps an herbal multi-vitamin are recommended. The idea is that your body should be optimally healthy and not deficient in anything. Getting some sun to get your vitamin D levels up (including sunning your stomach) and definitely skipping the sunscreen aren’t bad options, either.
Also, be careful what you put on your skin — it will absorb into your body. Natural personal care products are great, and this is a good time to switch if you haven’t already. Try out oil cleansing or the no ‘poo method of washing your hair — it’s cheap and healthy!
What to Eat
This is the real nitty-gritty, the reason you’re probably reading. What do you eat?
Let’s start with what not to eat first:
- Artificial sweeteners
- Vegetable oils and margarine
- Canned/processed foods (especially if they have unfamiliar/unpronounceable ingredients)
- Propylene glycol (found in ice cream, food colors, and other things)
Pretty much — if it comes in a box or bag or can, and it’s a prepared food — don’t buy it! There are a few exceptions if you read labels carefully, but don’t be fooled by the claims on the front. Always read the back of the label for the full ingredients list.
What to eat:
- Pastured, raw dairy
- Whole eggs and egg yolks (pastured)
- Pastured meats (with the fat)
- Healthy fats — butter, tallow, lard, coconut oil
- Leafy greens
- Fruits and vegetables (preferably organic, when possible)
- Properly prepared whole grains
- Fermented foods
- Water or pregnancy tea (or both)
Ideally, all — or at least the majority — of what you eat should be nourishing. This is especially crucial during pre-conception and trying to conceive when you are building up your nutrient stores and don’t have to deal with any morning sickness. It is harder to eat well during pregnancy sometimes for that reason! For ideas on how to make this simple and several yummy recipes, check out my book Healthy Pregnancy Super Foods.
Some women have noted that when they were struggling with infertility, eating a more nutrient-dense diet aimed at increasing fertility (as described above) helped them to regulate their cycles and become pregnant naturally. This is an important consideration for many women these days, and the role of nutrition in fertility shouldn’t be overlooked.
Fertility Flower Can Help
Fertility Flower, a great service to help women track their cycles and conceive, has an excellent list (that you can use as an actual checklist!).
This is a great service is because it can be hard to sit and say, “Hmm, did I eat what I was supposed to today?” Fertility Flower allows you to check off what you’ve eaten so that you can easily keep track. I know that in many of my “healthy women and babies” groups, people are always saying “What was that diet again? I can’t remember!” This checklist is perfect because it’s readily accessible, and it’s there when you’re checking on your other fertility things. It also gives the ideal number of servings per day.
Speaking of “other fertility things….” In addition to their diet checklist, they also have checklists for various symptoms (the most extensive lists I’ve ever seen on a fertility site), a method for tracking your cycle and predicting ovulation (once it knows your “normal” of course), and lots of extra help. If you’re trying to conceive and think you may be missing the “window of opportunity,” or maybe you’re just someone who really wants to take it all seriously, check out Fertility Flower. 🙂 I know I loved charting and watching patterns and hoping when I was trying for my first!
Once pregnant, it’s important to continue eating the same nutrient-dense foods. I have posted before on pregnancy diet. Eat what you can! It’s hard sometimes.
A Note on Child Spacing
Traditional cultures spaced children 3 – 5 years apart. This is because a woman’s nutrient stores tend to be depleted by pregnancy and breastfeeding. Consuming a nourishing diet and weaning one baby at least six months before you get pregnant with the next is recommended so that you can rebuild your nutrient stores with the same type of nourishing diet described above.
Of course, people have a variety of reasons for spacing their children the way they do, and many and willing to tandem nurse. It is possible to be healthy even if your children are spaced a bit more closely or if you are still breastfeeding. This depends on your body.
If you have any reason to believe that your health is not ideal, hold off on having another baby for awhile. It will be better for you and for him/her. Magnesium deficiency is common, and transdermal supplementation may be necessary to build up your stores again. When in doubt, wait and nourish yourself first. Pregnancy takes a lot out of you!
**This post is sponsored by Fertility Flower. But I do think it’s awesome service and very real-food friendly for those looking for a way to organize their natural family planning or conception efforts.**
Do you eat, or did you eat a fertility diet in preparation for your pregnancy(ies)? Do you feel that it helped?
I disagree that in an ideal world, all babies would be planned. Maybe I’d say that all married women should be prepared for pregnancy. (I started preparing for pregnancy when I got engaged!) But I think our bodies (and God!) know a little better than we do when we are ready to get pregnant, whether for the first or subsequent times. For instance, the reason people in traditional cultures don’t get pregnant soon after a birth is because they practice ecological breastfeeding. Their bodies, on their own, signal when the last baby is nursing little enough for the body to be ready for another. I try to honor this same process, without planning every pregnancy.
Sheila, well — anticipated. Expected. Welcomed. 🙂 As in, pregnancy shouldn’t be unwanted. And ideally a woman is nourishing herself all the time, especially if she anticipates that she could conceive. The only problem with ecological breastfeeding in a modern society is that even if you do it right (on demand/around the clock), the extra hormones in our foods sometimes make fertility return sooner than it otherwise would. You can read what Amy from Raising Arrows said about this — she found in her early pregnancies her fertility returned just a few months postpartum. But once she made a conscious effort to cut the extra hormones from her diet (choosing pastured meats, for example), it was much longer. So we must be cautious to realize if our bodies are truly ready or if some external factor is influencing us.
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Thanks for this post. It can be so, so hard to hear these recommendations when you are wanting to conceive ASAP, both in regards to waiting 6 months to build up your nutrient stores or the child spacing. Waiting is an unpopular concept in general, and these recommendations are quite different from what you hear in the mainstream! For a long time I’d eagerly had my eye on September to quit contraception and be open to a first baby, but recently learning about GAPS diet and the possibility of healing some mild allergies I have makes me feel convicted that I should take care of that to spare a future baby from inheriting those things from me. And just this week I’ve realized I have adrenal exhaustion, and that my body wouldn’t be ready to take on a pregnancy. It’s a little discouraging. It makes me realize how I have been thinking of a baby more as a commodity than I’d realized, because I have to strong-arm myself into admitting that providing an optimal environment for my (future) baby is more important than my timing preferences and desire to hurry!
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