Deciding to have a baby is a really exciting time and you will be thinking about many aspects of your life. However, you may also take a look at your lifestyle and think about making some changes to your diet. This section will provide you with some useful information to make sure that your body is well prepared for pregnancy.
It is particularly important that your diet and lifestyle are healthy when you are trying for a baby and during pregnancy. This is because your eating and lifestyle habits not only influence your own health and fertility, but can also affect your growing baby. If you are planning on having a baby, this is a great chance for you to change your lifestyle and eating habits before your family grows.
Your GP can check your health status and give you some tips based on your current health!
Find some nutrition advice for the time while you are trying for a baby on the next page.
You can also find lots of information about diet and health before, during and after pregnancy in our Nutrition for Baby section.
Some nutrition tips
A healthy varied diet based on starchy foods and with moderate amounts of lean meat, fish eggs and other sources of protein, low fat dairy products and fruit and vegetables is important for good health throughout life. When you want to become pregnant, it is even more important that you get all the nutrients you need.
The diet you should eat when trying to become pregnant is basically the same as the one recommended for the general population – find more detailed information about a healthy diet here.
But there are some tips that women who want to become pregnant should follow:
Take a folic acid supplement
This vitamin is particularly important before you become pregnant and also during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Extra folic acid during this time (400 micrograms per day for most women or more for women at higher risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect as advised by their GP) reduces the risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect.
Vitamin D is really important during pregnancy to help build your growing baby’s bones and all pregnant and breastfeeding women are advised to take a vitamin D supplement (10 micrograms per day).
Low vitamin D status is relatively common in the UK population. Women with darker skin, for example those of South Asian, African or Caribbean origin and women who rarely expose themselves to sunlight because they cover their skin or spend long periods indoors, are recommended to take a vitamin D supplement. If you are trying for a baby this may be a good time to consider taking a vitamin D supplement to ensure your stores are topped up for your pregnancy.
This vitamin is important for good health and also for a healthy development of your baby, but large amounts can be harmful for your baby. You should not take any supplements containing vitamin A (also watch out for multivitamin supplements). Further, you should avoid liver and liver products because they contain a lot of vitamin A.
Look at your iron intake
When you are pregnant there is a chance that you could become iron deficient. When you’re trying to become pregnant you should try to build up your iron stores, by choosing plenty of iron-rich foods. Good sources of iron are red meat, poultry and fish. Some plant food such as beans, dark green leafy vegetables, nuts and wholegrains also contain iron, but it is less available to your body compared to iron from animal sources. Vitamin C helps absorb the iron from plant sources; so a small glass of orange juice with your meal can increase your iron uptake!
Reduce alcohol intake
If you are trying to become pregnant you should either stop drinking altogether or reduce your alcohol intake to one to two units per week. Avoid binge drinking.
What is a unit? Here are some examples of approximately how many units can be found in drinks:
- Half a pint of lower strength beer or lager 1 unit
- A small single shot (25ml) of spirits such as vodka or whiskey: 1 unit
- 1 alcopop (275 ml) 1.5 units
- 1 pint of lower strength larger or beer 2 units
- A standard glass (175ml of 12% ABV) of wine 2 units
- A large glass (250ml of 12% ABV) of wine 3 units
- 1 pint of strong lager 3 units
Limit caffeine intake
You should also limit your caffeine intake when you are trying for a baby. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) suggests that women who are pregnant should consume no more than 200mg caffeine a day.
The amount of caffeine in food and drink will vary, but as a guide each of these contains roughly 200mg or less of caffeine:
- 2 mugs of instant coffee (100mg each)
- 1 mug of filter coffee (140mg each)
- 2 mugs of tea (75mg each)
- 5 cans of cola (up to 40mg each)
- 2 cans of 'energy' drink (up to 80mg each)
- 4 (50g) bars of plain chocolate (up to 50 mg each). Caffeine in milk chocolate is about half that of plain chocolate
In the course of a healthy diet you should try to eat two portions of fish per week; at least one portion should be oily types of fish. Fish is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, and this type of fat is required for the development of the central nervous system of a baby. Try to stick to this recommendation when you are trying for a baby to fill up your stores before you get pregnant. But you should avoid eating any more than two portions of oily fish per week because of contaminants that may be present in some fish that can be harmful if consumed in large amounts.
When trying for a baby you should avoid eating shark, swordfish and marlin and you should not eat more than four medium-sized cans of tuna or two fresh tuna steaks a week. This is because the mercury sometimes present in these particular, large fish could potentially harm your baby’s nervous system.
Advice for men
Reducing alcohol intake and eating a healthy, varied diet can help increase sperm quality.
Did you know that your weight status can influence your fertility? Go to the next page to find out more about it!
Aim for a healthy weight
Your body weight can affect your fertility. Being a healthy weight may increase your chances of becoming pregnant.
Women who have too little body fat often have irregular periods or no periods at all. This is probably because a particular level of body fat (and food intake) is required to support a healthy pregnancy. If you are very skinny and you have problems becoming pregnant, you could try to put on some weight. Gaining weight usually restores your fertility.
Having too much body fat can also lower your fertility. Some women who have excess body fat don’t ovulate (produce fertile eggs each month) normally . So if you are overweight and you want to have a baby, it can help increase your chances of becoming pregnant if you lose some weight. Crash dieting is not a good idea, especially when trying for a baby as it may mean your body does not get all the nutrients it needs. Aim for a healthy rate of weight loss (1-2lbs / 0.5-1kg of weight loss a week) with a healthy varied diet and increased physical activity. For more information about healthy weight loss, click here.
You are a healthy weight if you have a BMI (body mass index) between 18.5 and 25.
Tip: You can easily calculate your BMI if you divide your body weight in kilograms by your height in metres and then divide the result by your height in metres again. For example if you are 1.67 m high and weigh 65 kg, the calculation is: 65 ÷ 1.67 ÷ 1.67= 23.3. A result of 23.3 means that you have a healthy body weight.
Last reviewed 04/01/2013. Next review due 04/01/2016