Finally, you and your spouse have decided that now is the time to begin ‘trying’. You’ve agreed that you want to start a family. Let’s look into the journey of our reader Zarina Summers* and her husband Robert*. Zarina and Robert were trying for a baby for seven years with no luck. Yet in December she told us that she was expecting her first child. What was their key to success? Her doctor firmly believes it was her weight loss, achieved by making simple, healthy lifestyle changes. From about June until November 2010, Zarina lost fifteen kilograms (kg); her husband lost 8 kgs as well. A healthy body mass index (BMI) is between 20 and 25; it’s also important to not be too thin or underweight for pregnancy.
Being overweight can also play havoc with your ovulation. You might have to take medication to induce ovulation. Fat tissue can lead to excess production ofoestrogen, and as a result, overweight women may have hormonal imbalances that can prevent ovulation.
There are emotional and physical health risks associated with conceiving when you’re overweight. Women who are overweight are at risk of having an excessively large foetus, which can lead to an increased risk of needing a C-section [which can be more complicated in heavier women] or a traumatic delivery which could injure both mother and baby. Overweight women are also at increased risk of developing diabetes of pregnancy. Diabetes of pregnancy is associated with excessive foetal growth, as well as metabolic problems like low blood sugar and jaundice in the newborn. Very heavy women also tend to be less active, which is a real risk factor for developing venous thrombosis, a blood clot in the lower extremities that can travel to the lungs and be life-threatening.
Before attempting other fertility treatments, Zarina says she and her husband wanted to try losing weight naturally, as their doctor recommended to them at their first visit. “Something we always wanted to do was to lose weight, but we just ignored advice,” she says. Now with the long-time dream of having a baby at stake, they were motivated to exercise, limit sugar and eat more whole grains. Exercising regularly and eating healthy meals and snacks are two important areas to focus on to boost your health and to increase your fertility, experts say. To maximise fertility, maintain an optimal weight – or lose weight if you’re overweight or obese. The best way to accomplish an ideal weight is to exercise regularly for the rest of your life.
Exercise is really the closest shield factor to protect and to improve your health; there is nothing that comes closer. If you can regularly exercise, your general health will be better. Exercise can help you lose weight, reduce stress and improve sleep. In turn, all of those benefits can increase your fertility factors. People that exercise feel better about their bodies, so they enjoy having sex more. You’re more vibrant when you exercise. Let’s face it – you can’t get pregnant if you’re not having sex.
Zarina brought up her treadmill from her basement and put it in their bedroom. “It’s the first thing I see in the morning now,” she says. “I get on it right after I wake up.” Keep in mind that too much exercise can impair fertility; exercising too vigorously impacts your oestrogen levels, so be mindful of your body’s state of balance. If you’re not already exercising, EPP recommends starting out slowly and building up to at least 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise. This is what Zarina did – she started at 10 minutes on the treadmill and built up to 30 minutes.
Your Fertility Diet
Maximising fertility through your diet doesn’t need to be complicated. There are foods to avoid and those you can add into your day to enhance your health. For starters, never skip breakfast and do consume small, frequent meals. Zarina never ate breakfast before she went on her weight loss plan. Now she never misses it, even if it’s just a bowl of cereal. Strictly avoid the highly refined, high glycemic ‘bad’ white carbohydrates. These include white flour, white rice, white potatoes, sugar and products containing them. Consume your carbohydrates from food items with a low to moderate glycemic index – vegetables, some fruits, beans and whole grains.
Zarina believes her biggest barrier to losing weight in the past was eating too much white sugar. She has cut it out completely from her diet. When she has a sugar craving, Zarina reaches for a piece of fruit and that satisfies her.
When the weight-loss journey began, Zarina cleared out all junk food from her house. She filled three giant garbage bags with foods she no longer wanted to be tempted by. These included frozen pizzas, pre-packaged meals, cookies and potato chips (crisps).
When she was losing weight, Zarina says she never felt like she was ‘on a diet’. She ate six smaller meals a day, rather than eating two larger meals a day as she once did. Previously, she and her husband also ate out four times a week. Now, every Friday and Saturday she takes the time to plan and to prepare for the meals they’ll eat at home that week.
Reducing Your Stress
Being under extreme stress affects fertility. If your life is so stressful that it’s interfering with your reproductive health, look at what’s going on in your life. Re-evaluate your job and relationships and try to bring your life into better balance.
Enjoy stress-reducing activities, such as listening to calming music, reading and knitting.
Rather than watching television, walk outside in nature as often as you can. Being surrounded by green leaves and blue sky has great benefits for enhancing your health and fertility.
Massage, yoga and acupuncture also have been shown to reduce stress and boost fertility.
Fill up on Folic Acid
You may not know you are pregnant for many weeks. To be on the safe side, start taking prenatal vitamins today. While folic acid can be found in leafy green vegetables, dried beans, peas and fortified breakfast cereals, it’s difficult to eat the required amount. Therefore, doctors recommend women take a daily prenatal vitamin. The recommended dose of folic acid each day may help prevent brain and spinal cord birth defects when taken during the earliest stage of pregnancy. The recommended amount is 400 micrograms.
Watch What You Eat
Do your fats right, by strictly avoiding trans fats. These are processed foods containing hydrogenated oils, shortening and stick margarine. Minimise your intake of saturated fats – fatty cuts of meats, butter and whole dairy products. Instead, maximise your consumption of Omega-3 fats. This can be achieved by eating more oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, lake trout and herring. Other Omega-3 rich foods include walnuts, soy foods, canola oil, flax seed and dark leafy greens.
Another tip is to limit your consumption of red meat – beef, pork and lamb – to two servings a week or less.
Eat as many veggies as possible. Aim for five or more servings a day.
Limit fruit to two servings a day. The best fruits are all berries, cherries, apples, whole citrus, pears, plums, apricots (dried or fresh) and peaches.
Consume your grain products strictly from whole grain sources. The best are pearled barley, rye and oats.
Eat more beans. Strive to have one serving a day. The best are soybeans, lentils, kidney beans, pinto beans, navy beans, chick peas, black beans and butter beans.
Buy a good pregnancy book. We highly recommend Elizabeth Somer M.A., R.D.’s Nutrition for a Healthy Pregnancy: The Complete Guide to Eating Before, During and After Your Pregnancy (Henry Holt & Company, 1995). Somer does an excellent job of putting together an easily understandable explanation of what to eat, what changes to expect, great tips, recipes – you name it, she covers it. It is a very thorough book on nutrition and pregnancy.
- Names changed to protect privacy.
Aim for 30 minutes, five days a week. If you’re trying to lose weight, set a goal of 45 minutes, five days a week. Low-impact exercise – walking, bicycling and swimming – is best for those trying to increase fertility.
At every meal and snack time, consume some high-quality protein. Blood glucose and insulin levels are more stable and appetite is minimised with regular consumption of protein. More specifically, eat more fruits and vegetables, eliminate the bad carbohydrates, cut back on alcohol and drink more than eight glasses of water a day.
Exercising and eating right help your body to more efficiently fight off stress. In addition, don’t underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep. Most people need seven to eight hours of sleep each night.