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A healthy pregnancy begins long before conception. Like a garden, our bodies need to be cultivated and cared for in order to create the most fertile ground possible in which to grow a baby. Any gardener knows that infertile ground will lead to a very unimpressive yield, and so it is with us. Healthy babies are, generally speaking, grown in healthy wombs.

So how do we go about preparing our bodies for optimal fertility?

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Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet.

Yes, I realize that everyone touts “healthy” eating, but what exactly does that look like?

The one common theme shared by all health advocates and diets (ie., paleo, whole 30, keto, etc.) is this: stop eating so much sugar. Even the American Dietary Guidelines for 2015–2020 recommends consuming “an eating pattern low in added sugars.”[1]

There’s good reason for this commonality throughout all the diet recommendations: it’s true. Americans eat, on average, 22.2 teaspoons of sugar every day, whereas the normal daily limit for a woman is about 6 teaspoons.[2]

The effect of sugar, along with other high-glycemic foods (white flour, potatoes, short grain rice, etc.), on conception and fertility is astounding. A Nurses Health Study followed 18,000 women for 8 years and found that those who ate a high-glycemic diet had a 92% (!) higher chance to have ovulatory infertility.[3]

Take a prenatal with folate, not folic acid.

Both folate and folic acid are forms of vitamin B9[4], which is very important during pregnancy because it has been linked to lowered birth defects. However, folic acid is an artificial form of B9, which is not as easily absorbed into the body and can actually cause issues in women with the MTHFR gene mutation.

Of course, the very best way to get enough vitamin B9 is through whole foods. These include asparagus, avocados, brussels sprouts, and leafy greens such as spinach and lettuce. However, for pregnant women it’s often hard to get enough B9 through food alone, so I recommend a prenatal with folate as a supplement to your diet.

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Eat fish 2–3 times a week, ideally.

Fish is high in omega fats, which are very important for women who are trying to get pregnant. As stated in the National Center for Biotechnology Information regarding , “Women who consumed higher levels of omega-6, linoleic acid, and omega-3 had a higher incidence of pregnancy than those with lower intake of these nutrients.”[5]

Some fish should be avoided during pregnancy due to high mercury content, and it would probably be a good idea to avoid them when trying to conceive as well. Those fish include: Shark, Swordfish, King Mackerel, Tilefish, Bigeye Tuna (found in sushi), Marlin, Orange Roughy.[6]

It should be noted that many prenatal vitamins already contain omega-3 and omega-6, but once again getting these vitamins from food sources is the best option, although a supplement is also helpful.

Drink herbal teas.

Red Raspberry Leaf, Nettle, and Red Clover all increase fertility in both men and women. These herbs are also chock full of vitamins and minerals that are helpful in preparing and cultivating a healthy body.

Side note: starting Red Raspberry Leaf tea during the first trimester of pregnancy is not a good idea, since it is a uterine toner and could cause miscarriage. However, if you begin taking it before conception you can continue drinking it right through pregnancy (and it helps ease morning sickness, so that’s a bonus!)

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Start exercising.

I’m not saying you have to go join a CrossFit box (although if that’s your thing, go for it!), but what I am saying is that a sedentary lifestyle is not going to help your fertility (or make for a very healthy pregnancy once you conceive). Walking 1+ miles a day, swimming, biking, and even dancing are all great exercises to take up before getting pregnant.

Get off hormonal birth control ASAP.

While there are conflicting studies regarding the long-term effects of birth control on fertility, it is a well-known fact that the pill can suppress fertility for up to the first year after stopping. If you are considering trying to conceive within the next year, it would be a good idea to switch to a more natural birth control option such as Natural Family Planning (NFP). This will allow time for your hormones to rebalance and be ready for conception when you’re ready to start trying.

[1] (https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/resources/2015-2020_Dietary_Guidelines.pdf)

[2] https://health.clevelandclinic.org/how-much-sugar-are-you-eating-infographic/?utm_campaign=cc+tweets&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter&utm_content=010816+limit+sugar+infographic&dynid=twitter-_-cc+tweets-_-social-_-social-_-010816+limit+sugar+infographic

[3] https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/follow-fertility-diet

[4] https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/folic-acid-vs-folate

[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6079277/ (research found in: Altered Preconception Fatty Acid Intake Is Associated with Improved Pregnancy Rates in Overweight and Obese Women Undertaking in Vitro Fertilisation. Moran LJ, Tsagareli V, Noakes M, Norman R Nutrients. 2016 Jan 4; 8(1):.)

[6] https://www.aboutseafood.com/eating-seafood-while-pregnant-guide/