Couples should change their lifestyle up to two years before trying for a baby
Couples wanting to conceive should overhaul their lifestyle up to two years before they start trying for a baby, an expert has warned.
Three months, which is typically advised, is not long enough if couples are starting with an unhealthy weight or lifestyle, according to reproductive biologist Grace Dugdale.
Instead both women and men should be trying to slim down to a healthy weight well before they think about starting a family.
Couples wanting to conceive should overhaul their lifestyle up to two years before they start trying for a baby, an expert has warned
They should consider cutting down on alcohol and starting taking multivitamins well in advance of a women getting pregnant.
That is because it can take a full year for many people to lose weight in a sensible way, or adjust to a healthy diet containing the nutrients thought to boost fertility.
Then it can take several months for those changes to kick in and affect a woman’s eggs, with men seeing the results in their sperm count about three months after making changes.
Miss Dugdale gave advice on the importance of nutrition at Manchester Fertility Conference last weekend.
Miss Dugdale said: ‘The standard advice is to allow three months before conception to take folic acid and live healthily, but that does not give people enough time to make the necessary changes.
‘Couples get married, then they wait until they have problems conceiving before making the changes to their diet and lifestyle that could help them, and it is heartbreaking if they then end up with fertility problems that might have been solved earlier.
‘Basic things like getting their vitamin D checked can make a big difference. If people allowed themselves time to follow a healthy diet and reach a healthy weight earlier, it really would make a difference to so many people.’
Studies suggest up to one in 10 men could improve their fertility by making changes to their lifestyle such as exercising three times a week, eating nuts and leafy greens and drinking moderately.
Both women and men should be trying to slim down to a healthy weight and should also consider cutting down on alcohol and starting taking multivitamins
For women, there is emerging evidence that vitamin D, found in oily fish, red meat and some fortified breakfast cereals, can help them to fall pregnant by allowing the embryo to implant in the wall of the womb.
Miss Dugdale said many pre-conception tablets sold on the high street may not contain the right ingredients to correct deficiencies.
But women should think before they conceive about topping up iodine, found in dairy products and fish, as those with low levels could be delayed getting pregnant and affect the development of their baby.
Extra omega 3, either through supplements or foods like oily fish and algae, are helpful when trying to conceive as most people don’t get enough in their diet.
Experts generally advise a Mediterranean diet and home-cooking, and many women trying to conceive are low in iron and zinc.
Miss Dugdale, who runs Balance Fertility and offers free pre-conception care courses at Leeds Fertility, said: ‘It is important to be a healthy weight before conceiving because being overweight can affect egg quality.
‘A mother’s weight and diet around the time of conception and immediately before has a significant effect on the future health of the baby.
‘Cutting down on alcohol is important to avoid creating a toxic environment for your eggs and a developing embryo.’