What is nutrition?
Nutrition is about eating food that gives your body what it needs to stay healthy and work properly. The main nutrients your body needs are proteins, carbohydrates, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals.
Nutrition when trying to get pregnant (conceive)
The best foods for getting pregnant (conceiving) are the same as those for general health. This means eating whole grains, healthy fats and proteins.
To have the best pre-pregnancy nutrition, try to:
- Base meals on starchy food (for example bread, rice, pasta, potatoes), choosing wholegrain if possible.
- Eat fibre-rich foods (for example fruit, vegetables, oats, beans, peas, lentils).
- Eat at least 5 portions of different fruits and vegetables each day.
- Eat a low-fat diet.
- Eat as little as possible of fried food, drinks and sweets with added sugar (for example cakes, fizzy drinks), and other foods high in fat and sugar.
- Eat breakfast.
- Be aware of portion sizes of meals and snacks and how often you eat.
Foods to avoid while trying to get pregnant
There are some foods and drinks that it is best to avoid or limit because of possible risks to your baby during pregnancy.
If you are actively trying to get pregnant, it is a good idea to try and stop eating these foods now.
Do not worry if you have recently eaten anything on this list before finding out that you are pregnant. It is unlikely to have affected you or your baby. Talk to your doctor or midwife if you are worried.
Having a healthy diet for a healthy weight
Eating well and staying active can help you maintain a healthy weight. This is important because being a healthy weight can improve your chances of getting pregnant (your fertility) and reduce the risk of pregnancy complications.
If you have irregular periods
If you have no periods or your periods come only some months you may not be ovulating (releasing an egg from your ovary). This can make it harder to get pregnant. Having a portion of full-fat dairy every day (such as milk or yoghurt) has been shown to help with this. It may linked to the higher oestrogen levels in full fat dairy foods compared to low-fat.
Common causes for irregular periods can include:
See your GP if you are having irregular periods. They may be able to do some tests to find out if you need any treatment.
In the meantime, it can help to have sex every 2 to 3 days throughout your cycle, without contraception, if you are trying to get pregnant.
Men, nutrition and fertility
Eating a healthy, balanced diet is essential for keeping your sperm in good condition.
- eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day
- base meals on higher fibre starchy foods like potatoes, bread, rice or pasta
- include some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soya drinks and yoghurts)
- eat some beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other protein.
One research study has found that eating 75g of walnuts a day for 12 weeks can improve sperm mobility (the ability to swim).
There are no official recommendations for men to take any pre-conception vitamins or supplements.
Find out more about how to improve male fertility.
Nutrition and your baby’s future health
Your diet before pregnancy will affect your baby’s development in the womb and their health in the future. If your diet has a lot of saturated fat and sugar before and during pregnancy, your children will be more likely to have high blood pressure and weight gain later on in life.
Do I need pre-conception supplements (vitamins)?
If you are trying to get pregnant eating a healthy, varied diet will help you to get most of the vitamins and minerals you need.
You can take branded pre-pregnancy vitamins (tablets). These are not harmful and are available in pharmacies and supermarkets. But folic acid is the only extra supplement you need if you are trying to get pregnant. It is often cheaper to buy this separately.
If you are vegan, talk to your doctor to make sure that you are getting enough nutrients for a healthy pregnancy. Find out more about vegetarian, vegan and special diets in pregnancy.
Taking folic acid supplements (tablets) does not help you get pregnant, but you are recommended to take them while you are trying to get pregnant and during the first 12 weeks of pregnant. This is because it can improve you and your baby’s health and help prevent serious pregnancy complications. You are also recommended to take vitamin D.
Limit your caffeine intake
The Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists recommend that you limit your caffeine intake to as little as possible during pregnancy. This means less than 200 milligrams (mg) per day (the equivalent of two mugs of instant coffee.)
If you are trying to get pregnant (conceive), it’s a good idea to start limiting your caffeine now.
Be aware that other drinks such as tea and energy drinks also contain caffeine. Chocolate does too.
Find out more about caffeine while trying to get pregnant.
Anaemia (low iron in the blood) and planning for pregnancy
Anaemia is a blood condition that develops when you do not have enough healthy red blood cells. The most common type of anaemia in pregnancy is iron-deficiency anaemia.
Most people with anaemia in pregnancy go on to have a healthy pregnancy and baby. However, anaemia has been linked to pregnancy complications before and after birth if it is not treated.
Eating a healthy, balanced diet can help make sure you are getting enough iron, which can help prevent anaemia while you are trying to get pregnant.
Good sources of iron include:
- red meat, such as beef, lamb and pork (cooked thoroughly)
- fish, such as canned sardines and canned tuna (no more than 4 medium-sized cans a week)
- poultry, such as chicken or turkey
- pulses and legumes, such as beans, peas and lentils
- dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale and broccoli
- dried fruit, such as apricots
- fortified breakfast cereals
- nuts and seeds.
It is important to treat anaemia if you are trying to get pregnant. Speak to your GP if you notice any of these symptoms:
- tiredness and lack of energy
- shortness of breath
- a noticeably fast-beating, fluttering or pounding heart (heart palpitations)
- paler than normal skin, which can happen in a person with any skin tone.
A poor diet can also damage your teeth. You can keep your teeth clean and healthy by:
- brushing your teeth twice a day
- having regular dental check-ups
- having dental treatments when needed.
Some dental check ups involve having an X-ray. Even though most dental X-rays do not affect the stomach or pelvic area, your dentist will usually want to wait until you have had the baby.
With this in mind, it’s a good idea to visit the dentist before you get pregnant, just in case you need any treatment.