Best advice for a healthy pregnancy in 2023
If starting or expanding your family is on the cards for 2023, you will likely find the most recent expert advice on how to improve your chances of a healthy pregnancy helpful as you start the new year.
According to the recently released Fertility Patients Care Guidance published by the European Fertility Society (EFS), the right advice on modifiable diet and lifestyle factors can help couples to improve their chances of a healthy pregnancy. At Medfem Fertility Clinic, we are not only pleased to share this information in this article, we are also immensely proud of the role our own Dr Mandy Rodrigues – resident clinical psychologist at Medfem Fertility Clinic – plays in the EFS and her contribution to this important Guide.
The European Fertility Society’s (EFS) Fertility Patients Care Guidance was released last year at the Fertility Show Africa 2022 and is now used worldwide to improve patient care in fertility clinics.
It notes that various lifestyle-related factors such as obesity, smoking, substance abuse and heavy alcohol consumption are known to have a negative impact on both male and female fertility and the success of Assisted Reproductive Therapy (ART).
It says that other lifestyle habits may also adversely affect reproductive health, and recommends that advice on modifiable lifestyle factors should be given to couples to help them make positive changes that will potentially improve their chances of a healthy pregnancy.
The Guide states that three to six months is an ideal timeframe to focus on nutrition and lifestyle changes to enhance fertility health, but – of course – any length of time will be beneficial.
Diet and lifestyle factors for fertility
Because a healthy pregnancy requires a healthy egg and healthy sperm, the good health of both partners in a couple is important for a healthy pregnancy.
For this reason, both partners should ideally be involved in the process, but diet and lifestyle changes should be discussed and implemented sensitively and without apportioning blame.
The starting point is the couple’s current position, and the aim is to move forward step by step towards better health. Below are some of the most important steps to start with.
Stop smoking and cut alcohol consumption
Smoking has major adverse effects on both sperm and egg quality, and the general health of both partners. Alcohol also reduces fertility in both partners.
Watch your weight
If you or your partner are overweight, aim for slow, steady weight loss, while avoiding fad diets.
Instead of following a low-fat diet, limit carbohydrate (potatoes, pasta, rice, beans) intake to no more than a small portion at each meal. Healthy fats, protein and fibre – such as eggs, poultry, fish, nuts and seeds – as well as all vegetables, should also be included in every meal to avoid feeling hungry.
If either partner is underweight, avoid ‘junk foods’. Rather snack on high calorie, nutritious foods such as nuts, seeds and avocado on crackers, and explore if there could be digestive system problems that requires attention – for example, coeliac disease can affect nutrient absorption without exhibiting any gastrointestinal symptoms.
The Mediterranean diet includes many of the types of foods that promote fertility. Foods to include are legumes, wholegrains, fruits, vegetables, olive oil, poultry, eggs, fish (including oily fish twice a week), herbs and spices. Foods to limit include red meat, sweets, and products made from refined flour such as white bread and pasta.
It is also best to cook from scratch wherever possible and to avoid heavily processed foods.
Get enough sleep
Adults need seven to nine hours of good quality sleep each night for optimal health, and people should feel refreshed when waking up.
For those with sleeping problems, the following is recommended: meditation apps, gentle yoga exercises, turning phones off in the evening, installing blackout blinds and establishing a healthy bedtime routine.
Both partners should ideally get gentle exercise for 30-60 minutes daily, such as walking, swimming, yoga or Pilates. Some muscle building is preferable since this helps to increase the metabolic rate. However, over-exercising may be detrimental for both partners.
Avoid toxic exposure
Strategies to reduce toxic exposure may include avoiding traffic; cycling or walking the scenic route in order to avoid polluted roads; using more natural hygiene products and cleaning products; purchasing an air purifier if living or working in a polluted environment; and reducing the use of plastics such as cling film, plastic food containers or water bottles.
Manage autoimmune diseases
Many people suffer from autoimmune diseases such as hyperinsulinemia and hyperprolactinemia, which will certainly negatively impact the quality of their eggs and sperm. For example, high insulin levels have been proven to negatively affect both the quality of a women’s eggs and a man’s sperm, while prolactin reduces the production of hormones critical for a pregnancy, causes problems with the lining of the uterus and results in abnormalities in the semen.
Addressing autoimmune diseases through lifestyle changes and medications will help ensure more healthy embryos and a healthier womb.
It is a known medical fact that stress has an integral relationship with our physical health.
With regard to fertility, international studies have proven that stress does affect fertility and has an impact on the ability to conceive. In addition, recent literature – as well as studies conducted under the auspices of Medfem Fertility Clinic – has shown that the reduction of stress can account for higher pregnancy rates.
A good starting point is to determine if you or your partner has time urgency perfectionism stress. You can do this free of charge at www.timeurgency.com. If you are suffering from time urgency perfectionism stress, you can download the book Faster, Better, Sicker: Time Urgency Perfectionism Stress and Your Health free at www.timeurgency.com.
Remember that everyone has a different ‘baseline’, and making too many changes too soon can be overwhelming. The best results are achieved when each partner agrees to the steps to be taken.
For example, when reducing alcohol consumption, consider whether total abstinence is the best option or if consumption can be limited to a set number of units on set days of the week or each month. It is important that the targets are achievable and do not feel punitive.
In addition to diet and lifestyle factors that can affect fertility, there is also a long list of possible medical causes of infertility.
If you are concerned about your fertility, the best course of action is to immediately contact a fertility specialist who will be able to identify the exact cause of your fertility problem and provide expert information regarding available treatment options.
Medfem Fertility Clinic’s team are committed and understanding team of medical professionals, who have the experience, knowledge and desire to provide you with the best chance of a successful outcome at the end of your treatment.
Since the 1980’s, Medfem Fertility Clinic’s team has assisted couples struggling with infertility to experience the joy of parenthood, helping to bring more than 18,000 babies into the world.
If you would like to meet one of our fertility specialists, simply click here to book an initial consultation or contact us telephonically on +27 (11) 463 2244.
Our Fertility Specialists can also meet with You During a Virtual Consultation Via Zoom or Skype. Click here to book a virtual consultation now.
We look forward to meeting you!