Nutrition to Grow a Baby
Nutrition is getting the sustenance we need for optimal health. Ideally, this sustenance comes from our food as that is how we were biologically meant to receive it. Supplements are secondary. Our body uses the food we eat to provide the proper minerals, vitamins, proteins, and more to not only sustain us but to allow us to grow. When we eat foods that disturb the natural functions of our body, problems such as insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, inflammation, indigestion, and more arise. The list is never ending as all of our body’s functioning depends on what we put into it. Some things are harder to control than others but many can be resolved or lessened with good nutrition. This is great news when it comes to infertility since so many things affect it. Just based on evolution, if we aren’t healthy enough to create and sustain another life, we’ll face an uphill battle to get pregnant and have a healthy baby unless something changes. Diet isn’t the magical cure to all infertility but it affects it enough to be worth paying attention to, especially if you are in poor health and trying to conceive. Most of the information presented below was taken from Nina Planck’s Real Food for Mother and Baby and from Jorge Chavarro’s The Fertility Diet which was based on the Nurses’ Health Study, a study that, over many years, looked at diets and lifestyles of thousands of nurses trying to get pregnant.
The main components of a pro-baby diet and lifestyle are:
Being a healthy weight
During pregnancy and while breastfeeding, nutrition needs are the same as for trying to conceive a baby. They include everything in the fertility diet but with more emphasis on dha and vitamin B12 consumption for baby’s development. For mom’s health and comfort, protein intake is important during pregnancy.
Sugar is harmful in many ways – see Food Facts
Processed foods have also been proven to be harmful to both our health and fertility through the Nurses’ Health Study. Processed foods have a much lower nutritional value than real foods and many have been reengineered in ways that makes it more difficult for the body to recognize and absorb the nutrition that is either still left in it or that has been added back to it. As Nina Planck describes it, “real food is old and traditional”. It is how food was before factory processing came about.
Milk that has been pasteurized has had not only pathogens destroyed but also a whole slew of hormones, vitamins including folic acid, enzymes required to absorb nutrients (such as lactase – required to digest lactose hence many peoples’ “lactose intolerance” which more accurately is insufficient lactase), omega 3’s, immune boosting factors, and milk proteins are altered. Uht milk which is stable at room temperature for months is the most nutrient depleted since it’s blasted with the highest temperature. However, if you are not keen on drinking raw milk, whole milk still has some nutrients in it that are completely taken out in skim and lower fat milks. These nutrients, namely vitamins A and D, reside in the fat of the milk and are needed to absorb calcium. It has also been shown that in skim or low fat milk, the hormones still present are tipped more towards the androgen side and can cause ovulatory infertility and acne, among other symptoms of heightened androgen levels. That is not true for whole milk.
Meat, especially beef, that has been treated with hormones can cause lower sperm counts in male children since the synthetic hormones ingested can disrupt testicular development. This was shown in moms who ate a lot of beef but a “lot” was not defined. More importantly, cows are herbivores. Their primary food is grass and maybe a little bit of grain towards the end. When they are fed industrial feed it can contain animal by products making omnivores out of herbivores, sickening them with diseases such as mad cow disease. Grain-fed cows also are unhealthy. Grains make their stomachs unnaturally acidic and a particularly troublesome strain of E. coli thrives in that environment, sickening us and the cows. Real meat, like real eggs, has a more yellowish than white tone on the fat from the higher beta-carotene content. Overall, all real meat (i.e., fed its real diet and raised as close to tradition as possible) has higher vitamin, omega 3, beta carotene, and cla (an anticancer fat) content.
Trans fats, commonly found in many processed and restaurant fried foods under the label “hydrogenated”, “partially hydrogenated”, “vegetable shortening”, or “interestified”, causes a host of fertility issues in just small amounts. By law, anything containing less than half a gram can be labeled “no trans fat” but eat 4 servings and you might have just consumed 2 grams. Eat 4 grams and you start seeing the side effects which include increased inflammation, problems with ovulation and early embryo development, and insulin resistance. It can also result in low birth weight, low cream in breastmilk, and interfere with the use of the omega 3’s dha and epa which make up the baby’s brain and eyes. Go for cold-pressed oils instead as those have their vitamins and polyunsaturated fats (the good ones) left intact.
Eat more vegetables but stay an omnivore. There are no strictly vegan societies anywhere in the world. It’s biologically unsustainable. In a vegan diet, several key nutrients are either in very low quantities or completely missing. Humans cannot use the plant form of vitamin B12 and absorb iron from non meat sources very poorly. The diet also lacks fully formed dha and epa which is found only in fish with small amounts in grass-fed meat, dairy, and eggs. Flaxseed oil and walnuts have omega 3’s but the body turns merely 1% of it into epa and less than 0.1% to dha. One study showed that vegans had about 22% of the epa level of omnivores and 38% of their dha levels. Dha is an essential nutrient in sperm, it’s needed for brain development during the third trimester, and it can prevent postnatal depression. If you don’t eat fish, you can still get what you need from real dairy and eggs.
A note on fish: many pregnant women are worried about mercury from fish but you can eat it safely and studies prove it’s more detrimental to fetal development to chance the risk of exposure vs not eating fish at all. Methylmercury accumulates more the further up the food chain you go so stick to herbivorous or smaller fish and don’t eat large fish in large amounts. Catfish, tilapia, freshwater trout, herring, sardines, and wild salmon are good options.
A note on soy: soy phytoestrogens can alter the menstrual cycle, change hormone levels, stop ovulation, and be toxic to the thyroid. The most pronounced effects are seen with isolated soy protein (found in many processed foods). It is best eaten in a fermented form such as miso. Effects are also more pronounced in children – either those who were exposed to high levels through their mothers’ diet or as infants given soy based formula.
Whole grains, as opposed to white flour or white rice, contain b vitamins, vitamin e, and fiber. However, they also contain phytic acid which interferes with the absorption of protein and minerals like calcium, iron, and zinc. It’s also found in legumes and nuts. The three most common ways to reduce it is by soaking, fermentation, or sprouting (so beans soaked overnight, sourdough bread, or sprouted grain bread all have lower levels). Refined grains also cause spikes in blood sugar making you hungrier and more tired.
Full fat dairy (and seafood) covers almost all of the essential nutrients for fertility, (vitamins A, D, K, iodine, and omega-3s). Without vitamin A, you can’t make estrogen and deficiencies are associated with difficult periods, fibroids, and endometriosis. In men, it’s needed for sperm formation and maturation. In early pregnancy, it’s needed for differentiation of cells, and heart, circulatory system, and hindbrain formation. True vitamin A can only be found in animal foods such as butter, eggs, and liver. In vegetables it’s in the form beta-carotene which the body must convert to vitamin A – a process that requires fat. To aid in absorption of vitamin A from vegetables, eat them with olive oil or butter. Vitamin D makes sex hormones. Deficiency is associated with menstrual cramps, pcos, pms, and infertility. Sunlight is the best source but sunscreens and clothes usually block adequate exposure. Vitamin K2 puts calcium in bones and away from soft tissues. It’s also found in fish, organ meats, and real butter. Fermented foods are also a good source.
Vitamin E, zinc, and b12 are the other essential nutrients. Vitamin E is was called the “fertility factor” in 1922 because animals simply cannot reproduce without it. The pituitary gland requires it and sperm need it to mature. Low amounts affect sperm quality and quantity. A severe deficiency can cause sterility. It’s also needed in a healthy placenta and can prevent miscarriage when both men and women take it for months before conception. It is found in olive oil, avocados, almonds, whole grains, and leafy greens. Supplements usually contain only tocopherol so if you need to supplement, look for e “complex”.
Zinc is needed for the sex hormones, eggs, thyroid, and to absorb folate. Prenatal since deficiency prevents the male organs from forming properly and you can’t make sperm without it. A sign of deficiency is white spots on nails. Best sources are oysters, liver, brewer’s yeast, beef, and cheese. It’s more effective with vitamin c and absorption is blocked by fiber and phytic acid in soy.
Vitamin B is needed for the libido, sex hormones, and in sperm and egg production. B12 promotes sperm health and aids in conception in anemic women. Deficiency can cause prematurity. B6 balances hormones and deficiency is associated with infertility. The most famous vitamin B is folate. Folic acid supplements must be converted into folate by the body. In women with celiac disease who were diagnosed with infertility, high amounts of folic acid in their diet resulted in pregnancy even without going gluten free.
If a pregnancy is anticipated, good nutrition is essential. If you’re unsure of your diet, a multivitamin or prenatal supplement can help improve it. Evidence has shown that moms’ nutritional health at conception has greater birth weight impact than food eaten during pregnancy since dna replication is affected by it in ways that cannot be later corrected. The oral contraceptive pill depletes nutrients including folate, vitamins A, b6, c, and zinc. For infertility issues, take at least 800micrograms of folic acid to improve chances of pregnancy. Real food can also improve or reverse everything from pms to anovulation, polycystic ovary syndrome, hypothyroidism, endometriosis, menopause problems, ability to conceive, and carrying a pregnancy to term.
The nurse’s study showed that women who are fit have an easier time with pregnancy but even those who start to exercise halfway through are able to get some benefit. Active women gain less weight and fat, have easier, shorter, less complicated labor, and are less likely to need interventions. On to flip side, those who stop exercising halfway through pregnancy see those benefits disappear. Exercise benefits baby by helping the placenta grow faster, delivering more oxygen and nutrients, reducing prematurity, and reducing low birth weight.
Overall, the study showed that for every fertility habit that was followed, risk of infertility declined. When just one of the 5 habits was followed, there was a decrease of infertility by 30%, when 5 or more fertility diet habits were followed, there was an 84% decrease.
Protein intake is essential for the mother’s wellbeing during pregnancy. Sufficient amounts help with swelling, placental growth, preeclampsia, and premature birth. The Brewer Diet was designed to help pregnant women get the nutrition they need during pregnancy, focusing on high protein intake. If you cannot get enough from diet alone, whey supplement is a very good source of protein.
A quick overview of the Brewer Diet
Brewer Diet in more detail