I have had this post in my mind for quite a while now. I have been thinking about the role food plays in fertility, and in preparation for a baby. Undoubtedly there is a connection between eating nutritious food and paving the way forward for conception. I just have had some serious doubts as to how strict one should be, and follow every letter of the law the books and fertility gurus tell you too.
In 2010 I took the strict route. I cut out dairy, gluten, sugar and caffeine. I did this from January till June (when I did the IUI). I felt very good about myself. Coupled with acupuncture my stomach had never looked so flat in my entire life. The downside: I lost 7kg. I landed up really skinny. I got some compliments about how much weight I had lost. I told people it was basically from cutting out caffeine and sugar. And I didn’t get pregnant.
In 2011 I had more resources at my disposal. A fertility clinic will do that for you. My insides got cleaned out in a laparoscopy and all the blood tests and subsequent medication improved my thyroid function. I started with the fertility diet in about April, but I wasn’t as strict as the previous year. If there was a function with sweet foods, I ate them. I did not touch caffeine. I had black rooibos tea without sugar. I had rye bread instead of normal bread to avoid the gluten. But every now and then I did eat some gluten. I largely avoided dairy (I’m not really a big dairy eater) but did have it occasionally.
And I did have junk food now and then. And I got pregnant.
Bear in mind this is just my story.
I have read some powerful stories where diet did get people pregnant. Hannah Wept, Sarah Laughed did a series of guest posts from women with PCOS and I was particularly struck by the link to food. Eating low GI foods if you have this condition really seems to make a difference. Read this one from Kristin. The best part here was finding out that rice cakes are actually high GI! Very useful info, since my hubby is a diabetic.
A friend at work got pregnant also got pregnant after going to a dietician. (Although I found out this year she also had a lap).
Cindy Bailey, author of “The Fertile Kitchen”, which I reviewed here, swears that the food made a difference to her getting pregnant. I also ate many of her recipes this year. The ones I really ate on a regular basis were the garbanzo beans (which I did with baked beans instead of the chickpeas, really did not like the taste). I ate them every Sunday night and tried not to fart too much on a Monday! We also ate her Portobello mushroom recipe on Thursdays (except we ate normal white button mushrooms). What happened in the end was I used a combination of her food and that of a South African diabetic cookbook.
We ate sausages on Monday and a stir fry (with lots of pineapple for implantation on Wednesday). B also went through a phase when he wanted chicken salad instead of the normal food so he had that on Tuesday and Thursday while I had a noodle chicken soup on Thursday. I ate vegetables, baked potato and chicken on Tuesdays. I had a bit of a dilemma about the broccoli and cauliflower I love so much (which is supposed to clean up excess estrogen, good for fertility, when I read another article by the same guru saying these vegetables were bad for thyroid function. So I switched to butternuts, gem squashes and carrots. Who knows what the right thing was to do or if it really made a difference but the improvement in my thyroid has been key in my improved health.
It is easy to get confused with all these rules and regulations, but I will make a basic summary for you here of what not to eat: (I’m going with Cindy Bailey’s guidelines from her cookbook and will also insert some links as well from the various guru newsletters I get in my inbox)
- No alcohol. Not a problem for me since I don’t really drink. It is a toxin that disrupts the absorption of nutrients (much like sugar) and makes more work for your body. (Energy it would rather be using to create a baby). It raises prolactin levels which interfere with ovulation. For men it also raises estrogen levels which interfere with sperm development and hormone levels. Alcohol can even kill of sperm generating cells in the testicle.
- No caffeine or coffee. I substituted this with rooibos tea, a popular herbal tea here in SA. It negatively affects fertility and increases the chances of miscarriage. It increases blood pressure. Not what I need, already having this as a problem. It draws blood away from of the uterus, and you want the blood flowing to it. Even decaf is not good because apparently, according to Cindy, it does have some caffeine in it and harsh chemicals are used in the decaffeination process. I had some decaf cappuccino yesterday (B took me out for breakfast) and it tasted horrible. I decided to go back to rooibos after that and I just felt so much better drinking it. By the way for you chocolate addicts – carob is a good alternative, and for those of you in SA Woolworths makes a very nice carob snack bar.
3. No sugar. It negatively affects the blood sugar and insulin levels leading to hormonal imbalance. Angela says that energetically those sweet and refined foods are both damp and cold. Cindy recommends stevia, a herb, as an alternative. Similar to alcohol, it is a nutrient killer. It takes away from the good stuff you have been eating and the costly vitamins you take as well. Natural sugar in moderation, according to Cindy, is a good option e.g. honey, maple syrup and brown rice sugar. NOT artificial sweeteners.
4. No dairy. It has a lot of artificial stuff in it which messes up your hormones. Also, particularly if you are lactose intolerant, your body has to work harder to digest it. Rice milk is an alternative. Calcium substitutes are broccoli, kale, spinach, oranges, black beans, salmon, sesame seeds and almonds.
Exceptions: Cindy permits yoghurt because it is easier to digest. Angela Wu of FertilityWisdom permits low fat cottage cheese (doesn’t generate the overwhelming dampness of other dairy foods). She says this dampness hampers energy flow.
5. No wheat. Wheat (or gluten) is difficult to digest and many people may have a sensitivity to it and don’t even know it. It may cause inflammation, bloating, digestion problems and general fatigue. It can also adversely affect thyroid function. I was eating rye bread instead of normal bread. And you can find gluten free pasta in a lot of supermarkets now.
Out of interest, Angela says the worst thing you can eat when trying to conceive: ice-cream and pizza. Cold+ dairy+ wheat+dairy.
I think I am going to stop there. There is more. Trust me. There’s always more. But this is the basic stuff. Bottom line: go for the fresh stuff and avoid the processed, sweet stuff.
The cold stuff debate (from Angela Wu): Initially this made a lot of sense to me because I am the kind of person who feels the cold easily and I understand the logic of creating a “warm womb” for baby to nest in. Your body temperature drops, circulation slows and your heart must work harder to adjust. Again, this consumes the energy you need for conception.
In my experience I can think of two instances where I had a cold reaction: the one time I had cold milk. My whole body got cold and I froze. Another time I did not dress warmly enough for work. That night I could literally feel my thyroid gland throbbing. Both these incidents actually happened in early pregnancy. Yes, I survived, but I did learn something: to take care of myself and manage my temperature better.
However on the other hand there has to be some balance. In reality I just could not stick to this. When I am boiling hot, I listen to my body and have a cold drink. Angela does not even want us to have hot baths or swims. I love my bath. When SA is having a heat wave over hear, swimming really helps me cool down and cope with whatever I have to do.
The other thing she says we shouldn’t eat is raw food. Again, it takes more energy to digest.
So I think this issue is still open for debate. I’d love to hear your input.
Stay tuned. I just bought “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” so another post will be on what to eat when you are pregnant. (It isn’t that different).