5 foods to consider eating when trying to have a baby

There are many things to enjoy when you start your journey to parenthood. Coming up with some great names, for one. And daydreaming about those adorable little clothes and tiny toes.

You might also make room on that list for eating well. Not necessarily fancy meals, but rather a variety of healthy foods and nutrients to put in the meal-planning rotation.

“A balanced diet supports a healthy pregnancy, helps prevent complications and promotes early fetal development,” says Monisha Bhanote, M.D., a Florida-based physician specializing in integrative lifestyle medicine.

That’s also important for men. Eating a balanced diet, including plenty of fruits and vegetables, may help a man’s fertility and the quality of his sperm, along with limiting alcohol.1,2

Here’s what should ideally be on the menu for the 6 months leading up to conception. But just think of this as your goal, and don’t worry if you can’t eat all these foods every week.

1. Lots of fruits and vegetables

“Make fruits and vegetables the centerpiece of your diet. Aim to fill half your plate with colorful, plant-based options rich in essential vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber,” Dr. Bhanote says.

Try to go for vegetables that offer extra nutritional benefits, such as folate-rich leafy greens, notes Dr. Bhanote. Folate is a B vitamin naturally found in some foods, and your body uses it to make new cells. It may also protect against major birth defects such as spina bifida.3

Try to bump up your intake of as many different types of produce as possible, suggests Whitney Stuart, a registered dietitian nutritionist based in Dallas. “This helps to improve the diversity of fiber and gut bacteria,” she says.

2. Lean meats

Stuart advises women who are trying to conceive to ramp up their intake of iron. Iron helps boost red blood cells, which help carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body.

One way to boost iron stores is to eat more red meat, explains Stuart. “I like to advise that people eat grass-fed red meat 2 to 3 times per week,” she says.

Go for leaner cuts of meat with less saturated fat. You can also find iron in canned sardines, light tuna and poultry. Looking for vegan options? Go for lentils, beans and spinach.4

3. Legumes

It’s beneficial to eat more beans, which are good sources of plant-based protein, explains Dr. Bhanote. Other sources include tofu, tempeh, lentils and chickpeas, she adds. These plant-based sources of protein may help support fertility.1 These foods are considered part of the legume family.

One way to hit several beneficial food groups at once is to pair lentils or beans with whole grains, or put them into salads filled with leafy greens.

4. Foods rich in omega-3 acids

Omega-3s are essential fatty acids that you can only get from eating foods that have them.5 These foods are important to eat when preparing to have a baby, as they may play a key role in a future baby’s brain development (before and after birth).6

Fish are the richest sources of omega-3s. “Aim to eat wild-caught fatty fish 3 times a week,” says Stuart. Good picks include salmon, tuna (choose canned light over albacore), herring, sardines or anchovies. Just stay away from fish that are high in mercury, such as swordfish — mercury can be harmful to a baby’s developing brain and nervous system.7

Vegetarian sources of omega-3s include flaxseed, walnuts and other nuts, and leafy greens.5

5. Whole grains

“Choose whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat pasta and whole grain bread,” says Dr. Bhanote. Whole grains should make up another quarter of your plate at mealtimes, she adds.

These fiber-rich grains offer a host of nutrients for you and your future baby. They include B vitamins, iron, copper, zinc, healthy fats and antioxidants.8 These nutrients help support good health and keep weight within a healthy range, which may increase your chances of getting pregnant.1

Experiment with working in these foods and food groups every week. That way, you can help set both yourself and your baby up for a healthier life through a nutritious diet.

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