Can Diet and Nutrition Help You Get Pregnant?

Find out if (and how) certain foods and nutrients can affect female fertility. Are there things you should eat if you want to get pregnant? Nutrition Diva explains.

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
4-minute read
Episode #261

First, low fat dairy products are higher in milk sugar, or lactose. During digestion, lactose is broken down into two simpler sugars: glucose and galactose. The second of these, galactose, has been shown to interfere with ovarian function. The idea is that women who drink low-fat dairy products will be exposed to more galactose and that this might inhibit conception. Interestingly, if you are lactose intolerant, your body is not able to break lactose down and you’d be protected from this effect. Then again, drinking milk would probably give you a tummy ache so you’d probably be avoiding it anyway.

The other theory Chavarro proposed was even more intriguing: Cow’s milk comes from pregnant cows and contains various bovine hormones associated with pregnancy and lactation. Because hormones are fat soluble, whole fat dairy products (even organic ones) would have higher levels of these hormones than low fat dairy. Although many people think of hormones in milk as something to avoid, Chavarro wonders whether the natural hormones in dairy fat might actually play a supportive role in human reproductive function. Mind-blowing, huh?

Exercise, Body Weight, and Fertility

If you’re overweight, you may want to work on losing the weight before working on getting pregnant. 

Chavarro’s research suggests that switching to full-fat milk and yogurt might boost your odds of getting pregnant. But this is not a free pass to start pounding the Ben and Jerry’s. Being overweight or obese will dramatically lower your chances of getting pregnant. In fact, the rise in average body weight is a major factor in rising infertility rates. Chavarro’s analysis confirms that women who were at a healthy body weight and who exercise 30 minutes a day are much more likely to get pregnant.

But there is a bit of a catch-22 for overweight women who want to become pregnant. As clinical dietitian Judy Simon points out, fertility can be suppressed during active weight loss. When calories are sparse, she says, the body prioritizes its use of energy, and reproductive function takes a temporary hit. This affects both women who are underweight and women who are cutting calories in order to lose weight.

If you’re overweight, you may want to work on losing the weight before working on getting pregnant. Not only will you probably have an easier time getting pregnant once your weight is stable, but both you and your baby will be healthier if you start your pregnancy at a healthy body weight.

Will Following the Fertility Diet Help You Get Pregnant?

Obviously, improving your diet or nutritional status can’t hurt your chances of getting pregnant—and it may well help. There’s also a widespread belief (and a lot of anecdotal evidence) that stressing about getting pregnant is one of the biggest obstacles to conception. Fertility docs are always telling their patients to relax. It could be that following a so-called “fertility diet” also has a powerful placebo effect—helping couples feel more optimistic and giving them something to focus on while they wait for nature to take its course.

Next Up: The Guys

Of course, it takes two people to make a baby. Next week, I’m going to take a look at how nutrition affects male fertility.

Post your comments and questions below or on my Nutrition Diva Facebook Page. I answer a lot of listener questions in my free weekly newsletter, so if you’ve sent a question my way, be sure you’re signed up to receive that.

Woman with pregnancy test and Greek salad images courtesy of Shutterstock.


About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.