Gone are the traditional beliefs that women should be having children before ‘time runs out’. With many couples deciding to start families when they are more well settled or with later pregnancies, there is a general worry of how to go about the process. There is a lot of misinformation about how to take care of yourself and your child if you are over the age of 35. Just like any pregnancy, the type of food that you have is very important in ensuring the best outcome for both you and the baby. The nutrients in the food that you eat can improve your fertility and increase your chances of getting pregnant. There are also some lifestyle methods that can help to improve your pregnancy outcomes as well.
Fertility and egg quality
Fertility in both men and women decrease as they age(Better Health, n.d). Generally, the recommended period for women to be pregnant is in their 20s-30s (ACOG,2020). This is because women have a fixed number of eggs in their ovaries and decreases as they get older. Fertility hormones also tend to decrease as age increases (Fernandes, 2020). This might cause issues with the quality of the egg as well, which may cause complications with pregnancy. While there are some increased risks that come with pregnancies post 35 years, there is a 1 in 10 chance of being pregnant even after this age. This applies to planning for pregnancy using alternative methods such as IVF(Better Health, n.d). There are plenty of success stories of pregnancies after the age of 35, such as a 74-year-old woman becoming a mother of twins (Fernandes, 2020), If you are still worried of any possible complication that may arise, it is also good to do a prenatal screening test or diagnostic tests to accurately assess possible risks (ACOG,2020).
Important nutrients for improving fertility
While the natural processes of our bodies are out of our hands, the best way to improve your chances of pregnancy lies in food. Good nutrition has proven time and time again to have a good impact in aiding hopeful families to better pregnancies (Panth, 2018). Some of the important nutrients that would help to in fertility and egg quality are: folic acid, Vitamin D&E, Omega-3 fats and CoQ10
Folic acid is an important nutrient during any type of pregnancy, as it helps to form your red blood cells and reduce adverse pregnancy outcomes, such as neural tube defects (NHS, n.d). Having adequate amounts of folic acid at the start of our pregnancy journey can help to increase the chances of better pregnancy outcomes. Folic acid is also beneficial for you, as a mother, as it reduces lethargy (Tardy, 2020). Good sources of folic acid would be green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, broccoli), cereals, liver and kidney beans (NHS, n.d; ODS, n.d).
Just like some of the other nutrients on this list, Vitamin D is not only important for the baby, but also for the mother (The Royal Hospital of Women, 2013). Vitamin D is important for immunity, bone strength and reducing risk of co-morbidities such as heart disease. A good level of Vitamin D in the mother will also be passed down the child when they are born. Make sure to check your Vitamin D levels with your GP, to ensure that you can avoid any possible adverse pregnancy outcomes. The best source of Vitamin D is directly from the sun. Food sources of Vitamin D include salmon, mackerel, eggs and meat.
Similarly, to Vitamin D, having good levels of Vitamin E from your food can help to avoid any adverse pregnancy outcomes (Rumbold, 2015). Vitamin E plays an important role in maintaining your red blood cells, strengthening your immune system and helps with skin and eye quality (Aptaclub, 2020). Vitamin E is able to help with reducing cell damage and protecting egg quality, which is important after the age of 35. However, make sure to not have too much Vitamin E, such as taking large amounts of supplements, so make sure to check with your GP or dietitian. Some good sources of Vitamin E are oils (Sunflower, grapeseed), nuts and seeds, raw broccoli, boiled eggs, raw tomatoes.
Pregnancy after the age of 35, may concern doctors due to possible co-morbidities that the mother might have. (Fernandes, 2020) This is where Omega-3 fats can have a positive impact on the mother’s health as well. Omega-3 fats have shown to reduce risk of heart disease and play important roles in the body’s overall function (NCHIC, n.d). Omega-3 also helps to improve the egg quality and reduce damage to the egg, which is very beneficial especially after the age of 35, where the egg quality would have decreased (NCHIC, n.d; Nehra, 2012). Good sources of omega-3 are seafood, nuts and seeds as well as oils such as canola, soy and flaxseed (ODS, n.d).
This nutrient, compared to others, is directly linked in improving fertility outcomes for mothers over 35 years. CoQ10 is an important part of cells that helps to provide energy, which applies even to your egg cells (NE Fertility, n.d.). As you age, the function of the CoQ10 reduces, which impacts your fertility. Having good levels of CoQ10 can help to improve your egg quality and achieve a healthy pregnancy (Saini, 2011). You can get CoQ10 either as a supplement or from food sources, make sure to check with your GP for the best suggestion for supplements. Good sources of CoQ10 in foods are salmon, tuna, mackerel, liver and whole grains (Saini, 2011).
Another great way to help your pregnancy journey is by practicing some healthy lifestyle habits. As mentioned, there is a higher risk of comorbidities as you age (Fernandes, 2020). Regular physical activity, avoiding alcohol, monitoring intake of “sometimes food” and maintaining a healthy weight can reduce risk of comorbidities and improve fertility and egg quality. It is recommended to do 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activities on all if not most days of the week (Better Health, n.d). You don’t have to go to the gym, or run miles, instead you can do activities that you enjoy, such as swimming, tennis or dancing.
While having a lot of nutritious foods are important, it is also good to avoid foods that don’t contribute to your nutrition. They are called ‘sometimes foods’ which includes salty foods, sweets, chocolates and alcohol. You are always welcome to have your favourite treats, but ensure that they are in moderation, around 1-2 times in a week and in small amounts. This will help to reduce stress on the eggs and improve egg quality (FSANZ, 2017). Following these lifestyle tips, will in turn help you to maintain a healthy weight range. Unless advised by your GP or dietitian, there is no need to keep checking the scales, as long as you are eating healthy and practicing good lifestyle tips.
Pregnancy is an exciting experience no matter when you decide to start your journey. While there are some risks associated with starting a family later in life, there are plenty of ways to help improve your outcomes. Following a healthy diet, which includes a variety of foods will help to improve both fertility and egg quality. Foods such as grains, leafy vegetables, meats, oils, nuts and seeds will help to improve both your health and the health of your baby. Practicing good lifestyle tips will also assist in improving your own health and your pregnancy outcome. Most importantly, enjoy your pregnancy journey! If you are after more personalised dietary strategies, get in touch with us so we can help you!