Kerryn Boogaard Kerryn Boogaard
Beverly Goldsmith Beverly Goldsmith
Zoe Bingley-Pullin Zoe Bingley-Pullin

Pregnancy tips for would-be parents:

Couples wanting to conceive a child often get plenty of pregnancy tips. Not all of them can be taken seriously and some are utter nonsense. But maintaining a healthy diet and getting regular exercise are pieces of advice that certainly cannot hurt.
Date: February 07 2012
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"There are no evidence-based studies showing that eating certain foods can increase a woman's fertility," said Werner Harlfinger, head of the Rhineland-Palatinate branch of the Munich-based Professional Association of Gynaecologists. Nevertheless, he said, it is important that women wanting to become pregnant be mindful of their diet.

According to Harlfinger, women who are extremely overweight generally find it much harder to get pregnant. Would-be mothers ought not start a weight-loss program, though, because the body could be deprived of necessary nutrients.

"Being too thin isn't good either," Harlfinger said.

"The body of a woman with this kind of figure knows she shouldn't get pregnant."

Deficiency symptoms from being underweight can affect metabolism and prevent ovulation.

As soon as a woman has decided to conceive, he said, she would do well to begin taking folic acid. If an expectant mother's body has too little of it, the nervous system of the foetus cannot develop properly.

A woman's folic acid requirements rise so much during pregnancy that simply eating a healthy diet can hardly supply enough of the B vitamin, said Harlfinger, who recommends that would-be mothers start taking folic acid supplements before conception. This, he said, may make their bodies feel better prepared for pregnancy.

As for men, "they should mainly make sure to get a balanced diet and physical exercise," said Frank Sommer, a professor in the Department of Men's Health at the University Medical Centre Hamburg-Eppendorf in Germany.

Sommer's special dietary tip is the amino acid arginine. Arginine is found in high quantities in grain products, soya beans and nuts. Zinc also has a positive effect, Sommer pointed out. The trace mineral makes sperm hardier, he said. Legumes as well as apples and bananas are high in zinc.

Exercise is very advisable, Sommer said, so long as it is not excessive. "Ruthlessly engaging in aerobic exercises has the opposite effect and tends to impair fertility" because an intense workout regimen can upset hormone levels, he warned.

"It goes without saying that smoking and drinking are harmful," Sommer added. He noted that it took a man three months to produce new sperm, so even men who fully heeded their doctor's lifestyle advice should not expect immediate results.

Along with the physical prerequisites for conception, the mental preparedness of would-be parents is very important.

"A couple wanting to start a family must be prepared for the matter playing a dominant role" in their lives, particularly if pregnancy is difficult to achieve, said Tewes Wischmann, director of walk-in services at Heidelberg University Hospital's Institute of Medical Psychology.

"Give space to the desire to have children, but limit that space," Wischmann advised.

Some couples are turned off by having to time sexual intercourse to the midpoint of the woman's ovulation cycle. But dampened ardour is usually temporary - and worth it - said Wischmann, who believes that "coitus doesn't always have to be super romantic." He recommends making a clear distinction between sex for propagation and sex out of mutual desire, for which time should be found, too.

"Couples shouldn't have sex only when the woman is ovulating, for heaven's sake," Harlfinger said.

"'Saving oneself' (for procreation) doesn't increase the chances (of pregnancy), of course."

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