The information included in our Dear Steph series is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult your healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for your own situation, or if you have any questions regarding conception, pregnancy, or your prenatal treatment plan. Have a question for Steph? Click here to e-mail her.
Dear Stephanie: I keep hearing about people having “Whole30 babies.” Can the Whole30 play a role in my preconception health?
When women self-proclaim they’re having a “Whole30 baby,” they’re talking about a baby that was conceived either during or shortly after completing a Whole30 program. You may have seen this term on forums, social media, blog posts, or heard it used in conversation. These pregnancies may have been a special surprise after months (or years) of difficulty conceiving. You can imagine how exciting it would feel to share your story if this was the case, and we at Whole30 headquarters are always overjoyed to hear these kinds of testimonials.
When you read these success stories, however, please keep in mind that fertility and conception are very tricky, complex topics. There is no “magic bullet” for conceiving. While some women truly believe their Whole30 efforts played a role in their pregnancy, if there is a connection here, it would be just a small part of their story.
There are many women doing everything they can (including completing multiple Whole30s) who still struggle with infertility.
It’s not an easy topic to discuss, but I want to cover some of the reasons how the Whole30 program can help improve preconception health. But first, we are not saying the Whole30 is the solution to your fertility struggles, or that if you’ve done the Whole30 and still cannot conceive, that you’re doing anything wrong. We know the journey through infertility is complicated and difficult, even if your story includes lifestyle changes and/or medical interventions.
Also note that while these tips are all designed to improve general health in preparation for conception, often even the most dedicated lifestyle efforts aren’t enough to help couples conceive. According to RESOLVE.org and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, you should seek the care of a specialist if you are unable to achieve pregnancy after 12 months of unprotected intercourse (if the women is under the age of 35), or six months if the women is more than 35 years of age. You should also seek the care of a specialist if you have had more than one miscarriage. For more information, support, and resources, visit RESOLVE.org.
Here are some reasons why a Whole30 may enhance your overall health, and can play a role in increasing your health during the preconception period:
It Helps Reset Your Body
The ways in which the Whole30 program can reset your body are endless. Choosing nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory whole foods, and stabilizing your blood sugar (by balancing your meals with carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fat) can significantly impact your reproductive health.
Two common hormonal conditions which impact fertility (PCOS and endometriosis) can be improved by optimizing your blood sugar and reducing inflammation throughout your body, especially your reproductive system.
While the Whole30 is not designed as a weight loss program, for some women weight loss can support fertility, especially if the weight loss is a result of switching from a more processed, nutrient-poor diet to a diet rich in whole foods.
It Promotes Nutrient-Dense, Baby-Making Friendly Food Choices
By choosing foods that are Whole30 compliant, you are choosing the most nutrient-dense options available. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, fatty fish that are low in mercury, and animal protein provide an array of vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and protein that optimize reproductive health. Consuming a wide array of nutrient-dense foods (and supplementing where it’s necessary) helps replete deficiencies and fill in gaps that may have been missing in your diet prior to starting the Whole30.
I also recommend working with a practitioner to identify nutrient deficiencies and creating a plan to optimize your nutrient stores, which will promote a smooth pregnancy and postpartum.
A diet based on the principles of the Whole30 is a fantastic starting spot for most individuals looking to conceive. In our Healthy Mama, Happy Baby program, we take this one step further and encourage specific fertility and pregnancy superfoods, such as fermented foods, bone broth, egg yolks, and fatty fish that are low in mercury.
It Can Improve Your Mindset
The baby-making journey isn’t always easy and enjoyable. According to the CDC, in the United States about 12% of women 15-44 years of age have trouble conceiving or carrying a baby to term. Those that have trouble conceiving experience many emotional ups and downs, uncertainty about procedures or outcomes, negative self-doubt and self-esteem, and many difficult decisions.
Making the healthiest choices possible can make you feel like you’re in the driver’s seat of your health during this challenging time. While certain procedures and aspects of your fertility may be out of your control, you always have the option to choose what food goes into your body. If you’ve read It Starts With Food or The Whole30, you know how significant these choices are when it comes to optimizing your health.
For some, hearing stories about couples having “Whole30 babies” (such as this one or this one) can restore confidence in their body’s ability to conceive. If those stories frustrate you or make you feel like you’re not doing something right, then please stop reading them. Your story will be unique; do your best to focus on what you are doing to be the healthiest you, mind and body.
Bonus: It Can Help Optimize Your Partner’s Health
Infertility is not just a “woman’s problem.” Male factors may also contribute to infertility. A specialist can conduct a sperm analysis and other labs to understand potential factors that may be contributing to a couple’s difficulty conceiving.
I list this as a bonus because your partner may or may not be on board with changing their lifestyle factors (in this case, their diet) to improve the overall chances of conceiving; however it’s important to know that your partner’s diet contributes to the health of their sperm. And since we know it takes both a healthy egg and healthy sperm to create a baby (#science), having your partner do a Whole30 with you or having them simply make a few dietary modifications can improve your partner’s health, as well.
While 30 days of whole-food, anti-inflammatory eating is a fantastic start for both partners, ideally this new style of eating continues during your life after Whole30. During your Whole30 you’ve flooded your body with the best food available. This cycle of healthy eating should continue throughout your journey towards conception and pregnancy, as much as possible. This is especially true for the three months prior to conception when your diet and lifestyle choices impact sperm and egg health.
Final Thoughts on Preconception Health
For some women, lifestyle changes are enough to dramatically improve their preconception health. However, if you’ve done one or more rounds of Whole30 and are still having trouble conceiving, please know that fertility is a complex issue and often requires far more than a dietary change.
After working with couples who are doing their best to conceive, I know how hard you are trying. I know that it’s not easy on multiple levels. I know you’re doing your best. I hope you find someone who is willing to work with you to dig deep to identify any underlying issues. I hope you find a solution that works for your family and whatever that solution is, you are proud of yourself and that choice. Becoming a parent can take many different routes, none of which are better than the other. Please do what is best for you and your family and reach out for support.
Our Healthy Mama, Happy Baby program provides information, resources, and support for pregnant women and for those who are trying to conceive. When you join our program, you gain access to our private Facebook group. We have many women in the group who are on their journey to conception that would love to support you and share their insight. I think you’ll find the community support a valuable asset along your journey and I hope to see you there soon!
If you’re interested in learning more suggestions from Steph for preconception health, sign up for The Bump Files, our monthly newsletter. As a thank you, we’ll send you a free 15-page preconception health guide!
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Stephanie Greunke is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in nutrition who specializes in women’s health. She is a certified personal trainer and prenatal and postnatal corrective exercise specialist. Stephanie guides and supports women locally and globally through her web-based private practice, RockYourHormones.com.