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The average length of time that most couples take to conceive is around 6 months. However, figures suggest that around one in six couples suffers from infertility and is childless (Balen & Jacobs 2003).

Table 1.1 Effects of nutrients on the mother and baby

Mother Baby Food source

Vitamin A

lactation placental membranes hormones

Vitamin B complex lactation, metabolism of fats and sugar

Folic acid red blood cells bone marrow making antibodies

Vitamin C

connective tissue helps to protect baby against viruses helps with absorption of iron promotes healing after delivery

Vitamin D

good for teeth absorption of calcium and phosphorus

Vitamin E

wound healing after birth protects against stretch marks protects against anaemia helps avoid varicose veins

Vitamin F

(essential fatty acids)

absorption of vitamins healthy skin

Vitamin K

good blood clotting

Vitamins red blood cells fetal growth visual development hair, skin mucous membranes nerve function heart development protects against cleft palate development healthy bone marrow helps with spine formation division of cells carries oxygen to every cell builds a strong infection system for the baby helps form good teeth, blood vessels helps bones to harden skull development protects against jaundice formation of blood cells heart development required for growth kidney and brain development sex and adrenal hormones milk, butter, fatty fish, yellow fruits and veg, dark green fruits and veg, liver, eggs wholegrains, nuts and seeds, leafy vegetables wheatgerm, nuts and seeds, milk, wholegrains, dark green leafy vegetables melon, citrus fruits, blackcurrants, strawberries, carrots, peas, spinach, broccoli, tomatoes, green peppers sunlight on the skin, fatty fish, free-range eggs, organic meats wheatgerm, nuts, avocados, green leafy vegetables, eggs fatty fish, nuts, green leafy vegetables protects against haemorrhage cauliflower, eggs, green leafy vegetables

Table 1.1 Effects of nutrients on the mother and baby (continued)

Mother Baby Food source

Calcium healthy bones and teeth clotting mechanism nerves and muscles

Chromium regulation of blood sugar

Copper strong bones nervous system iron absorption

Iron red blood cells respiratory functions protects against fatigue

Magnesium energy muscles, especially labour contractions

Manganese enzymes metabolism of fats Potassium fluid balance in the body regulation of acidity

Minerals formation of healthy bones and teeth regulation of blood sugar blood cells bone growth heart development nervous system skeletal system bones and cartilage fluid balance in the body regulation of acidity carob, Brazil nuts, green vegetables, cheese and milk, shellfish wheatgerm, honey, grapes, raisins parsley, eggs, meat, almonds, apricots, green leafy vegetables cashew and Brazil nuts, green leafy, vegetables, whole grains, seafood leafy vegetables, onions, green beans, bananas, apples, wholegrains, nuts lean meats, wholegrains, vegetables, dried fruits, sunflower seeds aids development of brain, meat, legumes, dates, nuts connective tissue, nerves raisins, seafood

In other words, it may take far longer to conceive, and 18 months is not unusual. Some couples never manage to conceive at all and will turn to assisted reproductive techniques (ART). These technologies include ovulation induction (OI), intrauterine insemination QUI), in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). Further techniques include the use of sperm and/or egg donation (see Ch. 8 for more details).

But failure to conceive, even after months or years of trying, does not automatically mean complete infertility. If and when a woman conceives depends on a whole range of factors, both physical and psychological. The nutritional status of both partners is almost certainly a key factor.

Recent studies have shown that there has been a marked increase in infertility related to both the man and woman. Male infertility is rising; in particular, sperm counts fell by 40% from 1938 to 1990, and more recent studies show a marked decline in semen quality. One reason for this is thought to be diet related, 'an increase in endogenous estrogen concentrations, which might affect the developing male fetus' (Balen & Jacobs 2003). So it is as important for the male partner as for the female to improve nutritional status prior to conception.

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