Whether you’re considering trying to get pregnant for the first time, or you have been trying to conceive for a while without success, it is a good idea to review some tips that can increase your likelihood of conceiving. Besides helping you conceive, many of these tips, such as getting the right nutrients and reaching a healthy weight, also help set the stage for a successful pregnancy.
Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs
While most people know that indulging in alcohol, cigarettes, or certain drugs can have negative effects on your unborn baby during pregnancy, fewer people are aware that these substances can negatively affect your ability to become pregnant.
When it comes to alcohol, there is some evidence that even moderate drinking can make it harder for women to get pregnant and for men to get their partner pregnant. The exact mechanisms are behind this effect are unclear, but it is thought that alcohol may impair a woman’s hormonal balance and that its dehydrating effects could potentially make the cervical mucus too thick for conception.
Studies have also consistently shown the negative effects of smoking cigarettes on both male and female fertility, potentially increasing the time it takes to get pregnant because of egg damage and sperm depletion.
Finally, according to Harvard Health Publications, so-called “social” drugs like marijuana and cocaine may also harm fertility in men by making sperm less motile and reducing sperm count. Women should also avoid marijuana when trying to get pregnant, as some lab studies show that sperm exposed to THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) in vaginal fluids may also be rendered less potent.
Getting rid of your smoking habit or penchant for partying before you get pregnant will also help prepare you for pregnancy itself, during which cigarettes, alcohol, and other fun substances are strictly off limits.
Get in shape
Research has shown that women who engage in regular, moderate or vigorous exercise are able to get pregnant sooner than more sedentary women. Health authorities recommend 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day for healthy women trying to conceive or up to 60 minutes a day if you are overweight.
Exercise is also important for reaching a healthy weight, and people who are at a healthy weight have an easier time conceiving than those who are overweight or obese. Overweight women produce more androgens, insulin, and estrogen, all of which can impair ovulation and egg quality. Studies show that losing just five percent of your bodyweight can help improve ovulatory function if you are overweight. However, this doesn’t mean you should lose too much weight – underweight women also have problems conceiving because they are less likely to ovulate.
This tip doesn’t only apply to women; overweight and underweight men may also have impaired fertility due to problems with sperm quality. Thus, it might be wise for both partners to start a pre-conception workout program together to gain healthy muscle and lose any excess fat.
Once you’re pregnant, you should continue on a modified exercise plan, per your physician’s recommendations.
Track your ovulation
Timing is important when trying to conceive, and if you’re not having sex around the time of ovulation, conception will be difficult, if not impossible. Thus, in addition to having more sex in general, it is a smart idea to try to figure out when you are ovulating so you’ll know when your most fertile time is. There are a few ways to do this:
Get an ovulation kit: Sold at drugstores everywhere, these simple kits are used to measure the presence of luteinizing hormone (LH) in your urine; LH levels surge about three days before you ovulate. However, some kits are more sensitive than others, meaning that some products can detect an LH surge days before others can.
Track your basal body temperature: Basal body temperature typically drops by about half a degree 24 hours before ovulation and increases by about the same amount after ovulation. However, you might not want to use this method by itself, since your body temperature can be thrown off by other things, such as illness. You can buy a basal body temperature thermometer in drugstores or online.
Listen to your body: Certain bodily changes take place around the time of ovulation. Many of them, including breast soreness, cramps, and moodiness, are commonly recognized as premenstrual symptoms. Cervical mucus also changes around the time of ovulation, becoming, clear, wet, and slippery – some describe the texture as being like “raw egg whites.”
There’s an app for that: Various websites, computer applications, and even smartphone apps can help you chart your ovulation based on the length of your menstruation cycle. For those with a regular 28-day cycle, the most fertile days are between day 12 and 16 (with day 1 representing the first day of your period). You can also track days yourself with an old-fashioned calendar. Note that this method is trickier if you have an irregular cycle.
So, you’ve been able to narrow down your probable ovulation day … now what? Well, don’t wait until the actual day of ovulation to start trying – have sex several times in the 2-3 days leading up to ovulation as well.
Take a prenatal vitamin
In addition to providing important nutrients during pregnancy, prenatal multivitamin/mineral supplements also offer nutrients that support fertility. The most important fertility nutrient provided by prenatal vitamins is folate/folic acid (folic acid is the synthetic form of folate found in vitamin supplements). Folic acid, a B-vitamin, is so important to female reproductive health that doctors recommend that all women of reproductive age get 400 mcg to 800 mcg per day – whether you’re trying to get pregnant or not. Folate may improve ovulation and protects against birth defects if you do get pregnant. Men also need sufficient levels of folic acid, along with the mineral zinc, to support healthy sperm production.
Other important pre-conception nutrients for women found in typical prenatal vitamins include other B-vitamins, iodine, iron, vitamins A, C, and E, calcium, and zinc.
Omega-3 fatty acids may also boost fertility, though these aren’t typically available in prenatal multivitamins and must be obtained through a separate supplement, such as a fish oil supplement.
While all of these nutrients can also be obtained through a healthy diet – with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fish – a prenatal vitamin is a good backup policy to make sure you don’t have any nutritional gaps in your diet.
Make a pre-conception doctor visit
While not strictly required for someone who is younger than 35 and in good health, a pre-conception visit with your OBGYN is important if you have any chronic health conditions, take any medications, or are 35 or older. Your doctor will perform a check-up and talk to you about managing health conditions such as diabetes, obesity, kidney disease, or any other condition that might make you a candidate for a high-risk pregnancy. She will also likely want to discuss your family health history, lifestyle, reproductive history, vaccinations, weight, and other factors that can affect fertility and pregnancy outcomes. This is also a good time to ask your doctor about any concerns you might have about your health or pregnancy risks. Depending on your situation, your doctor may conduct lab tests to rule out diseases like hepatitis C, HIV, and others.
Avoid these things:
Hot tubs or saunas (males only) – Scrotal exposure to high heat, such as that in hot tubs, saunas, or even long showers, can impair the number and function of sperm, leading to decreased fertility.
Artificial lubricants – Even non-spermicidal lubricants sold over-the-counter have ingredients that are hostile to sperm, potentially making you less likely to conceive if you use them.
Douches – Douches are linked to decreased fertility, with one study showing that women who douched were 30 percent less likely to conceive in a given month than women who didn’t douche.
Excessive caffeine – According to the American Pregnancy Association, research shows daily caffeine doses exceeding 200 to 300 mg may decrease fertility by 27 percent.
Toxic substances – This category includes many synthetic chemicals, pesticides, fertilizers, metals such as lead and mercury, and other toxic substances you may be exposed to at work or in the home. The CDC provides this brochure on protecting yourself and your family from toxic substances.
Stop trying so hard
This one may seem to stand in opposition to the idea of this article itself, but it is nevertheless true. Sometimes, couples can get so caught up in trying to do everything right to get pregnant that they can bring added stress to their lives, and this stress itself can actually make it more difficult to get pregnant. According to WebMD, stress, including that caused by “trying too hard,” may account for as many as 30 percent of infertility problems. On the bright side, this means that stressed individuals can increase their odds of conceiving by employing stress-reduction techniques.
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is one technique that is effective in reducing the stress that can harm fertility. One Harvard University Medical School study found that group therapy more than doubled the rates of conception for women who previously had difficulty getting pregnant. Yoga, meditation, deep breathing, and progressive relaxation can also help you reduce stress.
Another thing to keep in mind is that being overly strict about only having sex during ovulation can increase stress in both partners and even decrease your odds of conception if you are not correct in your calculation of when you’re ovulating. Instead, it might be better to have sex on a more regular, natural basis — as long as you have sex 2-3 times per week, you are likely to hit your ovulation window eventually.
Finally, it may be helpful to remember that healthy, fertile couples have about a 20 percent chance of conceiving each month when having regular, unprotected sex. This means that is completely normal for it take up to a year to get pregnant. If you’ve been trying for longer than a year, it is a recommended that you see a fertility counselor who can help you determine why you’re not getting pregnant and what you can do to increase your odds.