When you're trying to conceive, it's empowering to know that there are certain factors in your control. Things like understanding your fertile window and making healthy lifestyle choices can improve your odds of becoming pregnant.
Here are ten ways both you and your partner can optimize your natural fertility:
1. Factoring in Your and Your Male Partner's Age
Becoming pregnant in your mid-30s and later is certainly possible, but it can be a bit challenging. A woman's age is important because all women have a finite number of eggs. As they age, the total number of available eggs and the quality of the eggs decrease. In addition, older women are more likely to have conditions that affect fertility, such as endometriosis and uterine fibroids.
About 80% of couples will conceive after trying for 6 months. For women who are 35 and older, it is recommended that they see a fertility specialist after trying to conceive for 6 to 8 months unsuccessfully.
For men, there does not seem to be a decrease in fertility until age 50. However, increased risk of autism has been associated with the offspring of older men, especially after the age of 50.
As a woman you may need to see a physician sooner if you have certain conditions. Your partner may also have certain conditions that require male evaluation sooner rather than later.
2. Know When You Ovulate
Women are fertile only a few days out of each month the small window prior to ovulation. The number of fertile days varies not only from woman to woman but also from cycle to cycle. The more regular your menstrual cycle is, the easier it can be to track your ovulation. Being able to know when you ovulate is key to understanding when your fertile window is.
There are several ways for a woman to track her ovulation. For some women, the most convenient approach is an over the counter ovulation predictor or ovulation test kits. The kit checks the urine for the rise of luteinizing hormone (LH) that precedes ovulation.
The best time to use the ovulation kit is in the morning before you drink any fluid. Once the test is positive, ovulation may occur anytime within the following 2 days.
For the best chance of pregnancy, intercourse should begin on the same day of the LH surge and everyday afterward for about 3 days.
Another method of tracking ovulation is to monitor your cervical mucus. Cervical discharge changes throughout a woman's cycle. Immediately after a period is over, the mucus will be more dry. The amount of cervical mucus increases during the days leading up to ovulation, and just before the day ofovulation, it will look and feel similar to egg whites (slippery and clear) and is stretchable to at least 2 inches between fingers.
Your best chance of pregnancy occurs during the days of slippery mucus. After ovulation the cervical discharge will become thicker and decrease in amount until the next period. So if you had slippery and clear mucus yesterday and notice thicker and scantier mucus today then you must have ovulated over the past 24 hours. The chance of pregnancy is highest when intercourse occurs before and during the day of ovulation, not afterward.
Normal ovulation usually occurs between day 12 and 15 of the cycle, so if the LH kit does not become positive or if the cervical mucus doesn’t become thin and slippery during these days then you should consider seeking help.
3. Choose the Right Personal Lubricants
For some couples, using a personal lubricant during sexual intercourse makes the experience more comfortable. While many popular, over the counter lubricants are safe to use with condoms, the pH levels can negatively affect the sperm's speed and ability to move. When shopping for a lubricant look for a product that is labeled "fertility friendly."
Hydroxyethylcellulose-based lubricants such as Pre-Seed (INGfertility) and ConceiEase (Reproductive Laboratory) have no harmful effects on sperm and are recommended for couples trying to conceive. Mineral oil and canola oil are also considered to be "sperm friendly," but some people may find these products to be irritating.
4. Positioning During Intercourse
Many women believe that if they are lying down during intercourse and remain lying down for a certain period of time after intercourse, their odds of conceiving will increase. However, there is no scientific basis for this myth
In addition, there is no scientific evidence to indicate any relationship between timing of intercourse or coital positioning and the gender of the infant.
5. Eat a Healthy Diet
A balanced, healthy diet is best when a woman is trying to conceive. Special diets like vegetarian or low-fat diets are usually suitable for pregnant women who have chosen theselifestyles. However,there is no scientific proof that switching to any special or regimented diet will increase the odds of conception.
Women who are trying to conceive should take a folic acid supplement (at least 800 microgram daily) to help protect against neural tube defects.
In addition, recent studies have shown the importance of vitamin D in female fertility. Vitamin D is involved in egg development and maturation, and women who are deficient in vitamin D have a lower chance of conceiving than women who are not deficient.
This is especially true in women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), where vitamin D deficiency can markedly decrease their ability to ovulate and conceive.
Foods that are rich in vitamin D are dairy products and oily fish such as mackerel, salmon and tuna. Orange juices, soy milk and cereals are also fortified with vitamin D.
6. Maintain a Healthy Weight
Being obese or underweight can make it more difficult to become pregnant. These conditions can also indicate underlying, undiagnosed health condition such as thyroid problems, hypertension and diabetes.
Obesity is commonly associated with ovulation problems and miscarriages. Women who have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher may grow their follicles more slowly and ovulate late and thereby have a lower chance of a successful pregnancy. If your cycle is longer than 32 days you will likely need medical help to improve your ovulation.
Likewise, women with very low weight (BMI of 18 or lower) may have irregular cycles or not menstruate at all.
You should try to maintain your BMI between 20 and 30 if possible. If you're very overweight (BMI of 35 or higher) or very underweight (BMI below 18), consult with your physician.
7. Quit Smoking
Many studies have shown that women who smoke are significantly more likely to be infertile than nonsmokers.
Women who smoke tend to go through menopause about 4 years before non-smokers do. Some of the chemicals found in cigarette smoke have a direct toxic effect on the ovaries and can speed up egg depletion.
Quitting smoking is not just good for your overall health, it also increases your odds of getting pregnant. If you're trying to conceive you should also avoid secondhand smoke. Quitting is difficult, but it's good to tackle it before trying to conceive.
Although smoking can also result in lower sperm count and sperm motility for men, available data do not show that smoking decreases male fertility.
8. Reduce Caffeine Intake
In women, high levels of caffeine consumption (more than 5 cups of coffee a day) have been linked to decreased fertility. In addition, drinking more than 3 cups of coffee a day during pregnancy may increase the risk of miscarriage.
For most women, drinking up to two 8 ounce cups of coffee a day is fine. At many chain coffee shops a small coffee is 10 or even 12 ounces, so keep portion sizes in mind.
Other beverages like teas or energy drinks can contain caffeine. Keeping your overall caffeine intake to 200 milligrams or less a day is recommended. Overall, drinking 1 to 2 cups of coffee or its equivalent per day before or during pregnancy has no harmful effects on fertility or pregnancy outcomes.
Interestingly, caffeine consumption does not have a significant effect on sperm count or motility.
9. Avoid Recreational Drugs
There are several states in the US that have legalized recreational marijuana. As with tobacco use, just because something is legal does not mean it is safe for everyone. Marijuana use has been shown to have direct harmful effects on the developing fetus.
In women, higher amounts of THC have been shown to decrease estrogen production and prevent ovulation. One study found that women who use marijuana are more likely to be infertile than women who are nonusers.
Like caffeine and cigarettes, marijuana use has no significant effect on semen parameters.
10. Lower Your Stress Level
Last but not least, you should try to reduce your stress level while trying to conceive. Stress prevents the brain from sending signals to the ovary to grow the egg. This is a natural protective mechanism to ensure that you survive first before becoming responsible for taking care of someone else, in this case a baby.
Sustained high stress can also lead to high blood pressure, weight gain, depression, and other medical problems
Eliminating stress from your life is easier said than done but you can always try light exercises, yoga, meditation, massage, or acupuncture. These activities release endorphins, the ‘feel good’ neuropeptides that relieve stress.
You can also reduce stress by journaling. Writing down your feelings and frustrations on a piece of paper then shred it or throw it away. The physical act of ‘throwing your stress away’ can make you feel better.
When feeling overwhelmed, getting support from a counselor or a group can help you realize that you are not alone in your struggle with infertility. Local support group or national online sites such as Resolve.com are great sources for emotional support.
(1) Optimizing natural fertility: a committee opinion, American Society for Reproductive Medicine, Birmingham, Alabama
Sy Le, M.D. Dr. Le is the founder of IVFMD and has aspired from day one to make leading edge fertility treatment as affordable as possible. He has special interest in all aspects of Assisted Reproductive Technologies, especially IVF protocols for women with low ovarian reserve.
A biochemical pregnancy, while initially disappointing, provides a glimmer of hope for better days ahead. It's Nature's way to ensure births of healthy babies. After biochemical pregnancies, most women will likely conceive again and have healthy children.