For any woman eagerly awaiting the results of a pregnancy test, those grueling three minutes can be the longest of her life. Some will embrace motherhood as they notice a small plus sign coming into focus, but for countless others that celebrated symbol will fail to appear.
Infertility affects a staggering number of women in the United States, 7.4 million to be exact. The good news is that with lifestyle changes, a little inside knowledge on improving conception odds and fertility treatments (if necessary), women can tip the scales in their favor.
The following list provides some suggestions on how to improve your overall well-being and boost your fertility to bring you one step closer to turning that negative to a positive.
Maintain a Healthy Diet and Weight
Next time you’re hungry, take a pass on that cheeseburger and French fries and opt for a lighter salad with a lean protein. A recent study led by Dr. Van der Steeg, a medical researcher at the Academic Medical Center in the Netherlands, found that women whose BMI (body mass index) is in the overweight or obese category have a much harder time becoming pregnant. A normal BMI falls in the range of 18.5 to 24.9. Anything above 25 is considered to be overweight, and over 30 is obese. The results of the study showed that the chance of pregnancy was lowered by four percent for every BMI over 29 when compared to women with a BMI in the 21-29 range. Additionally, women with a BMI between 35-40 had a 23-43% less chance of pregnancy when compared to those in the healthy range.
It’s always a good idea to stay healthy by working out regularly and eating nutritious foods, but especially if you’re trying to conceive. Your body will thank you for it!
Say No to Stress
Stress is generally bad for our bodies no matter the circumstance, but it can have an even deeper hindering effect if you’re trying to become pregnant. For women trying to conceive, this can often seem like a Catch-22. They feel stressed because they aren’t pregnant, and as a result, find it difficult to lower their anxiety and stress while trying for a baby.
Courtney Lynch, the director of reproductive epidemiology at the Ohio State University College of Medicine, conducted a study measuring the effects of stress on fertility. Lynch and her team looked at saliva in women who were trying to get pregnant and measured the levels of an enzyme called salivary alpha-amylase, which is directly linked to stress.
"Women with higher levels of the stress biomarker had a twofold increased risk of infertility," Lynch said. Approximately 400 couples were involved in the study over a 12-month span, and the results showed that the women with the highest alpha-amylase levels had a 29% less chance of pregnancy when compared to those with low levels.
So next time life becomes too much to handle, take a deep breath and try to relax. Make stress-reducing activities a priority in your daily schedule, just like you would with cooking dinner and walking the dog. And be sure to unwind at the end of each day by doing something that relaxes you and takes your mind away from everything, such as yoga or meditation.
Avoid Starbucks and Happy Hour
Let’s face it, most of us need coffee to get going in the morning. It’s like happiness in a cup. Most of us also enjoy going out for cocktails with friends and drinking cold beers in the hot summer sun. But both of these factors could have a negative impact when you’re trying to conceive.
Generally studies suggest that caffeine shows a decrease in fertility, and according to The March of Dimes website, women who want to become pregnant should not consume more than 200mg of caffeine per day. It is important to note that caffeine can be found in various substances like tea, chocolate and some soft drinks.
A study published in Fertility and Sterility found that the chances of becoming pregnant dropped by more than 50% when women reported drinking alcohol while trying for a baby. If you’re opting for a fertility treatment, a recent study published in Obstetrics and Gynecology showed that women who drink at least four alcoholic drinks per week had a 16% less chance of becoming pregnant than their counterparts.
It’s good to monitor your intake of these drinks, or just say no to them altogether. Many foods can give you that burst of energy you crave, and there are plenty of yummy non-alcoholic beverages you can try.
Put Down the Cigarettes
Nothing positive can be said about smoking and its impact on our health. From the numerous chemicals to the potential of lung cancer, every woman should steer clear of cigarettes. It’s no surprise that they decrease the odds for conception. Chief researcher Dr. Marcus Munafo, from the Imperial Cancer Research Fund’s General Practice Research Group, conducted a study showing the connection of smoking to pregnancy based on the results of 569 women who were trying to have a baby. The findings showed that the smokers took nearly two months longer to conceive than the non-smokers.
“This study shows that stopping smoking should be a part of the preconception routine and women should quit as soon as they are thinking about having a baby. The message from this research is that if you want to get pregnant, you will not only improve your chances by quitting, you will also be doing something to protect the health of your child in the long term,” Munafo said.
There are many resources available to help women battle their addiction to cigarettes. If this is something you may be struggling with, think about reaching out to a partner or family member for support.
Work Around Your Cycle and Use Ovulation Tests
It’s no secret that women have the best chance of becoming pregnant during ovulation. This 12-24 hour window usually happens anywhere between 12 and 14 days before your period starts, based off of a regular 28-day cycle, and you are most fertile two to three days prior through the first day of ovulation. It is important to note that sperm can live in the uterus for three to five days, so having sex leading up to ovulation can help. There are many ways to try to pinpoint when you are ovulating. For example, your discharge should turn into the consistency of egg whites and your body temperature will increase. When you notice these changes, it means it’s time to get busy.
But if you want to be sure of ovulation, there are many tests available for purchase so you don’t have to “second guess” yourself. The most common is an ovulation predictor kit (OPK) that gives you positive results the day before you ovulate, giving you ample time to plan. These tests recognize when the levels of luteinizing hormone have gone up, which means an egg is about to be released. They are available at almost all drugstores, and the cost varies from $20-$50. There are also fertility-tracking apps that can help you monitor your body and help identify peak fertility windows.
Putting a little time into ovulation tracking has a twofold benefit — you increase your own chances of pregnancy by becoming familiar with your body and you understand how it works. Let your partner in on these patterns so they can be prepared when you are.
Get Busy… Often, But Not Too Often
Many women seem to think that having sex all the time will result in pregnancy. Others believe that doing it rarely and only during specific times will make the sperm more potent. Both of these assumptions are wrong to some extent. It is important to keep having sex regularly, but by no means does this mean you need to exhaust yourself and jump in the sheets at every opportunity.
It’s a good idea to have sex one to two days before ovulation and then again on the day you think you’re ovulating. This will likely result in a healthy supply of sperm waiting in the fallopian tube when the egg is released. A lot of women have difficulty knowing exactly when they’re ovulating, so regular sex helps and often keeps both partners happy. It’s when you start stressing about it and constantly forcing sex that not only leaves couples drained physically, but emotionally as well.
Pop Those Vitamins and Lookout for Folic Acid
Vitamins are a great way to increase your overall health and give your body exactly what it needs. They are especially important when you’re trying to have a baby, and even during pregnancy. Research has shown that specific vitamins and minerals can help you increase the likelihood of becoming pregnant because they help eliminate nutritional deficiencies and take some of the stress out of trying to maintain that perfect diet.
Folic Acid has been shown to prevent spina bifida in babies, so it is vital that you get enough before and during pregnancy. But this vitamin can also help you on a number of levels. It belongs to the B-complex family of vitamins that target production of the genetic materials DNA and RNA, both in the egg and the sperm. When you combine Folic Acid with the other B vitamins, you can also increase your overall chances of becoming pregnant. Research has shown that giving B6 to women who have trouble conceiving increases fertility and vitamin B12 has been found to improve low sperm counts, so make sure your partner gets plenty too.
But these aren’t the only supplements you should be taking to help your fertility, also try including Omega 3 Fatty Acids, Vitamin C, Vitamin E and Beta-Carotene to really give you the health boost you need.
Dr. Meike Uhler of Fertility Centers of Illinois is board certified in both Obstetrics and Gynecology and Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility, and has been practicing medicine since 1992. In her career she has helped thousands of patients overcome infertility and experience the joy of having a family.
She completed her residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Northwestern University in Chicago, followed by a fellowship in Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at University of California, Los Angeles. Most recently, Dr. Uhler was Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology on the faculty at Loyola University School of Medicine. Her research interests and scientific publications focus on the evaluation and treatment of female and male infertility.