Many women spend much of their young adult lives trying not to get pregnant. But when it’s the right time for you to start your family, you want to know you’re doing everything you can to protect and enhance your fertility. And there are steps you can take to make getting pregnant easier.
Getting Pregnant: Common Fertility Misconceptions
The most common fertility misconception is that getting pregnant is an easy thing to do. “In school they taught you how to avoid getting pregnant, but nobody tells you how to increase your chances of conceiving,” says Amos Grunebaum, MD, an obstetrician-gynecologist based in New York City and medical director of a natural fertility supplement supplier. “Most people don’t realize that the average couple only has a 20 to 25 percent chance of achieving pregnancy each cycle.”
Beyond the idea that pregnancy is an easy state to achieve, Dr. Grunebaum says that another common fertility misconception he sees is the idea that if there’s a problem, it’s the woman’s fault. “In reality, roughly half the causes of infertility are due to male factors, like low sperm count or low sperm motility,” he says.
Getting Pregnant: Tips to Increase Your Chances
He adds that while “fertility diets” can be useful, you don’t have to memorize any strange recipes or shopping lists to stick to a diet that can boost your fertility levels. Here are some basic guidelines:
Avoid trans fats: According to data from the Nurses’ Health Study, trans fats can deter ovulation and conception. Even just four grams a day — less than the average American gets regularly — may have a negative effect on fertility. Trans fats are common in fried and processed foods, so skip the drive-thru and the snack packs at the grocery store, and go with whole, natural foods for the biggest nutrient boost. “In general, you want to eat healthy, natural foods that are rich in nutrients, antioxidants, and folic acid,” according to Grunebaum. “Good examples are citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, and fortified cereals.”
Pick plant protein over animal: The Nurses’ Health Study also found that women who ate the most animal protein — such as beef, chicken, and pork — were 39 percent more likely to have fertility issues than women who ate the least. However, the opposite was true for women who ate plant protein such as beans, tofu, and nuts.
Eat slow carbs, not no carbs: Harvard researchers found that it’s not the quantity but the quality of carbs that influences fertility. For example, fast carbs, including white bread and potatoes, which your body digests quickly, can decrease your chances of conception, while slow carbs, such as brown rice and other whole grains, can improve your odds.
Getting Pregnant: See Your Gynecologist
Before trying to conceive, schedule an appointment with your gynecologist. “It’s a good idea to ensure that you’re going down the right path,” says Grunebaum. Even if you don’t visit a doctor when you first begin trying to have a baby, if you’re trying to conceive for six months or more and haven’t had success, Grunebaum says, it’s a good time to see a doctor to check for any fertility problems with you or your partner. “A good ob-gyn can teach you about how your cycle works, how best to predict ovulation, even what sexual positions are recommended to help you conceive,” he says.
You should also take some time to get familiar with your body in your own home. If you don’t already, start tracking your cycle on a calendar so you can better predict your most fertile window, which, according to the National Institutes of Health, is somewhere between days 7 and 20. If you have an irregular cycle, consider picking up an ovulation prediction kit at your drug store. You can also use a special thermometer to track your basal body temperature (BBT), which rises after you ovulate and then stays at a higher-than-normal level until the end of your cycle.
Getting Pregnant: Substances to Steer Clear Of
Obviously, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is of utmost importance when you’re trying to conceive. The first few weeks of pregnancy are the most critical, and much of this occurs before you even realize you may be pregnant. So during that time, it’s best to steer clear of substances like:
- Drugs that may be toxic to a developing baby
Grunebaum also advises that skipping your morning cup of coffee might help boost your fertility. “Caffeine can reduce the body’s ability to absorb iron and increase the potential for complications during pregnancy,” he says. In fact, researchers from the Netherlands found that more than four cups a day cut chances of conception by 26 percent. Grunebaum also recommends that women trying to conceive minimize stress to the best of their ability. “Exercise can provide stress relief, and there are a number of fertility yoga programs that are designed to help couples conceive,” he says.
Fertility Levels: Getting Tested
If you’re trying to conceive and have not yet had success, a doctor may recommend having your fertility levels tested. Grunebaum says the most common fertility analysis is called the “Day 3 FSH Test.” This test measures the level of follicle stimulating hormone present in a woman’s body on the third day of her menstrual cycle. “It is essentially a way to measure the ovarian reserve, although even a low reserve does not necessarily mean one cannot get pregnant,” he says, adding there are also tests that measure hormones like estrogen and progesterone, which are key to a successful pregnancy.
Your doctor may also need to rule out endometriosis, fibroids, pelvic inflammatory disease, and problems with your partner’s sperm production or mobility, all of which can cause fertility issues.
“Don’t get discouraged if at first you don’t succeed,” Grunebaum says. “Take advantage of all the information and resources available for couples who are trying to conceive.”