You already know the drill—when you’re trying to conceive you can’t leave the house without seeing pregnant bellies. Every time you turn on the TV there’s a sweet baby in a diaper commercial staring back at you. You always seem to spot at least four newborns snuggled up in carriers perched on top of grocery carts when you run into the supermarket.
Whether you’re a few months into trying or are thinking about starting a family soon, you know doubt have babies on the brain. By now you likely know that many of us don’t get pregnant the first time we try. But what might be surprising news is that there are fertility saboteurs that can wreak havoc on your chances of conceiving. Here’s how to deal with five that could be obstructing your road to baby bliss.
When you mention to friends and family that you’re “trying,” you’ll almost guaranteed to hear someone say, “Just relax and it will happen.” Easier said than done. Stress, good or bad, is going to take its toll on you both physically and mentally. According to naturopathic doctor Via Bitidis, co-director of the North Toronto Naturopathic Clinic, balance and calm are a crucial part of trying to conceive. “When you’re stressed your adrenal system takes a hit. Your body isn’t going to say, ‘Okay, let’s get pregnant.’ Learning to say no and to take time for yourself is important for improving your chances of having a baby.” Megan Karnis, medical director of The ONE Fertility Clinic in Burlington, Ont., agrees with a word of caution: “A lot of women think the best thing to do when you’re stressed is to take time off work. In my experience, that doesn’t help, because it makes a woman feel she has to get pregnant in that time and then the stress to get pregnant is so much higher,” she says. Instead of altering your day-to-day routine entirely, Karnis recommends counselling, art therapy, meditation and exercise to reduce stress levels.
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You already know that catching an adequate number of zzz’s makes that morning department meeting more bearable, but here’s another reason to get yourself to bed before the wee hours. Sleep deprivation puts stress on the body (there’s that pesky s-word again) and when you’re tired, you don’t run on all cylinders. “For people who don’t get enough sleep, their immune systems are down a little bit and they’re more likely to get infections, which will affect the reproductive cycle,” Karnis says. “This applies to men as well. Infections can cause fever and that excess heat can damage the sperm temporarily,” she says. “Women who don’t get enough sleep can also start to feel anxious, which may cause missed periods.” Keeping yourself healthy is the baby bottom line, so set the PVR to record Mad Men and enforce a new bedtime.
A woman who is underweight or overweight may have some difficulty conceiving a baby. “An undernourished body may not ovulate properly,” says Bitidis. On the other hand, excess weight can have a significant effect on fertility. “Just being over your ideal weight decreases your chance of getting pregnant even if you are ovulating regularly,” says Karnis. “The further you stray above 25 on the Body Mass Index, the worse it gets.” Maintaining a healthy diet and developing a reasonable exercise routine will do wonders for your mind and body,” Bitidis adds.
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“A lot of women don’t understand their own cycles,” says Bitidis. Most of us were taught the typical 28-day cycle in health class back in high school, but every woman is different and cycles vary in length. “The biggest thing is timing,” Karnis says. “We teach women that ovulation is two weeks before your period. Most people think that it’s two weeks after, but that’s only if you have a four-week cycle,” she says. You’ll have better luck conceiving if you monitor ovulation and start having sex at the right time. “We also teach people about sperm life—they can live for three days in the cervix, so you don’t have to have sex on the day of ovulation, it could be the day before. We also find that a lot of people don’t know that lubricant decreases sperm motility and transfer, so you shouldn’t use lubricant when you’re trying to get pregnant,” says Karnis.
“Keeping a positive attitude is incredibly important. There is a huge mind-body connection. Try not to listen to the negative stories and try to be patient,” Bitidis advises. Preparing for pregnancy up to a year in advance may be a good idea if you’re planning to start a family in the near future, that way you can focus on making lifestyle changes. If you’re trying now, remember that it can take time—experts say up to a year— to conceive. If you’re concerned that it has taken too long, speak to your healthcare provider about your options for fertility counselling and treatment.
Originally published in September 2010