Fertility and conception tips: What to do before getting pregnant

Hoping to get pregnant soon? You've come to the right place! Here's everything you need to know to maximize your chances of conceiving quickly and to get your pregnancy off to the healthiest possible start.

fertility calendar

Look after yourself
Start taking folic acid now. You reduce your chances of giving birth to a baby with a neural tube defect (for example, anencephaly or spina bifida) by 50 percent to 70 percent if you start taking at least 0.4 mg of folic acid each day two to three months before you start trying to conceive.

Looking for a delicious way to sneak some more folic acid into your diet? Start your day with a tall glass of orange juice or a fresh, juicy orange. Both are excellent sources of folic acid—an important nutrient for any woman who’s hoping to conceive.


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Are you taking any vitamins? Large doses of certain types of vitamins can be harmful to your developing baby. Switch to a prenatal vitamin before you conceive.

If you haven’t already stopped smoking, do it now. Studies have shown that smoking just 10 cigarettes a day reduces a woman’s chances of conceiving by 50 percent.

Are you a coffee drinker? Time to give it up or switch to decaf! Caffeine is thought to restrict the growth of a developing baby by constricting blood vessels and reducing blood flow to the uterus. What’s more, a few studies have indicated that excessive consumption of caffeine (that is, more than three cups of drip coffee per day) may contribute to fertility problems. The jury is still out on this last point, however.

If you or your partner are regularly exposed to hazardous substances in the workplace, you may need to consider a job change or job modification before you start your family. Certain substances can affect both the quality of sperm and the development of the embryo.

If you haven’t had your preconception checkup yet, set up an appointment with your doctor to review your medical history and to talk about your plans to start trying to conceive.

Are you currently taking any prescription or over-the-counter drugs? Be sure to ask your doctor if it’s safe for you to continue taking them once you start trying to conceive.

If you’re diabetic it’s important to get your blood sugar levels under control before you conceive. Studies have shown that women with poorly controlled insulin-dependent diabetes are four to six times more likely to give birth to babies with birth defects than non-diabetic women.

Make sure that you’ve been properly screened for STDs. More than one million North American women are affected by pelvic inflammatory disease each year. The number-one cause is an untreated sexually transmitted disease.

Tempted to lit up a cigarette or have a glass of wine? You should assume that you’re pregnant until you know for sure that you’re not. One of the most critical periods in embryonic development happens before a woman even knows that she’s pregnant.

Contrary to popular belief, taking contraceptive pills, antibiotics, and analgesics such as acetaminophen should not affect the accuracy of your pregnancy test. Here are more ways to get your body ready for pregnancy.

Getting ready
Make your vaginal environment as sperm-friendly as possible. Avoid vaginal sprays and scented tampons (which can cause a pH imbalance in your vagina); artificial lubricants, vegetable oils, and glycerin (because they can kill off sperm); saliva (because saliva can also kill sperm); and douching (because it alters the normal acidity of the vagina; can cause vaginal infections and/or pelvic inflammatory disease; and may wash away the cervical mucus that is needed to transport the sperm).

If you’re monitoring your cervical mucus in an attempt to predict your most fertile days, do your checks before you shower, bathe, or swim. These activities can all affect the quantity and quality of your cervical mucus.

Here’s a clear case of use it or lose it. Studies have shown that abstaining from sex for more than seven days can decrease the male partner’s fertility. Any gain in sperm counts from lack of use is more than offset by the increased number of aged sperm cells with lower fertilization potential.

Studies have also shown that the most fertile period in a woman’s cycle are the five days leading up to ovulation. If you expect to ovulate soon, this is peak babymaking season.

As ovulation approaches, your cervix tends to rise up in your vagina, soften, and open slightly. Although it feels firm like the tip of your nose at the start of your menstrual cycle, by the time you’re ready to ovulate, it feels soft and fleshy like your lips. You can monitor this particular fertility sign yourself.

If your menstrual cycle longer or shorter than 28 days, chances are, you won’t ovulate on Day 14. Ovulation typically occurs 14 days before the start of the next menstrual cycle—not 14 days after the end of the last one. Use this tool to calculate when you’ll ovulate.

Don’t overdo it
Does your partner like to spend hours on the exercise bike at the gym? Tell him to hop on the treadmill instead. A study at the University of California School of Medicine revealed that men who cycle more than 100 km per week put their fertility at risk. The repeated banging of the groin against the bicycle seat can damage critical arteries and nerves.

You can have too much of a good thing—at least when it comes to exercise. Excessive amounts of exercise can lead to such fertility problems as irregular periods, anovulatory cycles (cycles in which ovulation does not occur), and luteal phase deficiencies (a problem that occurs when the second half of your cycle isn’t long enough to allow for the proper implantation of the fertilized egg). The moral of the story? Stay active, but don’t overdo it.

Are you already physically active? Terrific! If you’re not, you might want to think about getting the jump on a prenatal fitness program. Walking at a reasonably fast pace for 20 to 30 minutes three or more times each week will help you to develop good strength, stamina, and cardiovascular health. Before you start any exercise program, however, you should get your doctor’s go-ahead.

Numbers game
Wondering if you should pull out the thermometer and the temperature chart? Some couples like to try to predict their fertile days by watching for the temperature shift that typically accompanies ovulation; others prefer to let nature take its course. If you’re having intercourse two to three times per week anyway, you’re already doing everything possible to try to conceive, so taking your temperature could be a bit of overkill. If, on the other hand, you find it reassuring to know that you’re “doing everything right,” then put that thermometer to good use.

If you decide to take your basal body temperature (BBT) to track your most fertile days, pick up a digital thermometer rather than relying on the old-style mercury thermometer. It’s easier to read, it requires no shaking (which can cause your body temp to go up for no good reason), and it even beeps to remind you to record your reading if you accidentally go back to sleep.

Don’t eat, drink, or get out of bed before you take your temperature. Each of these activities can affect the accuracy of your reading.

If your partner’s sperm count is low or marginal, you may be advised to have intercourse every other day to allow his sperm count to build up. Your doctor may even recommend that your partner refrain from ejaculating during the days leading up to your most fertile period.

If you got a bad sleep last night, make a note on your temperature chart. Getting less than three consecutive hours of sleep can make your BBT reading unreliable.

If you don’t notice any sort of temperature shift on your BBT chart, don’t panic. Some women who are ovulating don’t experience the classic temperature rise upon ovulation. Instead, their BBT remains constant throughout their menstrual cycle.

If you’re taking your BBT to try to pinpoint your most fertile days, don’t wait until your temperature starts shooting upward before you start trying to conceive. By that time, ovulation will have already occurred and you will have missed your babymaking opportunity.

Once ovulation has occurred, the waiting game begins. There won’t be enough human chorionic gonadotropin in your urine for a pregnancy test to pick up until at least 12 days after ovulation—perhaps even longer.

Ovulation is a random event each month, with both ovaries vying for the honor on a first-come, first-served basis. If you only have one ovary, it wins the draw by default.

By tracking your BBT, you might be able to save yourself the cost of a home pregnancy test. If your period ends up being late, you will simply need to note whether your luteal phase–the number of days since you ovulated–is longer than normal. If you end up with 18 consecutive elevated temperatures or your temperature remains elevated for at least three days longer than your longest luteal phase to date, you’ll be able to conclude that you’re pregnant.

Try to book the last appointment of the day for your preconception checkup. That’s when your doctor or midwife is most likely to be able to take the time to answer your questions and address your concerns without feeling rushed to go on to the next patient.

Let’s talk about sex
Try to keep sex fun when you’re trying to conceive. Use rooms other than the bedroom or schedule your babymaking rendezvous for an odd time of day.

Don’t hop up and run to the bathroom right after you make love. Lying down for at least five minutes after intercourse increases the odds that the sperm will be able to keep their date with the awaiting egg and that you’ll win at baby roulette.

Make love often during your fertile period (the five days leading up to ovulation). If you’ve got the stamina to make love at least every 48 hours, you will ensure that there’s a fresh shipment of sperm waiting in the fallopian tube at any given time.

Keep in mind that babymaking is a numbers game. Even if you do everything “right,” you still have only a 25 percent to 30 percent chance of conceiving in any given cycle.

If you aren’t already doing so, start keeping a menstrual calendar. Note the date when your period starts, the number of days it lasts, and anything else your doctor might want to know about. This information could prove helpful if you experience problems in conceiving. It can also prove invaluable in pinpointing the date of conception—and consequently your due date.

Don’t make sex into a chore. Consider these words of wisdom from one of the parents interviewed in The Unofficial Guide to Having A Baby: “Do not have sex every day. If you’re trying to maximize your chances of conceiving, it’s better to go every other day around the time you are ovulating. You are also more fresh, and therefore can put your heart into making sex as pleasurable and romantic as possible.”

Looking ahead
Who would you like to have present at your baby’s birth? Even though you haven’t actually managed to conceive yet, it’s never to early to start thinking about your choice of caregiver. Ask friends to pass along the names of doctors and midwives who provided them with excellent care during their own pregnancies.

Looking for a natural way to relax when you’re trying to conceive? An orgasm could be just what the doctor ordered! Studies have shown that an orgasm is 22 times as relaxing as the average tranquilizer.

Your body begins to produce hCG about a week after conception. The production of hCG combined with rising progesterone levels causes blood flow to the pelvic area to increase—something that could have you running to the bathroom at frequent intervals as your pregnancy progresses.

Don’t panic if you experience a small amount of spotting. Some women experience implantation bleeding about a week after conception—the point in pregnancy when the fertilized egg attaches itself to the uterine wall. Many women mistake this light amount of bleeding for a menstrual period—something that can wreak havoc on their ability to calculate their due dates. Spotting and cramping are common early signs of pregnancy.

Although pregnancy is the most common explanation for missing a period, you can miss a period for many other reasons: jet lag, severe illness, surgery, shock, bereavement, or other causes of stress. And as if that weren’t enough to muddy the waters, some women continue to have menstrual-like bleeding throughout at least part of their pregnancies.

If you purchase a pregnancy test that requires that you collect a urine sample rather than testing your urine while you urinate, make sure that you have a clean, soap-free container on hand. Soap residue can affect the accuracy of the test.

Planning to use a home pregnancy test tomorrow? Check to make sure that the test hasn’t passed its expiration date and read the test instructions so you’ll know what you’re doing when it’s time to do the test.

    Read more:
    15 signs you might be pregnant
    11 things to do before having a baby
    25 things to talk about before getting pregnant

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