Some relatively simple lifestyle changes could be standing between you and a positive reading on a pregnancy test. We asked Clifford Librach, founder and director of the Create Fertility Centre and a professor in the department of obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Toronto, for his advice on boosting the odds of conception. Read on for six tips that are proven to make a difference.
If you need to lose a few pounds, now is the best time to do it. Being overweight can have a negative impact on your chances of getting pregnant, and being underweight, especially if you have irregular periods, can also cause problems, says Librach. That’s because fat cells are related to estrogen production, and if you have too many or too few, it can throw off the hormones involved in ovulation. Being overweight can also increase your risk of insulin resistance, which can disrupt ovulation. In men, obesity is linked to lower testosterone levels and impaired sperm quality. Talk to your doctor if you or your partner believe that your weight might be an issue. They’ll be able to discuss strategies for getting to a healthier weight range for baby making. The good news is, if you’re obese, losing even 10 to 20 pounds can boost your overall health and improve your chances of conception.
You may feel your anxiety levels skyrocketing now that you’re trying to get pregnant—preparing for this life change is huge! But it’s actually more important than ever to keep stress in check. There are a number of studies that show that stress can affect a woman’s menstrual cycle. Being stressed out is bad for guys, too, since it can affect sperm production and maturation. Plus, we all know that stress can reduce sexual desire. “We can’t eliminate stress from our lives, but we can control how we deal with it,” says Librach. “Exercise, massage, yoga, meditation and acupuncture have all been shown to be effective tools in managing stress.”
Studies show that women who smoke take longer to get pregnant and have an increased risk of infertility. Smoking also dramatically increases the risks of miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy and complications during pregnancy, so it’s definitely best to quit now. Women who smoke marijuana should also butt out. Even though a new study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found little difference in conception probabilities between couples who did and did not smoke pot, the effects of marijuana aren’t fully understood yet and using it during pregnancy has been linked to lower birth weights and developmental problems.
Both tobacco and marijuana are no-nos for dads-to-be, too, since they can reduce sperm quality. And a woman’s exposure to second-hand smoke is considered to be just as detrimental to her fertility as if she smoked herself.
It’s time to curb your Cab-Sauv habit. “Having between one and five drinks a week is considered moderate alcohol consumption and shouldn’t affect your fertility,” says Librach. But you might as well get used to teetotalling—drinking during pregnancy can have serious consequences for babies, from birth defects to learning disabilities. For dads-to-be, the rule of thumb is no more than two drinks a day. Too many boozy nights can lead to higher levels of estrogen in his body (a by-product of the body’s efforts to break down alcohol) and a lower sperm count.
Now’s the time to start taking a multivitamin, if you don’t already. Not only do you need folic acid to prevent neural tube, heart and limb defects, which can form in the first few weeks of pregnancy, but studies have also shown that women who are iron deficient may experience poor egg quality and even stop ovulating. A vitamin B12 deficiency can also result in irregular ovulation, and a vitamin D deficiency can interfere with hormone balance. Vitamin C can improve hormone levels, and selenium is also important, as it helps protect the egg and sperm from free-radical damage.
Librach recommends supplementing with 1,000 international units (IUs) of vitamin D and one milligram of folic acid daily while trying to conceive. A prenatal vitamin, plus an additional vitamin D supplement (since the average prenatal vitamin contains about 400 IUs), will give you everything you need.
Figuring out exactly which days you’re fertile is key to getting pregnant, but it can be confusing. If you have a typical 28-day cycle, you’ll ovulate about 14 days before your next period, but not everyone has a predictable period. “There are lots of apps out there that can help you track your cycle,” says Librach.
You can also track some changes in your body that signal ovulation to ensure that you’re getting busy at the right time of the month. Keeping tabs on your basal body temperature (the temperature of your body at rest) is one method—you’ll see a slight dip in temperature, followed by a spike as soon as you ovulate. You’ll also notice changes in your cervical mucus just before ovulating. “You’re looking for the consistency of the white part of an egg,” says Librach. Or you can use an ovulation predictor kit from the drugstore, which tells you exactly when you’re ovulating by detecting a surge in luteinizing hormone (LH) in your urine, which occurs 36 to 48 hours before you ovulate.
Once you know you’re about to ovulate, it’s time to get romantic. Have sex on the day when you get a positive reading on your ovulation predictor kit, when you see a change in your cervical mucus or before an expected change in basal body temperature (based on patterns from previous months) and for the next two days afterwards. This will give you your best chances of conception. You can’t really have too much sex, but there’s no benefit to doing it more than once a day during your prime days.