Everyone can imagine that making a baby is a fairly straight forward process, insert part A into part B and voila nine months later you've a baby in your arms. But unfortunately, for many couples it's not as simple as that and they struggle to get pregnant over months and years. It's said that one in six couples will have difficulty conceiving with a possibility of a quarter of all pregnancies ending in a miscarriage. With fertility, there are more factors involved in making a baby than you may have originally thought and there are plenty outside forces that can have an affect on your fertility making it harder for you to conceive.
Researchers have spent years investigating the fertility of men and women and have uncovered many aspects of our daily lives that have an influence on whether or not you will conceive naturally. The science behind our bodies and how it interacts with our environment plays an important and large part in how quickly we may conceive. It's necessary for couples, these days, to be conscious of how our lifestyles affect our fertility right down to our surroundings at home or in the office.
We've put together a guide that will help you get your mind and body into a healthy state in preparation for making a baby. Remember, if you are having trouble conceiving, you are not alone. There are many couples who have struggled but have also gone on to have happy, healthy babies. There are many organisations that can help you and your partner to conceive. Talk to your health provider if you are concerned.
15 Keep A Tab
Recording your menstrual cycle often comes naturally for most women who don't want to be caught out with a surprise visit from Aunt Flo. Most women have a natural menstrual cycle of 28 days. While many incorrectly assume that you can get pregnant at any stage throughout the month, a 28 day cycle, gives you a fertile window of six days when you are most likely to conceive. Of course, there is the possibility that you will conceive outside of this short window, but the fertile period gives you a higher chance of making a baby.
The Science Bit: To figure out when you are most fertile, you should chart your menstrual cycle and record how long it lasts. Remember, that day one is the first day of your period. It’s best to keep track of your cycle for a few months to get a clearer understanding of when you are most fertile. The last day of your menstrual cycle is the day before the next period begins. Ovulation happens about fourteen days before your next period. If your average menstrual cycle is 28 days, you ovulate around day 14.
14 Figure Out Ovulation Times
For women who have irregular periods with a varying cycle it can be harder to know exactly when you are fertile and calculating your average menstrual cycle length can become stressful. However, there are other ways to determine when you are ovulating giving you a specific timeframe and window for when to have sex and hopefully conceive.
To figure out if you are ovulating, you can use an at home ovulation predictor kit, which tests your hormone levels. Ovulation tests are pretty much like pregnancy tests, you pee on a stick which determines your hormone levels, showing whether or not you are ovulating. You can also keep a eye on your Basal Body Temperature which can give you a good indicator on ovulation, as can your cervical mucus discharge levels which usually increase around ovulation. Some women experience cramping sensations known as mittelschmerz, are also an indicator of ovulation.
The Science Bit: Ovulation is when the egg is released from your ovaries. When sperm fertilizes the egg and it implants in your uterus, you are pregnant! Determining when you are ovulating gives you a better chance of conceiving.
13 Do It
This part goes without saying, but it is important to have sex at the right time to increase your chances of conception. If you have figured out your menstrual cycle and determined if you are ovulating or about to ovulate, you can plan intercourse to give you and your partner a better chance of conceiving. While planning can take the romance and excitement out of the experience, for couples hoping to conceive, it can become an important aspect of making a baby.
The Science Bit: An egg lives for 12 to 24 hours after being released from the ovaries, while male sperm can live for up to seven days inside a woman's body. Having sex prior to ovulation, gives the sperm time to swim up to the fallopian tubes and effectively wait for the egg to be released. If you have sex a number of days before ovulation, you give yourself a greater chance of conceiving once ovulation occurs.
12 Eat Right
It's only natural to assume that eating well plays a vital part in our fertility. Nutrition is an important aspect to remember when considering having a baby as being overweight or underweight can have an impact on our fertility hormones. It has been proven that a lack of vitamins and minerals can delay our chances of becoming pregnant. And, of course, when you do conceive, to keep the pregnancy going, your baby will need as much healthy nutrients, vitamins and minerals as possible. Maintaining an appropriate body weight for your height and size is vital in conception due to the natural hormones that help you ovulate. A proper diet will help you maintain your weight for pregnancy.
The Science Bit: A hormone called oestrodiol, is needed for ovulation. It is produced by fat cells as well as ovaries. So, you can understand why too little fat on your body means you will not make enough oestrodiol to ovulate. On the other hand, too much fat and the levels of this hormone become too high, equally causing problems with ovulation.
11 Stop Cold Turkey
Smoking has been scientifically proven to have an affect on sub-fertility, reducing a couples chances of conceiving. Not only is quitting good for your fertility, it's also good for your health. Obviously, the longer you are a smoker and the amount of cigarettes you smoke a day, has a greater implication on your levels of fertility with the more you smoke the more likely you are to have problems with conception. Smoking can cause ovulation problems, genetic issues, damage to the ovaries, premature menopause and increased risk of miscarriage. If you are hoping to conceive, quit smoking now to increase your chances of creating a baby. This goes for both men and women.
The Science Bit: For men, smoking has been proven to lower sperm count and cause sperm motility problems which affects the sperms ability to swim towards and penetrate the egg. For women, smoking can cause premature depletion of the ovarian pool of oocytes, which are cells in the ovaries, and can also cause premature aging of the ovary by one to four years.
10 Choose Lubricants Wisely
When trying to conceiving, couples tend to increase the amount of sex they have to increase their odds of conception. This can often lead to unromantic, planned sessions that need a bit of support down below. More often than not, lubricant is used to help the process along. Unfortunately, it has been discovered through research that certain lubricants can adversely affect fertility. It has been discovered that standard lubricants, in actual fact, can damage a man's swimmers making getting pregnant even harder. Luckily, there are sperm friendly lubricants available on the market, so be sure to pick up the appropriate lubricant to increase your chances of conceiving.
The Science Bit: Vaginal lubricants have been shown to affect sperm motility in vitro by killing or slowing down the sperm due to the various chemicals used in the lubricant and the thickness of the product. Lubricants have also been proven to affect the PH balance of the cervical mucus that helps sperm to make its way to the egg.
9 Give Up The Gin
While it has been difficult for scientists to get an accurate portrayal of alcohol consumption in relation to fertility, as many are unable to quantify their level of drinking, there is enough scientific evidence which shows us that alcohol does have substantial negative effects on fertility. Women who consume large amounts of alcohol are more likely to have heavy or irregular periods which in turn means that it can take longer to get pregnant. Men who frequently drink have been proven to have lower sperm motility and levels which effectively results in a lowered chance of conception. It is advised, if you are hoping to conceive to avoid alcohol to give you and your partner a better chance of conceiving.
The Science Bit: For women, alcohol depresses the adrenal glands which slows the release of hormones produced by these glands. As a result, this may directly weaken or damage egg health and libido. And for men, excessive alcohol consumption has been proven to be associated with a decreased sperm count number which may affect fertility.
8 Avoid The Caffeine Fix
It has always been thought that caffeine is bad for pregnancy, and while research suggests that an excessive level of caffeine consumption can cause miscarriage, women need to be aware that they are allowed some level of caffeine while trying to conceive and throughout pregnancy. Researchers have determined that, "The consumption of caffeinated beverages has been implicated in fertility problems, while consumption during pregnancy has been associated with an increased risk of miscarriage, congenital malformations, fetal growth restriction, stillbirth, and long-term behavioral effects in offspring." As with most things, everything in moderation is the right balance to strike. Less than 200 milligrams of caffeine a day is reported to be the recommended threshold for caffeine intake. Remember, caffeine can be found in coffee, tea, hot chocolate and carbonated soft drinks.
The Science Bit: The evidence is not exactly clear as to how caffeine adversely affects fertility but women hoping to conceive are advised to cut back on excessive caffeine consumption. Bear in mind, that when pregnant, caffeine can cross from the placenta to the fetus. At this point, the fetus is unable to break down the caffeine the way adults do. Caffeine may play a role in poor cell development and a lack of blood flow to the placenta which can increase the risk of miscarriage.
7 Watch The Weight
It's not just women who are obese or overweight who suffer from fertility issues. Underweight women are at risk of sub-fertility as well as those who have too many pounds. Watching your weight is an important factor on fertility as maintaining a healthy balance will increase your odds of conceiving.
Being overweight and underweight can have an affect on your menstrual cycle which creates problems with fertility. Researchers have discovered in some studies that women who are overweight and reduce their weight often result in spontaneous conception which reduces the need for fertility treatment. In addition, women who were underweight and infertile benefitted from weight gain, which improved the frequency of their periods and therefore ovulation increasing their likelihood of conceiving.
The Science Bit: Being overweight or underweight can cause hormonal imbalances that can affect your menstrual cycle and prevent ovulation, making it harder to conceive.
6 Take A Prenatal Like You Would BC
Scientific research has shown that supplements can be very effective in balancing your diet with the additional nutrients and minerals your body needs to be in peak performance. They can also realign your hormones which is important for successful conception. A prenatal supplement for both you and are partner will include the majority of vitamins and minerals you both need to aid conception.
Folic acid is a vital vitamin for all woman hoping to conceive as it reduces your chances of having a baby with spina bifida by more than 70%. Bear in mind, that it's important to start taking folic acid up to fourteen weeks before you get pregnant as your baby will thrive on the nutrients already in your body in the first three months of gestation.
If you are ensure what is the best vitamin to take or if you are concerned about low nutritional levels talk to a healthcare provider who will guide you in making the right choices for your fertility.
The Science Bit: Nutrition plays a vital part in maintaining fertility and experiencing a healthy pregnancy. Any deficiencies you may have can be linked to ovulation issues, hormonal imbalances, poor egg health, low sperm count and more. Research has shown us that a multivitamin, with added folic acid for women, is vital for fertility.
5 Avoid Strenuous Exercise
Believe it or not exercise can affect your fertility but it is only in recent years that the research has come out. Scientists have determined that, while exercise is an important part of our daily lives, if you are trying to conceive, excessive exercise can have limiting factors to your fertility. While exercise improves metabolism and circulation, both of which contribute to better egg production, in women who have lived sedentary lives, excessive exercise can have the opposite effect. However, many doctors are still unable to give appropriate guidelines as the research is not 100% conclusive. "Studies on which to base fitness advice are still difficult to find and often contradictory, so it's been hard to give women definitive guidelines to follow," says Dr Robert Brzyski, PhD, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antoni. But he says, "Research is beginning to suggest it's more important than we realize."
It's advised to limit your exercise routine to 30 minute sessions of moderate exercise five days a week to remain in good condition and not inhibit your chances of conception.
The Science Bit: According to Dr Brzyski, "If you make a dramatic increase in your exercise level, even if BMI or body fat percentage stays the same, the stress can have a negative effect on reproductive hormone production and fertility."
4 Create A Fertility-Friendly Environment
Many chemicals, including pesticides and herbicides used to kill insects and weeds can sadly, decrease male fertility and may also affect female fertility by damaging ovarian function and disrupting the menstrual cycle. These hazards may also have negative affects on the fetus during pregnancy. Scientists have established through years of research that these chemicals, including household products such as certain soaps with synthetic fragrances and laundry detergents, can adversely affect a man's sperm and a woman's menstrual cycle. There's a lot to be said for going organic. To increase your fertility, avoid these contaminating agents in the atmosphere and on your food.
The Science Bit: Reproductive hazards affect fertility, conception, pregnancy, and possibly delivery. Adverse reproductive and developmental outcomes from exposure to toxic agents include: menstrual disorders and other hormonal influences; infertility; spontaneous abortion; stillbirth or infant death; low birth weight or congenital malformations.
3 Be Aware Of Your Age
Many women are well aware that their age plays a vital role in how fertile they may be and often say that their "body clock" is ticking away, counting down to the menopause. It is indeed true that as we get older, our fertility is significantly lowered and our chances of conception diminish rapidly. It's wise to be conscious of the age factor as it is well known and researched that a woman's fertility begins to decline from the age of 30. It's recommended to start a family before the age of 35 to increase your chances and to give you the time to have the number of children you are hoping for.
Men on the other hand can remain fertile right up into their 50's with the decline in their natural fertility being a slower and more gradual process than for women.
The Science Bit: Fertility is directly linked to age. A woman's fertility starts to decline in her early 30s, with the decline speeding up after 35. At 40 a woman has only a 5% chance of becoming pregnant.
2 Do Not Stress
When you're trying to conceive, it's not all that easy to relax and enjoy the process when roadblocks start affecting your chances of conception. Stress, however, plays a vital part in your fertility and can have damaging consequences. Sudden stress has a greater impact on your fertility, such as shock from a family bereavement or an upsetting accident. Research has proven that stress raises the levels of hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, which can hamper the release of the body’s main hormone, GnRH which is the primary reason for the release of sex hormones. Because of this, ovulation in women may be suppressed, sperm count in men can be lowered and libido for both men and woman can be affected.
The Science Bit: Stress can affect the functioning of the hypothalamus which is the gland in the brain that regulates the hormones that directly inform your ovaries to release the egg. Being stressed can mean that you ovulate later in your cycle or sadly, not at all, directly affecting your chances of conceiving. Stress can be a temporary condition so thankfully, it is not an unchangeable factor in your road to conceiving a baby.
1 Remember His Health Too - Keep Cool
While there are many aspects to a woman's fertility which we have addressed, many men suffer from fertility issues that affect a couples chances of conceptions. More often than not, many believe it is the woman's role to ensure her body and mind are in the best possible state to conceive and ultimately carry the baby for the nine months. Admittedly, Mum has a vital part in the whole process but Dad's body and mind are just as important to ensure conception won't be a troublesome process with conception difficulties.
There are many factors that affect a man's fertility, including poor diet, being overweight, alcohol consumption and smoking which can all lead to poor quality sperm and low sperm counts. One method to consider when improving a man's fertility is to keep the testicles cool. Research has proven that anything that overheats the testicles, for example heated car seats or leaving his computer on his lap, can have a detrimental affect on sperm production.
The Science Bit: A man's testicles are on the outside of his body for a reason. The production of sperm takes place at a certain temperature, generally 1 to 2 °C below the core body temperature of 37 °C.
Sources: UpToDate, WebMd