If you want to have a baby, there are things you need to know–beyond the birds-and-bees basics–that can help enhance your fertility. We talked to our experts for advice on getting to that positive pregnancy test sooner:
Know Your Cycle
As you learned in biology class, the best time to conceive is right around ovulation. But do you know when you’re ovulating? “As soon as you start thinking about trying to get pregnant, it’s important to become more aware of your cycle,” says Bernadette Donovan, a One Medical Group nurse practitioner in San Francisco specializing in women’s health. Ovulation normally happens mid-cycle, but since menstrual cycles can vary tremendously from person to person, it pays to keep track of yours for several months–noting when you start your period, how long it lasts and when you are ovulating (you should notice an increase in cervical mucus around ovulation). “Your most fertile days include the two or three before and after actual ovulation,” says Donovan, so plan to have intercourse several times during that time window.
You shouldn’t smoke once you’re pregnant (it can have serious negative consequences for the fetus), so it pays to quit now. As a bonus, ditching the cigarettes may actually help you get pregnant. “There is a direct connection between smoking and reduced fertility,” says Donovan. Cigarette smoke can damage the eggs and contribute to premature aging of your ovaries, and since DNA abnormalities are a leading cause of miscarriage, smoking can affect both your ability to get and to stay pregnant.
Watch Your Weight
Being either overweight or underweight can affect your hormones, throwing off your menstrual cycle and your fertility. “Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a metabolic condition linked to being overweight, and women who suffer from PCOS may stop ovulating,” says Donovan. Likewise, women who are underweight may lose their menstrual cycles altogether or may have irregular ovulation, making it more difficult to know when they are most fertile.
“Diet and nutrition are also a huge piece of the fertility puzzle,” says Michelle Kuroda, an acupuncturist. In order for you to be in your best health, both before and during pregnancy, eat a balanced diet of complex carbohydrates, healthy fats and proteins. Additionally, according to the tenets of Traditional Chinese Medicine, having too much cold and dampness in the body can make it hard to achieve a successful pregnancy. “Pregnancy requires a warm, fertile uterus,” says Kuroda, so she advises her patients to eliminate cold, raw foods from their diets in favor of nourishing, warm foods.
Even though many women are having babies in their late 30s and early 40s, fertility clearly declines with age. In this respect, biology has not evolved as quickly as modern-day society; cultural norms may be shifting pregnancy ages later, but a woman’s quantity and quality of eggs declines significantly in her 30s.
The ancient art of acupuncture has been shown in several studies to improve the results of high-tech fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization (IVF). In one study that looked at pregnancy rates among women who had an acupuncture treatment immediately before and after embryo transfer (compared to women who did not have acupuncture), 42.5 percent of those who received acupuncture got pregnant versus only 26.3 percent in the non-acupuncture group. Even for women who are not undergoing fertility treatments, the needles can help. “Acupuncture can help balance your hormones and regulate your menstrual cycle,” says Kuroda. If ovulation occurs too late in your cycle, the luteal phase (the second half of the menstrual cycle) is too short for a fertilized egg to implant in the uterus properly. “With acupuncture and herbs, we can move ovulation earlier in the cycle,” she says. There is also evidence that acupuncture can increase blood flow to the endometrium (the lining of the uterus), which may help an embryo implant and grow.
Sometimes the stress of trying to have a baby can be part of what makes it difficult to conceive. Stress causes the release of the hormone cortisol, which affects many of the body’s systems and can interfere with the normal balance of other hormones. “It can be especially hard for high-achieving women who are used to having control over when things happen,” says Donovan. “Having trouble with fertility and not having control over when you get pregnant is quite a jolt.” But being told to “just relax” can add to your stress levels. Don’t make “relaxing” just another entry on your to-do list, but try to take positive steps toward reducing the amount of stress in your daily life. Getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising regularly can help–as can more traditional stress reduction techniques like meditation, deep breathing, yoga, massage, or acupuncture. “The key is to bring balance and peace to your life,” says Donovan. “You want your body to be a nice, peaceful environment in order to encourage pregnancy.”