Updated February 6, 2019.
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 nurse practitioner in San Francisco specializing in women’s health. Ovulation normally happens mid-cycle, approximately 11-14 days after the first day of your menstrual period, 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.
Start Prenatal Vitamins
Folic acid supplementation - which is an ingredient in prenatal vitamins - is most important in the months prior to conception. If you are contemplating or planning pregnancy, you can start taking a daily prenatal vitamin.
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 since DNA abnormalities are a leading cause of miscarriage, smoking can affect both your ability to get and to stay pregnant. The good news is that the effects are most pronounced for current smokers rather than those who have quit so set that quit date now or talk to a provider about quitting smoking.
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 or ovulate.
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 in her 30s. It’s impossible to predict for an individual women but we see changes at 37 years which may make it less likely to ovulate. Over 40 years, statistically it is more likely to need an egg donor.
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 wellness and replenishment. Getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising regularly can help–as can more stress reduction techniques like meditation, deep breathing, yoga, massage, or acupuncture. “The key is to bring balance and peace to your life,” says Donovan. However, every women is different and many conceive while stressed and others with balance struggle with infertility. We know that trying to conceive can be one of the most stressful events in a women’s life so learning techniques to manage during this time can help.
Still have questions about conception? Make an appointment to talk to your PCP today.
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