As a fertility specialist, I answer many questions from couples about improving their chances of success all the time; I was once a patient myself and I was keen to do everything within my power to succeed. I share this list with you in that same spirit and hope you will be empowered, as I was, and that you will experience the same positive outcome.
- How quickly should we expect to become pregnant?
This is not a means of improving your odds, but rather a question to ask yourself, because you may not in fact need any help conceiving.
If you are a woman under the age of thirty five, current recommendations suggest you look for help after twelve months of trying; if you are over thirty five, that time-frame shrinks to six months; and 3 months over the age of 40. However, in some cases, we see you much sooner or even before you start trying. About 85% of couples become pregnant within 12 months and 95% within 18 months. I recommend a relaxing, yet hot and steamy vacation, if at all possible! No joke!
- How often and when should we have intercourse?
Healthy sperm will typically live up to three days in cervical fluid and eggs are viable only on the day of ovulation, so the most likely time for intercourse to result in pregnancy is during the two day period prior to ovulation and ending on the day of ovulation.
Although previous studies suggested there may be a slight decrease in concentration of sperm during frequent intercourse, the most recent evidence shows that for most couples, the more frequent the intercourse during this period, the higher the likelihood of conception, so if you want to have fun daily, by all means do so!
- Age of the woman is the most important factor in ensuring a successful pregnancy.
A woman’s fertility begins to drop between twenty four and twenty five years old and significantly reduces again between the ages of thirty five and thirty seven years. So the sooner you start, the better, though I believe in your power to achieve anything you desire, so whenever you are ready will be the right time for you. Oocyte cryo-preservation (egg freezing) can be an option for younger women who may increase their odds of a successful pregnancy in later years by having some eggs retrieved and frozen now. This technique can also be used prior to cancer treatment to avoid toxic effects to the eggs from radio or chemotherapy.
- Good nutrition.
A moderate and balanced diet is key to getting pregnant now, your health in pregnancy and having a healthy baby.
A diet which includes a mixture of lean meat, fish and meat alternatives (such as beans & lentils), whole grains and fresh fruit and vegetables and which avoids high calorie, sugar, fat or salt foods and beverages, per the Canada Food Guide is a great idea for everyone, but particularly a couple trying to conceive. It is important for both partners to commit to a healthy lifestyle, starting with their diet.
- Maintain normal weight (Body-Mass-Index [BMI] of 19-25).
If you are overweight, even a small loss of weight (5-10%) can improve the probability of becoming pregnant, so have fun shopping for and cooking with healthy choices and alternatives.
- Exercise regularly and moderately.
This will help you maintain a healthy weight and help keep your stress level in check (see #10 below). However, be careful not to overdo it – extreme training can sometimes reduce your probability of conception. Choose the one that works best for you, be it yoga or kick-boxing, or anything in-between!
- Stop smoking.
Women who smoke will experience menopause up to five years earlier than those who don’t; smoking women have half the pregnancy rates in IVF cycles and require double the doses of medication than non-smokers. Of course, it goes without saying that once you become pregnant, you need to quit for the sake of your baby’s health. Interestingly, in a recent study, women who had quit for a year had the same rate of conception as non-smokers, so it makes a lot of sense to plan ahead and quit now. If you need help, call us , as we have the resources for your success.
- Alcohol: Drink two or less drinks per week (and when pregnant, abstain completely).
Some studies suggest a link between even moderate alcohol consumption during early pregnancy and miscarriage and since the science cannot yet tell us if there is a safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy, it makes sense to abstain completely once you have ovulated (in case you have already conceived). Though, I say have fun and enjoy a glass or two safely when you can!
- Limit Coffee to 1-2 drinks per day.
The research on caffeine and a woman’s fertility is not yet definitive; some studies show a link between caffeine and difficulty becoming pregnant, whilst others do not. There is some research showing a greater risk of miscarriage at caffeine consumption levels of > 200 mg per day and therefore I suggest limiting coffee consumption to 1-2 cups per day, before and during pregnancy. Of course, coffee is not the only beverage or food containing caffeine, so I advise my patients to be mindful of caffeine levels in other drinks and foods too.
- Seek emotional and/or psychological support, consider meditation, mindfulness or hypnosis, to reduce stress.
Undue stress can upset your body’s hormonal balance and affect the regularity of your ovulation cycle and of course, once you become pregnant, you will want to manage your stress level for both the sake of your own health and the health of your baby. It makes a great deal of sense therefore, to enlist professional emotional and psychological support early, be it through modern methods such as massage therapy or mindfulness or traditional mind-body techniques such meditation or hypnosis. Call us for more information about these techniques and practitioners! I myself love hypnosis and am a total hypno-bunny according to my trainer.
As you can see, there are many lifestyle choices that are within your power that can improve your chance of becoming pregnant. They also help you during your pregnancy and as you raise your family.
Remember to consult your doctor and make sure you have all additional resources at your disposal to improve your success in pregnancy and beyond. I love empowering you on your journey!
Timea Belej-Rak, MD