There is so much information out there about the best ways to increase your chances of conception and preparing your body for pregnancy that trying to sort the wheat from the chaff can be daunting. Whether you are looking to conceive naturally or via IVF treatment, your doctor can help to give advice specific to your circumstances, however here are my six tips for both women and men who are looking to start a family.
6 Steps to Preparing for Pregnancy
1. Know your monthly cycle: this sounds simple but I am amazed at how few women understand their menstrual cycle. Women have a short fertile window around ovulation– when the chances of conceiving are greatest. In order to be precise about understanding the timing of ovulation you can use an app or buy ovulation test kits from most pharmacies. However, having sex every two to three days is a good way to help you meet your fertile window.
2. Achieve your ideal weight: being overweight or underweight can affect a woman’s chances of conceiving. Too much or too little body fat can make periods irregular or stop them completely, which can affect your ovulation and your ability to conceive. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine found that obesity is associated with decreased fertility and increased risk of miscarriages. Losing weight can also reduce the severity of symptoms for women suffering from PCOS.
3. Get fit! Exercise not only improves your overall health, but also your chances of conception. A study in Obstetrics & Gynaecology found that women who exercised 30 minutes or more daily had a reduced risk of infertility due to ovulation disorders. However, it beware of over-exercising; too much exercise has been linked with reduced levels of certain hormones that can impact negatively on your fertility. Alongside exercise, achieving a nutritionally balanced diet can be very beneficial for both men and women looking to conceive. Consider the following changes:
- Take supplements or eat foods rich in Vitamin D, E, and B12, zinc, iron and selenium which can prepare the body for pregnancy and contribute to healthy sperm
- Take folic acid as this can be helpful in preparing the body for pregnancy
- Increase your intake of foods containing folate (the natural form of folic acid), such as green leafy vegetables and brown rice.
4. Stop smoking: The advice from the NHS is that ‘smoking may reduce fertility in women by reducing egg quality and that includes passive smoking’. In addition, research shows that smoking can also be linked to early menopause in women and damaged sperm in men. The advice is, therefore, to stop smoking as soon as possible if you are looking to conceive.
5. Consider a fertility MOT: Fertility testing can flag any potential issues that may impact on your chances of conception and give comprehensive assessment of your fertility. Fertility MOTs for both women and men can now be performed in around an hour, using advanced ultrasound scan to provide rapid and reliable information. A blood test for hormones may be required Once you have your results then your specialist can give advice on your specific situation as well as advising on how to maximise your chances of conception.
6. Make sure you find time to relax: Conception – particularly if you are undergoing IVF treatment or are aware of conditions affecting your fertility – can be a stressful time. In turn, high stress levels can mean less interest in sex and it goes without saying that having sex more frequently is better for your chances of conception! It’s important to take time out for yourself to do something you enjoy as well as spending time together as a couple doing something perhaps unrelated to fertility.
Starting a family can sometimes take longer than expected for any number of reasons. My advice is to, of course, follow any recommendations from your doctor but also be kind to yourself and be aware of what your body needs.