Whether you are discussing starting a family, in the early stages of attempting conception, or if it has been a journey for you, here are 7 tips to help you increase your chances of getting pregnant:
Healthy Diet & Activity
All bodies come in different shapes and sizes. The definition of healthy is no longer ‘skinny.’ It is doing good things for your body and fueling it properly with nutritious whole foods. With that said, studies do show individuals living in bigger bodies do have a lower pregnancy success rate and more commonly are faced with reproductive conditions including anovulation (no ovulation), subfertility (a delay in conception) as well as increased miscarriage rates. For those who are living in bigger bodies, it has been shown that a small weight reduction can help your chances with conception. You are encouraged not to attempt a full lifestyle overhaul but to set attainable goals such as starting your day off with a protein filled breakfast or adding in a 15-minute walk over lunch. Moving your body in ways you enjoy plus fueling your body with whole foods not only can help with weight loss but may also help with stress management, improved quality of sleep and return of regular menstrual cycle. In addition to helping achieve a pregnancy naturally, a small weight loss and healthy lifestyle habits helps foster a healthy pregnancy, a healthy baby, and overall mental health and well-being. It is important however, to ensure that you are doing so in a safe manner. Consult your healthcare provider to discuss a plan to safely achieve an ideal weight is for you.
If you are not someone living in a bigger body, the implementation of the healthy habits listed above can positively impact your fertility journey.
Stress and anxiety, two things that are often associated with trying to conceive. Let’s talk about the stress response, fight of flight. We all vaguely remember this from high school science. When we are being chased by a bear, we go into our fight or flight response. Our heart rate increases, muscles tighten, blood is shunted to vital organs and our body sends out high levels of cortisol and adrenaline. We want this to happen in these circumstances that last a very short period of time. Unfortunately, if we live with chronic anxiety and stress the same symptoms become chronic and can negatively impact our fertility. Firstly, if our body thinks we are in a state of emergency it wants to preserve energy, therefore, it holds on to a lot of the calories we take in, making weight loss extremely difficult. Secondly, the fight or flight response focuses on keeping alive our vital organs. Our reproductive system is not vital to survive, and our body can shut down or decrease production of the hormones required for it to function properly. This may present as irregular menstrual cycles, missed periods, short or long cycles. Lastly, a chronically increased heart rate and tight muscles results in long term fatigue making everything more challenging. Taking steps to minimize, manage, and cope with stress can help with not only your mental health, but potentially your fertility. A few tips that might help with stress are:
Self-Care: Recognize your own wants and needs and take the time for yourself Learn ways to cope with stress in a healthy way: Meditation, reading, journalling, art, spending time with friends/family or exercise
Try yoga or other stress-reducing activities: Exercise can be great for your physical and mental well-being
Get outside: Countless studies have shown that nature and getting outside have a positive effect on your mental health, reduces anxiety and stress, and bonus: improves your concentration!
Seek Professional Assistance: Massage therapists, acupuncturists, and counsellors all have been proven to assist with stress management and coping
Healthy Lifestyle Habits
In addition to diet, exercise, and stress levels, there are other lifestyle factors that can contribute to difficulty conceiving and infertility, particularly smoking and alcohol intake. Chronic smoking is associated with many negative reproductive consequences such as rapid depletion of ovarian follicles, conception delay, and increased risk of spontaneous miscarriage. For males, smoking and alcohol can have a negative impact on sperm parameters. It is recommended that while trying to conceive, to quit or cut back on smoking and limit your daily/weekly intake of alcohol. Ask your physician for local resources if you feel that you may need additional support to help with these changes.
Be Cognizant of Age
Plan ahead if possible. Studies show that success rates for pregnancy are higher in women aged 35 years or younger. Success rates start to decline in women over 35 years of age. If possible, have a conversation ahead of time with your partner. For example, if you are currently dating, and plan to get engaged, married, and have one year as a married couple prior to starting a family – sit down and discuss the logistics of what this means for your timeline and age. If you got engaged today at 34 years old and intend to plan your wedding for 1 year - now you are married and 35 years old. You wanted to be a married couple for one year prior to attempting pregnancy – you are now 36 years old. Consider this timeline when planning for a family.
If you are over 35 and planning or working towards having a family, please don’t panic - we want those stress hormones balanced! You are encouraged to implement the lifestyle strategies listed above and seek fertility advice from your family doctor early on in your journey as they can help determine what path is best suited for your specific situation.
Better Timing of Intercourse
Timing sexual intercourse has proven to improve success rates when trying to conceive. The goal is to have intercourse at or around the time of ovulation. A few tips to ensure that you are timing things just right include:
Tracking cycles: This involves documenting when your period started, when ovulation occurs, and how long your cycle is before your following period comes
Ovulation Predictor Kits: This involves an at-home urine test to detect when your LH (luteinizing hormone) level increases, indicating that you will ovulate typically the following day
Other methods to detect ovulation: Cervical mucous checks, basal body temperature, and symptom monitoring. These methods are not recommended as a sole indicator of ovulation as many factors can affect these results but can be helpful in determining the best time for intercourse
If you have tried everything that you know to help you become pregnant and are still having difficulties, oral medications that you take at home may be an option. Fertility medications are used to fix hormonal imbalances that are preventing ovulation or to help the ovaries produce more eggs. Clomiphene Citrate and Letrozole are two commonly used medications. These medications are used in combination with timed intercourse and are often recommended by general practitioners and fertility experts. Consult your healthcare provider for more information regarding side effects and risks of taking these medications.
Occasionally, an explanation for a couple’s infertility is discovered to be a physical problem that may be able to be corrected. Surgery to repair the reproductive organs can help with:
Removal of growths in the uterus such as fibroids or invasive polyps
Treatment of conditions such as endometriosis
Unblocking of the fallopian tubes
Removal of pelvic adhesions (band of scar tissue)
Reversal of a past sterilization surgery such as vasectomy or tubal ligation
Consult your healthcare provider to see if surgery may help you with conceiving on your own.