10 steps to boost your chances of conceiving

GETTING pregnant is supposed to be simple. So simple that most of us spend our teenage years being constantly warned about it. Yet some couples find that when the time is finally right for them to have a baby, it doesn’t happen as easily or as quickly as expected.

“One in six couples in Ireland struggles to conceive within one year of having unprotected sex,” says Dr Minna Geisler, a consultant in reproductive medicine at the Waterstone Clinic.

There are many possible reasons for this. “In a third of cases, the issue is with the woman,” says Sarah Keogh, a dietician who advises couples who are struggling to conceive (eatwell.ie).

“In another third, it’s with the man and in the other, it’s unknown. What this shows is that the health of the man is every bit as important as the health of the woman when couples are trying to have a baby.”

There are steps couples can take to boost their fertility and increase their chances of conceiving. “Savvy people prepare for pregnancy,” says Helena Tubridy, a former midwife who has spent the past 25 years working as a therapist and fertility coach with over 8,000 couples (helenatubridy.com).

“It makes sense and can save on time, heartache, and money.”

1. Know your cycle

“It’s important to know when you ovulate as the three to five days prior to and around ovulation are the best times for conception,” says Dr Geisler. “There are apps and ovulation kits to help with this.”

There are also physical symptoms.

“At the time of ovulation, women’s cervical mucus becomes more abundant and translucent,” says Dr Geisler. “If you pay attention, you’ll know when you should have sex.”

2. Stop smoking

“Free radicals from smoking can damage eggs and sperm and it’s been shown that smoking can bring the menopause forward by as much as five years,” says Dr Geisler.

The research she refers to was carried out by the Roswell Park Centre Institute in America. By analysing data from more than 93,000 women who took part in the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study between 1993 and 1998, they also found that women who smoked had a 14% higher risk of miscarriage.

3. Watch what you drink

“Limit your alcohol intake to two units a week,” says Dr Geisler. “Evidence shows that women who drink more than this in the month leading up to IVF treatment have lower chances of success.”

“Limit coffee intake too,” adds Keogh. “Try to have just one cup per day.”

4. Diet matters

“You’re trying to increase the antioxidants in your body to improve the quality of sperm and eggs,” says Dr Geisler. “You can do this by eating more fruit and vegetables, only eating red meat twice a week and avoiding processed foods. Basically, what you want is the Mediterranean diet without the wine.”

Keogh agrees: “Give your body as much healthy food as possible,” she says. “After all, you need those nutrients when it comes to building a healthy baby. This means eating nuts, seeds, oily fish, and lots of fruit and vegetables.”

This advice applies to men too. “Men produce sperm constantly so their diet is very important,” says Keogh. “Zinc and selenium-rich foods such as nuts and seeds should be added to their diet.”

Keogh also recommends that any woman struggling with infertility or repeated miscarriages get checked for coeliac disease. “People don’t realise that if untreated, coeliac disease can cause difficulty conceiving and miscarriage,” she says. “But if it’s treated, couples have the same chance of conceiving and giving birth to a healthy baby as anyone else.”

5. Watch your weight

“Being over or underweight can impact on ovulation,” says Dr Geisler. Men should be just as vigilant as their sperm health can be adversely affected if they are overweight.

6. Choose supplements carefully

“There are some excellent supplements out there but a lot don’t do much more than make expensive urine,” says Tubridy.

Dr Geisler recommends that men and women take folic acid, vitamin D, and B complex vitamins. “Men should also take zinc, selenium, L-arginine, and L-carnitine supplements. These help with sperm health and motility.

7. Exercise

“Too much exercise can be as bad as too little,” says Dr Geisler.

A study published in the Human Reproduction journal in 2009 proves this. It followed 3,887 women over an 11-year period and found that those who exercised vigorously most days were 3.2 times more likely to have fertility problems than inactive women.

This is equally true for men as over-exercising can have a negative effect on sperm quality.

8. Prioritise rest and sleep

“It’s so important for a healthy body,” says Keogh. “Give yourself the chance to get at least eight hours a night.”

Tubridy makes sure her clients understand the value of a good night’s sleep. “I use hypnosis to improve their sleep patterns,” she says.

“It’s so vital that they get proper sleep because it’s while we’re asleep that hormones are brewed up in our bodies.”

9. Manage stress

According to a study carried out by the University of Oxford in 2010, women with the highest biological indicators of stress were 12% less likely to conceive each cycle in comparison with women who had the lowest indicators.

10. Ask for help

“If a woman is over 35 and hasn’t conceived within six months of trying, she should see a doctor,” says Dr Geisler. “A lot of couples try alternative therapies before they visit a fertility specialist but we would recommend they get themselves checked out first.

“That way, they won’t be wasting precious time and they’ll be reassured that there are no underlying problems.”

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