Tips to conceiving naturally and improving your chances of fertility treatment working.
One of the most common questions that I am asked in clinic is, ‘Is there anything I can do to help myself?’ Couples are used to organized lives and often feel disempowered by the fertility process. But it is important to try to retain some control and there is quite a lot you can do for yourself.
If you are hoping to start a family and wondering whether to start eating organic carrots, but you are still smoking, you are totally wasting your time. By far the biggest factor that a woman can control in this process is the negative affects of cigarette smoke. No ifs or buts. No I’ll stop on the 1st of January… Stop today, you’ve had your last cigarette.
Many of the couples I see work in banking, law, the medical profession etc., but it is not just those jobs that bring stress with them. Family pressure to have a child, travelling on the underground, making excuses to get out of work to see the doctor, all bring levels of anxiety.
On the other hand we can’t all live in Devon and raise organic chickens (though I’m sure this has it’s own stresses). But what can you do to de-stress.
- Make time for yourself. Make sure there is time in the day when you are not running to a meeting or sorting out your relatives. Don’t feel guilty about sitting quietly and reading. Take the time to sit and eat at home with your partner without the television on.
- Meditation. Many people find meditation a great way of relaxing. You don’t need any specialist knowledge, try down-loading the Mindfullness App to your smart phone and doing 5 minutes every day.
- Treat yourself. If you enjoy massage, or having your nails done, take the time to enjoy the process, rather than squeeze it into your schedule.
- Acupuncture. There is some evidence that acupuncture improves the chances of conception. The mechanisms are not clear, but possibly the process reduces the stress hormones circulating in you body. Many of my patients have acupuncture from a clinic local to the hospital, just before embryo transfer for example. On the other hand if you are getting worked up about being on time for the treatment, any benefit is likely to be lost.
- Sunshine and Vitamin D. Low vitamin D levels can affect your chances of conceiving, and those women working in un-natural light can suffer from vitamin D deficiency. Make sure you get enough sunshine, and ask your doctor to check your vitamin D levels.
Diet and supplements
- Folic Acid. Please ensure that you are taking Folic Acid supplements as soon as you are planning to start trying to conceive. This will reduce the risk of your baby being affected by Spina Bifida. You can buy these in any chemist, often combined with other pre-pregnancy vitamins. There is no benefit from hyped or expensive brands.
- Avoid processed food. There is some evidence that some plastics from microwaved trays are absorbed into the food. Cheap meats often contain hormone supplements given to the animals. It would be much better to eat smaller quantities of better quality food.
- Honey. Good quality honey is full of natural sugars and has been regarded as a natural fertility booster for generations. The word ‘honeymoon’ is said to derive from the ritual of newlyweds taking a spoonful every night to speed up the baby-making process.
- Alcohol. Most clinicians would recommend the moderation of alcohol intake, though it is clear that much of the population is here thanks to the odd drink. A small amount of alcohol can help with relaxation, and do not feel guilty, as has been reported to me, about half a glass of champagne at your own wedding.
- Caffeine. Some studies have reported that increased caffeine consumption (eg, >300 to 500 mg) is associated with a modest, but statistically significant decrease in fertility, while others have not found an adverse effect. Your average cup of coffee in the morning contains 100g, probably a little more if you are buying it from your local coffee shop. Most clinicians recommend that women who are trying to become pregnant consume no more than 200 mg of caffeine per day. However the mechanism by which caffeine consumption may be linked to infertility is unclear, possibly affecting the metabolism of steroid hormones such as oestrogen.
- Water. It is important to keep yourself well hydrated. And remember diet Coke is not good for you.
Levels of exercise vary enormously between women, with some spending hours a week in the gym, and others doing next to nothing. It is important to get yourself fit for pregnancy. Carrying a baby will put your cardiovascular system under considerable strain, and you will be in a much better position to cope with this if you are fit.
This does not mean however that you need to be an athlete. The body needs some fat reserves or ovulation will cease. Also strenuous exercise will build up the levels of lactate in your muscles. This will be cleared through the blood, inevitably passing through your womb and ovaries on the way. If excessive this cannot be conducive to the pregnancy implanting.
As with all things, moderation is the key. Make sure you get fit for pregnancy but don’t over do it. Think of walking, cycling, yoga and swimming, rather than spinning classes.
It goes without saying that you are not likely to conceive spontaneously without sex. Everybody has different levels of sexual desire, which can reduce with stress for both men and women. As a general guide a couple should be having intercourse two or three times a week, at the time of ovulation. This can be reduced at other times of the month, but it is important to bear in mind that sperm quality diminishes after five days or so from the last ejaculation.
There are no set rules and you should do what feels right for you as a couple. However one episode of intercourse a month, on the day an ovulation test shows two blue lines, is not likely to result in a pregnancy.