While you probably know couples who luck out the first time they try for a baby, countless others face frustrating fertility issues. And as many will tell you, conceiving involves more than just having sex.
While there isn’t a “magic formula” to conceiving a baby quickly, Dr Liow Swee Lian, scientific director at Virtus Fertility Centre notes that you have numerous ways to improve your chances of conceiving naturally. Try these strategies if you can’t wait to hold a baby in your arms.
#1. Plan ahead and understand your fertile window
“Couples hoping to start a family should have unprotected sex at least two to three times a week to improve chances of conceiving,” Dr Liow recommends.
However, it’s not just the frequency, but when you time intercourse that’s crucial. Having sex one or two days before ovulation improves a woman’s chances of falling pregnant, since she is most fertile during this period, he notes.
“If you’re significantly overweight or underweight, this can cause your body to produce more or less of the hormones that regulate ovulation in women (and disrupt sperm production in men).”
To work out your fertile window, start by keeping track of day 1 of your menstrual cycle (the first day of bleeding). Ovulation typically happens between days 12 and 15 of a 28-day cycle. Then, subtract 14 days from the number of days in your cycle to work out when you ovulate. So, if ovulation occurs on day 12 of your cycle, start having regular intercourse on day 9. For convenience, you can also use an ovulation calculator to figure out the best dates to have sex.
#2. Seek medical advice for irregularities in menstruation or fertility issues
"Women who regularly experience menstrual cramps, abnormal or heavy menstrual bleeding and pelvic pain should consult their gynaecologist and arrange for a fertility screening, as these could be symptoms of underlying fertility issues,” Dr Liow advises.
Ovulation pain can be a symptom of endometriosis, although painful cramps don’t mean you can’t get pregnant in future. As the eggs (and subsequently the embryos created from those eggs) in women suffering from endometriosis are of poor quality, this means that your chances of becoming pregnant are less likely, he explains.
Besides painful periods, other common symptoms of endometriosis include pelvic pain, pain during intercourse, abnormal bleeding and difficulties in becoming pregnant.
Dr Liow adds, “As a general guide, couples who have been trying to conceive without success for more than six months (if under the ages of 35) or 12 months (for those aged 35 and above) are encouraged to see a fertility specialist to determine the root cause of the delay before seeking treatment.”
#3. Ensure your diet is well-balanced and nutritious
“To improve and protect your future fertility, ensure a regular protein intake and include dairy foods like milk, yoghurt or cheese,” Dr Liow suggests. “Protein helps produce new hormones, which can aid in enhancing fertility.”
When it comes to fats, watch out for saturated fats in takeaway and processed food, such as biscuits and snack bars. You may also want to consume more good fats, found in foods like avocados, tomatoes and nuts.
#4. Maintain a healthy weight
“Weight is an important consideration in the preconception period,” Dr Liow explains. “If you’re significantly overweight or underweight, this can cause your body to produce more or less of the hormones that regulate ovulation in women (and disrupt sperm production in men).”
Weight gain in some women can also indicate a hormonal imbalance, caused by a condition known as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). This affects one’s ability to lose weight and may disrupt regular ovulation. However, not all women with PCOS are overweight.
“Smoking damages the DNA in your eggs and sperm (for men). For this reason, it may be harder and take some couples longer to conceive where one or both partners smoke.”
As for men, those who are significantly overweight generally have poorer sperm quality than those within a healthy weight range. When a man is extremely overweight, he will also have a reduced sex drive and erectile difficulties, Dr Liow points out.
Overweight women who hope to conceive, a mere 5 per cent reduction in weight can improve their ovulation as well as their fertility chances. As to what constitutes healthy weight, Dr Liow elaborates, “A healthy BMI is considered to be between 18.5 and 25. Having a very high BMI (greater than 35) may decrease fertility rates in some circumstances.”
While you should aim to lose weight, be mindful that following extreme diets is not sustainable, in fact, it may be detrimental to a healthy pregnancy. Instead, the focus should be on lifestyle modifications and general fitness, as opposed to just weight loss, Dr Liow advises.
#5. Stop smoking
Quit if you smoke regularly ― one of the best things you can do if you’re trying to conceive. For women, quitting smoking has been shown to enhance both natural fertility and IVF outcomes.
“Smoking damages the DNA in your eggs and sperm (for men),” Dr Liow warns. “For this reason, it may be harder and take some couples longer to conceive where one or both partners smoke.”
He adds that smoking can have negative effects at each stage of the reproductive process, including egg maturation, hormone production, embryo transport and the environment in the uterus. Additionally, the toxins from cigarettes can trigger a miscarriage.
In men, smoking may also affect their sperm quality and numbers ― meaning that their sperm won’t swim as well and a higher proportion appear abnormal.
Avoiding exposure to first or second-hand smoke also gives your unborn baby the best chance of growing normally and being born close to full term.
#6. Monitor your alcohol and caffeine intake
Sure, we all need a little caffeine boost now and then, especially for those early work meetings. Nor is there any harm in indulging in a celebratory glass of wine or cocktails during girl’s night.
However, if conceiving is your top priority, you may need to watch how much caffeine and alcohol goes into your body. “Research has found that there is a link between fertility and alcohol, although its influence on pregnancy chances is still not well understood,” Dr Liow notes.
Nevertheless, it has been found that women who drink large amounts of alcohol (more than seven drinks a week or above three drinks a day) are more likely to have heavy or irregular periods and fertility problems. For men, excess alcohol consumption can lead to long-term effects, including reduced libido and subnormal sperm production.
Too much coffee can also affect fertility. “Moderate caffeine consumption is recommended, with no more than two cups of coffee and five cups of tea a day,” Dr Liow advises. “Also, be mindful of hidden caffeine in soda drinks and chocolates.”
Remember that good sex doesn't always have to mean penetration (though it’s important when trying to conceive). If your aim is also to have pleasure, intimacy and connect with your partner, explore other acts that will help you achieve this.
#7. Don’t over-exercise
"While exercise is key to maintaining a healthy weight, over-doing it can cause more harm than good,” warns Dr Liow. “Over-exercising may disrupt a regular menstrual cycle and make the implantation of embryos more difficult.”
So, exercise at a moderate intensity for optimum benefits. Over-exercising may lead to drastic weight loss. Subsequently, being underweight (BMI at below 18.5) causes an increased risk of irregular ovulation, which affects fertility.
For men, regular gym-goers who frequent steam rooms, hot yoga rooms and intensive rides on exercise bicycles also face the possibility of “overheating” the groin area, which can impact sperm production, Dr Liow adds. Gym rats should also think twice about consuming anabolic steroids, as these can also affect sperm count.
Sex tips to boost your chances of conceiving
* Define what good sex means to you both For some, that means longer, harder and faster. For others, it might be having a giggle and enjoying the moment.
* Remember that good sex doesn't always have to mean penetration (though it’s important when trying to conceive). If your aim is also to have pleasure, intimacy and connect with your partner, explore other acts that will help you achieve this.
* Communication is key If you are feeling sexually dissatisfied, discuss this with your spouse but also suggest a solution to the issue. Suggest a move, a product or get help from a counsellor or therapist.
* Don’t get stuck in a (sexual) rut Couples tend to do the same old same old during sex. If you are looking to spice things up, implement something small and different as part of your routine.
* Don’t overlook your mental state Women especially, when feeling stressed and anxious, can pull away from their partner sexually and stop experiencing sexual pleasure. It’s important to not only feel desired but that you enjoy having sex.
* Celebrate what is working in your relationship We’re often influenced by what other couples do or what we feel should be doing. Celebrate what is great about your relationship instead of focusing on what’s not ― make sure your mind is shifting from the negative to the positive.
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