Planning to get pregnant can take more than just planning to have sex more often. To really get you and your partner’s body baby ready, you need to look at your lifestyle.
Yes, both you and your partner are equally important here. An equal number of fertility issues stem from male lifestyle factors as from female lifestyle factors so all the points below apply to both of you.
Making lifestyle changes in order to get pregnant can be among the hardest hurdles to overcome for couples. However, I am a big believer, and speak from experience, that lifestyle and fertility go hand in hand, and changes need only be small to make a significant impact.
Studies show that if neither you nor your partner drinks at all you will typically get pregnant more quickly than couples who drink regularly.
Impact on Female – alcohol may contribute to irregular periods, irregular ovulation and luteal phase defects, reducing chances of conception.
Impact on Male – alcohol can affect sperm morphology and motility, and cause free-radical damage to the DNA sperm carries.
However, I’m a realist – if alcohol forms part of your normal life, as long as you drink at the lower limits of what is recommended for your age and gender, I think you are doing okay. Try to drink fewer than six units of alcohol per week (a pint of beer is two units; a large 250ml/9fl oz glass of wine is three)
- Both of you should try to abstain from alcohol altogether around the time of ovulation.
- Try to make sure that three or four nights a week are dry.
- When you do drink alcohol, drink plenty of water, too – two glasses of water for every unit of alcohol is ideal, but try at least to match each unit with a glass of water.
- Be aware of your own character traits – if you are an all-or-nothing person, and you know you won’t be able to moderate, it may in the end be better to cut out alcohol altogether.
Some studies show links between miscarriage and caffeine consumption in women who consume five or more caffeinated drinks a day. However, researchers don’t yet know for certain how caffeine levels relate to conception itself.
Male impact – caffeine can cause sperm to become hyperactive, affecting their motility
Female and Male impact – caffeine can put stress on the adrenals and cause blood sugar to rollercoaster with high peaks and low troughs which also affects energy levels, mood and irritability – not always conducive to intimacy!
Coffee, tea, over-the-counter medications, chocolate and fizzy drinks all contain caffeine – and don’t forget that your latte or flat white might well contain more than one espresso-size shot.
- Try to cut back on caffeine-containing foods and drinks during the week, treating yourself at weekends.
- If you do need a shot of caffeine, take it from tea, which has much lower caffeine levels than coffee.
Although I want to make the fertility plan manageable, smoking is a no-no. Smoking is hugely detrimental to fertility – to eggs and to sperm – not to mention the future health of the unborn child. In particular, smoking seriously depletes your body of vitamin C, which is essential to all your body’s processes, and especially during pregnancy.
Being underweight or overweight affects fertility in both women and men. The most-used measure of whether or not your weight is healthy is your BMI – Body Mass Index. A female BMI of below 18.5 is underweight; 18.5–24.9 is normal; 25–29.9 is overweight; and 30 and over is obese. The ideal range for conception is 20 to 25. (There are lots of online calculators that will save you from doing the maths yourself!).
Women – underweight
Without body fat and mass, the cascade of pituitary hormones turns off, stopping your periods. Your body needs fat to produce oestrogen – even if you have a period, low oestrogen levels reduce your chances of ovulation. Finally, if your body perceives that you’re not getting enough nutrients, it diverts its reserves to your vital organs, reducing the supply of nutrients to your reproductive organs.
Women – overweight
Fat is virtually an organ in itself, producing hormones and chemical messengers. While you need a certain amount of it in order to produce oestrogen, too much raises oestrogen levels too high, causing irregular menstrual cycles and hampering ovulation. Studies show that if an overweight woman experiencing problems conceiving can lose between 5 and 10 per cent of her weight, her fertility is likely to return.
Men – overweight and underweight
Overweight and obesity – and the associated high insulin levels suppress the action of LH in the testes, which can significantly reduce circulating testosterone levels, affecting sperm production.
Increased belly fat has been linked with increased levels of an enzyme called aromatase which converts testosterone to oestrogen, affecting sperm production. In a vicious cycle, low testosterone levels result in increased abdominal fat, leading to increased aromatase activity, pushing up levels of oestrogen again and further suppressing testosterone.
Finally, an overweight man has more fat over the genital area, causing heat – which hampers the functioning of the testicles.
Regular exercise ensures that endorphins – feel-good hormones – circulate your body and improves general circulation. Better circulation means that more nutrients can reach your ovaries (in a woman) or testes (in a man); and will improve your blood-sugar balance.
Try to do 30 to 60 minutes of exercise daily, but bear in mind that this needn’t all be formal exercise. Take the stairs rather than the elevator to your floor at work; get off the bus two stops early and walk the rest of the way; walk to your local store and carry back your shopping rather than taking the car.
These small changes, along with two or three dedicated exercise sessions each week, are far more manageable than feeling you need to get into Lycra every day. Your exercise timetable needs to be sustainable and make your targets realistic.
Stress depletes you of nutrients – it is one of the biggest negative factors I come across. If you want to have a baby, learning techniques to help you cope with managing stress is essential.
Medical studies on levels of stress hormone and related rates of fertility are inconclusive, but I am convinced that when trying for a baby your mindset plays a huge part in creating the nurturing environment you need to conceive. It stands to reason that if your brain perceives that you are in danger – which it does when you have raised levels of adrenaline and cortisol, preparing you for fight and flight – it also perceives that now would not be a good time to bring a baby into the world!
A programme of stress management techniques and therapies – including hypnotherapy, acupuncture, massage and meditation – can be very effective. However, relieving stress does not necessarily require formal techniques. Find times for walks together and meeting friends, organise dates with each other and if you are on your own for a while get into a really good book.
Again I want to emphasise that little changes in lifestyle can have a significant impact on your chances of having a baby so make a plan and follow as much of the guidance above as you can. If you need any further guidance or support contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 0808 196 4060. We have specialists in nutrition, acupuncture, counselling and hypnotherapy as well as a team of experienced, qualified midwives and doctors to provide medical consultations.