Professor Dr Geeta Nargund, Medical Director at CREATE Fertility, gives us her top tips on preparing your body for conceiving a baby, pregnancy and beyond.
Patients – both male and female – often ask me about the best way of increasing chances of conception and how to prepare the body for pregnancy.
Talking to your doctor or fertility clinic can be extremely helpful in identifying what would be best for your specific circumstances, whether you are looking to conceive naturally or via IVF treatment. Sometimes starting a family can take longer than expected, so it is important to follow any advice from your medical professional, but also to listen to your own body.
Here are my top tips to start you on your path towards having a family:
- Stop smoking
The advice from the NHS is that ‘smoking may reduce fertility in women by reducing egg quality – this includes passive smoking’. In addition, research shows that smoking can also be linked to early menopause in women and damaged sperm in men. The advice is, therefore, to stop smoking as soon as possible if you are looking to conceive. The NHS website is a good source of help for those looking to quit.
- Get to know your monthly cycle
Understanding your menstrual cycle can help you to pinpoint the best time for conception. Each cycle has a six-day fertile window – the five days before ovulation and the day of ovulation – when your chances of conceiving are increased. Having sex every two to three days is a good way to help you meet your fertile window, but there are lots of useful apps available which can help you to chart your monthly cycle and work out the timing of ovulation, if you would like to be more precise. You can also buy ovulation test kits from most pharmacies.
- Reach your optimal weight
The American Society for Reproductive Medicine found that obesity is associated with decreased fertility and increased risk of miscarriages. Advice from the NHS is also as follows: ‘being overweight or underweight can affect a woman’s chances of conceiving. Too much or too little body fat can make your periods irregular or stop them completely, which can affect your ability to conceive.’ It is also worth noting that losing weight can also reduce the severity of PCOS symptoms.
- Make sure you have a balanced diet
A nutritionally balanced diet can be very beneficial for both men and women looking to conceive and can help you to reach your optimum weight. Taking folic acid can be helpful for women as it is key for cell growth. Men and women should also increase their intake of foods containing folate (the natural form of folic acid), such as green leafy vegetables and brown rice. Taking supplements or eating foods rich in Vitamin D, E, B12, zinc, iron and selenium is beneficial in prepping for pregnancy too.
- Get moving
Being active and exercising can help with not only improving your overall health and achieving your optimum weight, but also your chances of conception. A study in Obstetrics & Gynaecology found that women who exercised 30 minutes or more daily had a reduced risk of infertility due to ovulation disorders. However, it is crucial to make sure that you are not over-exercising as too much vigorous exercise has been linked with reduced levels of certain hormones that can impact negatively on your fertility, as both a 2009 study in Human Reproduction and a Harvard study of elite athletes found.
- Find time to relax
Easier said than done, but trying to conceive – particularly if you are going through IVF or have conditions affecting your fertility – can be a very stressful time for both women and men. High stress levels can often mean less interest in sex and it goes without saying that having sex more frequently is better for your chances of conception. Spending time together as a couple doing something that you enjoy can help to reduce stress levels and take your mind off trying to conceive. If possible, taking a holiday together can also give you the opportunity to relax and enjoy each other’s company away from daily stresses.