Proven tips, strategies, and recommendations to boost your fertility. From small diet changes to seeing specialists, this guide covers all options.
In theory, getting pregnant is a simple process: sperm swims merrily along, fertilizes egg, and voila, that’s that. Don’t be discouraged if you’re finding real life to be a little bit more complicated. Your diet, environment, age, genes, and some other factors behind the scenes can impact the likelihood of conceiving. On top of that, you’ve probably run across a whole bunch of unsubstantiated claims about boosting fertility online. We’re here to suss out this misinformation and take a deep dive into the science of fertility. We’ll begin by highlighting some simple lifestyle changes that can make a big difference.
Food for thought
There’s no need to log every calorie or purge your freezer of all pints of Ben and Jerry’s, but, in general, maintaining a balanced and conscientious diet can help things along.
Here are some broad guidelines to keep in mind:
- Women should start taking a prenatal vitamin and DHA supplement when they’re trying to conceive. Ideally, you should start this routine one to three months beforehand. Among other things, these supplements contain folate (either as MTHF folate or folic acid), which helps prevent birth defects of the brain, spine, and spinal cord.
- If your prenatal doesn't contain iron, make sure you are getting a daily dose from your food. It's found in healthy foods like spinach, lentils, and red meat. Iron helps your body make a protein called hemoglobin, which carries oxygen from your lungs to other parts of your body, boosting your energy levels.
- Eat a healthy diet full of fish, poultry, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. That goes for men as well. Healthy diets have been linked to higher fertility in both men and women.
- Overall, your lifestyle plays a significant role in fertility, which includes weight. If women are overweight or underweight while they’re trying to conceive, they may encounter some difficulty. Being overweight can also increase a woman’s risk of developing pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, and complications during labor. There is conflicting data on whether or not obesity in men reduces fertility. Either way, if you’re underweight or overweight, talk to your doctor or a nutritionist about making a plan.
- Finally: get moving! The US Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) to 300 min (5 hours) a week of moderate-intensity, or 75 to 150 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity. Exercise can help your physical and mental wellbeing. There is a limit to exercise: If you’re BMI <25 and you’re big on exercise, talk to your doctor about potential implications on your fertility, especially if you’re having irregular periods.
Does age matter?
More and more women are getting pregnant in their late thirties and early forties. It can often take longer to conceive, and these women may hit a few speed bumps along the way. That being said, the fastest growing group of American women having babies are those over 40.
Over a woman’s lifetime, the total number of eggs and the quality of those eggs decrease; the decrease is more rapid starting in the mid-thirties and concludes with menopause, the permanent end of female fertility. This is where the term “advanced maternal age” is used to acknowledge that the decreased quality increases the chance of genetic defects or chromosomal abnormalities, miscarriage, and pregnancies occurring outside of the uterus (ectopic pregnancy). Advanced age in women can also raise the risk profile of the pregnancy.
Prenatal care is especially important for older women and women with chronic health issues.
Chronic conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, or thyroid disease can impact fertility and pregnancy. This means that prenatal care is especially important for older women and women with chronic health issues. It’s also very important to look at your complete medical history. Women who have had ovarian surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, endometriosis, and pelvic infections are more likely to experience premature decreases in fertility.
Of course, men aren’t impervious to the effects of aging, either. As a man grows older, his testosterone levels decrease, and he produces less sperm, which can sometimes make it tougher (but by all means, not impossible) to conceive.
Finding your fertile window
In order to increase your chances of getting pregnant you can track when you ovulate by using ovulation tests, tracking cervical mucus (aka vaginal discharge), and/or taking your basal body temperature. This can help you find your “fertile window,” the six days leading up to and including ovulation. So what’s the magic behind this fertile window? It represents the time frame during which you’re likeliest to get pregnant. Having sex daily or every other day, especially in the couple of days preceding ovulation, boosts your chances of conceiving. Check out our free ovulation tracker PDF to get started.
Google is an amazing resource to help answer burning questions about fertility. but it’s really important to be able to sift through the evidence-based and not-so-evidence based information out there. There’s lots of misinformation surrounding conception and fertility on the internet. We’re here to draw a firm line between science and speculation and bust some fertility myths!
- The birth control “cleanse:” If you haven’t heard of it, the birth control cleanse is a mix of supplements to “help” a woman’s body reset after stopping birth control. Since hormonal birth control can suppress the hormones released by the ovaries, it can sometimes take one to three months for a woman’s cycle to naturally reset after stopping, but that’s normal and doesn’t mean conception can’t happen during this time. If it’s taken longer than three months for your period to come back after stopping hormonal birth control, talk to your doctor. And save yourself money; these so-called “cleanses” are total nonsense.
- There are no specific sex positions that can increase your chances of conceiving. Fretting too much over elevating your legs after sex won’t do much, but kill the mood. It’s better to go with whatever positions you and your partner are most comfortable with. Sperm will find its way to the fallopian tube in any position!
- Female orgasms: You may have heard the rumor that post-orgasm “contractions” suction up rogue sperm and increase your chances of conceiving. Unfortunately, science does not support this claim. The female orgasm is a glorious thing, but doesn’t do much in the way of fertility.
- Having too much fun: How much is too much? The fear that frequent ejaculation decreases male fertility is unsubstantiated! Chances of getting pregnant are highest by having sex everyday or every other day, especially during the fertile window. Of course, longer stretches of abstinence will decrease your chances.
- Plan B and infertility: Plan B does not make you infertile! Once you get your period after taking this pill, your cycle is reset, and those Plan B hormones are filtered out of your system pretty efficiently.
Of course, longer stretches of abstinence will decrease your chances.
Health conditions that can impact fertility
It’s helpful to be aware of health conditions that can make it tougher to get pregnant. These include endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which are two of the most common endocrine disorders in women.
Endometriosis is a condition where the endometrium (or inner lining of the uterus) grows or implants in other areas like the fallopian tubes, ovaries, or on the bowels or bladder. The primary symptom is pelvic pain, but other symptoms may include pain with bowel movements, urination, or during sex. Endometriosis can also cause scarring of the fallopian tubes, which can affect fertility.
Hormonal contraceptives and anti-inflammatory drugs are common treatments for the symptoms of endometriosis, and specialized laparoscopic surgery can remove endometriosis implants in the reproductive organs and may help improve fertility.
PCOS is a condition characterized by excess male hormones (androgens), irregular ovulation, and polycystic ovaries and can result in irregular periods, excess body hair, and cystic acne. Although experts aren’t entirely sure of the cause of PCOS, about 80 percent of women with PCOS are obese, and insulin resistance is a common hallmark of the condition. Lifestyle changes, weight loss, and some hormonal treatments are common ways of managing symptoms.
This isn’t to say that PCOS and endometriosis will completely prevent pregnancy. If you think you may have one of these conditions, it’s worth sitting down with your doctor to come up with a game plan.
Turning to Assisted Reproductive Technology
Assisted reproductive technologies (ART) are always a choice for you to explore, although, depending on your insurance, they can be expensive. Here is a basic overview of your options:
- Let’s start with intrauterine insemination, or IUI, in which sperm is placed inside the uterus as part of a medical procedure. This is a good option for single parents by choice, LGBTQ+ couples, couples who may not be able to have sex, or couples who have tried for a while with no success. The sperm used can be from a partner or a donor.
- Then, there is in vitro fertilization (IVF), which involves fertilizing an egg with sperm outside of the body, in a lab, and then putting the newly fertilized egg (the embryo) back into a woman’s uterus with the hope that it will implant and become a fetus. IVF is used by couples in which both or one partner is infertile. It's also used by single-parents by choice and LGBTQ+ couples. The egg and sperm that are used can be sourced from both partners in a couple or donated by other people to a couple or a single person; a woman can use eggs that she had previously frozen, or she can embark on this journey from scratch. There are many possibilities!
Don’t forget to keep track of your cycle! Timing is everything when it comes to conceiving, and sex within your fertile window will increase your chances of getting pregnant.
Many people have trouble conceiving, so you’re not alone if it’s taking longer than you expected. Learn more about getting pregnant here.