The road to conception can be a bumpy path for many people. And over the years, one of the most common questions I've heard from patients at my fertility practice is, "What lifestyle changes can increase our chances of conception?”
If you're trying to conceive and aren't succeeding as quickly as you'd like, you may be able to speed up the process by making some simple lifestyle adjustments. Here are a few tweaks that have helped my own patients on their journeys:
1. Eat a healthy, clean diet.
Maintaining a normal body weight and healthy diet can be very helpful for fertility. That's because for women, both body weight extremes can be detrimental: Becoming extremely underweight can mess with a woman’s hormonal balance and keep her from having a normal menstrual cycle, which can in turn prevent ovulation. On the other hand, being overweight can impair a woman’s insulin function, and insulin has also been shown to interfere with normal ovulation.
For men, being overweight can literally compress the testicles between thick thighs — and that excessive heat surrounding the testicles can cause the sperm to form poorly. Also, excessive fat on a man’s body tends to convert into high estrogen levels and low testosterone levels, both of which are counterproductive for sperm growth.
A healthy lifestyle is important for everyone — but it's especially important if you’re trying to get pregnant.
It also helps to cut back on drinking. Excessive alcohol can affect the function of the liver, which controls many hormonal functions, for both men and women. These hormonal functions are crucial for both normal ovulation and sperm growth.
I also recommend that couples consider limiting their intake of processed meat, as it's been linked to poor semen quality.
And overall, a nutritious diet can also promote healthy ovulation and strong sperm — which is the ideal for couples trying to conceive.
2. Become an expert on the female fertility cycle.
Of course, it's helpful for couples to time sex to the appropriate stages of the month — which means understanding the female fertility cycle is very important. The first day of full flow (not just spotting) is always counted as the first day of the menstrual cycle. For many people who have a normal 28- to 30-day cycle, ovulation tends to occur around day 13 or 14.
The use of an over-the-counter ovulatory predictor kit — which involves checking a urine sample — generally indicates that ovulation will occur within 12 to 24 hours. I generally recommend patients start using the daily urine ovulatory predictor kit around day 10 of the cycle, and once it turns positive, have sex that night and for the next two nights after.
Other signals to look for: abdominal cramping and clear vaginal discharge that is similar to an egg white in consistency.
Having sex past the ovulation period may be fantastic for a relationship but not for trying to conceive — at that point, the egg has already been released and conception for that month is no longer affected.
3. Put down that cigarette.
Smoking — whether you're a man or a woman — can harm the chances of conception. For men, it decreases the quality, quantity, and the movement of swimming sperm. For women, cigarette smoking can directly affect the egg quality.
Of course, nicotine intake is also very harmful for an intrauterine baby, and I highly recommend quitting smoking as soon as possible.
4. Use a sperm-friendly lubricant.
For years, men and women have used many different over-the-counter lubricants without giving any thought to the idea that they could be harmful for conception. Research now shows that the average over-the-counter lubricant decreases sperm motility. If you're trying to conceive, consider purchasing a lubricant that is designed not to hinder contraception in any way.
Healthy lifestyles are important for everyone — but they’re especially important if you’re trying to get pregnant. What you put into your body will definitely affect your health, your eggs, and your sperm, and it's important to take control for the best possible outcome.
Not only will you feel better about yourself, but your body will be in shape for a healthy pregnancy.
Fertility specialist Dr. Shahin Ghadir is an internationally recognized and trusted name in obstetrics and gynecology. Based in Los Angeles, California, he is a founding partner of the Southern California Reproductive Center. He is also an Assistant Clinical Professor at both USC and UCLA, president and founder of the non-profit Fertility For All, director for the American Fertility Association, and an ambassador for Astroglide TTC, a sperm-friendly personal lubricant for couples trying to conceive.