First things first
Dr. Samuel Wood, reproductive endocrinologist at the Reproductive Sciences Center says the first thing a woman should do to prepare her body for conception is to see her doctor. Dr. Wood says, "Get a check-up to make sure you don’t have any health issues (for example high blood pressure or diabetes) that might prevent you from becoming pregnant or that may prevent you from having a healthy full-term pregnancy."
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Restore hormonal balance
Amos Grunebaum, OB/GYN at Weill Cornell in New York and advisor for Fairhaven Health says that many women who struggle to conceive have irregular cycles, which can make getting pregnant particularly challenging. Dr. Grunebaum advises, "Cycle irregularity is most often the result of a hormonal imbalance that can impact the frequency of ovulation and/or menstruation. Before resorting to prescription medications (along with their attendant side effects), women might explore some proven natural methods of restoring hormonal balance such as the herb chasteberry (vitex agnus-castus), which has been shown to help promote cycle regularity. Vitex can be purchased separately at your local health food store or as part of a comprehensive fertility supplement."
Ditch those bad habits
Most women know that it's a good idea to cut back (better yet, eliminate) smoking, drinking or drug use from your life before (and during and after!) pregnancy. But it's also important to cut back on other substances as well, such as caffeine and over-the-counter medications. Dr. Daniel Potter, co-author of What to Do When You Can't Get Pregnant, notes that consuming more than 300 milligrams of caffeine a day can reduce fertility by 27 percent. He says, "The nicotine from tobacco products lowers sperm count, increases the percentage of abnormal sperm and can cause sperm to become sluggish. It can also kill fertile eggs in women. He adds, "Certain medications such as ibuprofen, antibiotics, antidepressants and prescription painkillers have all been linked to infertility."
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Get and stay in shape
Dr. Wood notes that getting and staying in shape before pregnancy, through a good exercise program, is beneficial for many reasons. He says, "Strength training is very useful before pregnancy to make the pregnancy and delivery easier, but since only very light weights can be used during pregnancy, it’s important to already have achieved your optimal strength before you become pregnant. Most women who have an active lifestyle that includes exercise can continue to remain very active during their pregnancy but it’s very difficult to begin any significant exercise program during pregnancy."
He also suggests losing weight if your body mass index is 30 or higher and adds, "The closer to getting under a BMI of 25 the better." He also stresses the importance of transitioning to a healthy diet. "Unhealthy high-calorie diets during pregnancy can have long-term effects on the fetus (like childhood obesity) by changing the way its DNA works."
Dr. Potter suggests adding the following foods to your healthy diet to ramp up your conception efforts:
- Oysters are high in zinc, promoting semen and testosterone production in men, and fertility and ovulation in women.
- Protein and iron-rich foods like meat, fish, beans, lentils and asparagus help prevent anemia and postpartum anemia.
- Folic acid found in leafy green vegetables is a natural deterrent of birth defects.
- Brightly-colored fruits and vegetables like raspberries, blueberries and peppers are all high in antioxidants, which counteract environmental toxins that may inhibit fertility, and the beta-carotene in carrots helps keep hormones in balance. Aim for two cups of fruit and three cups of vegetables per day.
- Omega-3 is also an essential for reproductive health. Try to work in two servings of fish per week, but stay away from the high mercury content in swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish. Opt for catfish, cod, crab, salmon, tilapia or shrimp instead.
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Create a conception calendar
Dr. Wood advises a straight-forward method to creating a conception calendar, starting by determining day 1 of your cycle (which is considered to be first day of good menstrual flow). From there he says, "Calculate the number of days between day 1 of consecutive periods (typical is 28 to 32 days). Subtract 20 days from the total number of cycle days (for example, 30-20=10). Have sex every other night for the next eight days (days 10, 12, 14, 16, 18)." He adds that subtracting 14 from the total number of cycle days reveals the likely day of ovulation (so subtracting 14 from 30 would make day 16 the probable day of ovulation).