Women are born with all the eggs they will ever have in their life. As we age, the quantity and quality of our eggs decreases, which makes it harder for us to get pregnant. Even though there are strategies and cutting-edge technology to help you conceive, it’s also really important to optimize your natural fertility before starting any sort of fertility treatment. There are several things that you can do at home or on your own to get your body prepared for pregnancy.
1. Take Prenatal Vitamins
Taking a prenatal vitamin is a simple and easy way to help prepare your body for pregnancy. Prenatal vitamins contain important vitamins, minerals, and supplements that are good both for you and your growing baby.
Look for a prenatal vitamin that contains the following key ingredients:
- Folic acid: Look for at least 400-800 mcg of folic acid. This is the amount that is recommended in order to reduce the risk of neural tube defects. If your prenatal vitamin does not contain at least this much folic acid, you can take an additional 1mg supplement.
- DHA (docosahexaenoic acid): This is an omega-3 fatty acid that is often found in fish oil. DHA is beneficial for fetal development and has been shown to be good for the baby’s brain, eye, and nervous system. Look for 200 mg of DHA.
- Vitamin D: This vitamin is important for fertility, pregnancy, and is important for a number of other things including bone health and immune function. Look for a prenatal vitamin that contains at least 800-1000 IU of vitamin D. If not, you can take a vitamin D supplement in addition to your prenatal.
- Calcium & Iron: Both of these minerals are important for you and your baby and they serve important roles in blood levels as well as bone health.
Aim to start a prenatal vitamin 1-3 months before conceiving and continue taking one daily through pregnancy and even postpartum.
2. Maintain a Healthy Weight
Obesity has been linked to menstrual irregularities, ovulatory problems, miscarriage, and infertility. Achieving a healthy weight before you conceive will not only improve your chances of getting pregnant, but it will also increase your chances of having a healthy pregnancy and baby. Obesity in pregnancy is also linked to risks for several pregnancy complications, including gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, preterm delivery, and even stillbirth. Aim for a BMI less than 30 kg/m2, bearing in mind that a normal is 18.5-25 kg/m2. A BMI that is too low (below 18.5) can also hurt your chances of getting pregnant.
Unfortunately, there are no magic bullets or quick fixes when it comes to maintaining a healthy body weight. The key is consistency and commitment. Eat a well-balanced diet, rich in lean protein, organic fruits, and vegetables with limited processed or sugary foods. Try to exercise for at least 30-50 minutes 4-5 times per week.
3. Be Aware of How Much Caffeine You Are Consuming
There are a lot of questions about how much caffeine is safe to consume when you are trying to conceive or pregnant. Large amounts of caffeine (500 mg or more than 5 cups of coffee per day) has been linked to decreased fertility and miscarriage risk, but small amounts of caffeine don’t seem to have a negative impact. Data shows that limited caffeine intake (1-2 cups of coffee per day or 200 mg or less of caffeine) is safe to consume both when you are trying to get pregnant and even when you are pregnant. Just be aware of how much caffeine you are consuming since not all coffees have the same amount. Drinks like sodas, teas, and energy drinks also contain varying amounts of caffeine so don’t forget to factor them in.
4. Cut Back or Eliminate Alcohol Consumption
The data on alcohol and fertility is not particularly robust, but some studies have suggested that higher levels of alcohol consumption lower conception rates. There may be times during a fertility treatment cycle when your doctor will recommend avoiding alcohol altogether. In general, it’s a good idea to cut back on your alcohol consumption (limit to 3-5 drinks per week) or eliminate alcohol altogether. All alcohol consumption should be stopped once you are pregnant as there is no “safe amount” of alcohol in pregnancy.
5. Quit Smoking
Smoking is probably one of the most harmful things you can do for your fertility. Women who smoke are at higher risk of being infertile, it destroys egg quality, and it depletes your ovarian reserve faster than normal. In fact, women who smoke tend to go through menopause 1-4 years earlier than nonsmokers. Secondhand or passive smoke can also be damaging. The best thing you can do for your fertility and future pregnancy is to quit and if your partner smokes, have them quit too.
6. Reduce Your Exposure to Environmental Toxins
Environmental toxins and pollutants are all around us. They are in our food, household products, beauty products, and cleaning agents, just to name a few.
Some key environmental toxins to be on the lookout for:
- Mercury: This heavy metal is a teratogen, which means it can cause birth defects. It’s typically found in some large fish, like shark and swordfish. Limit your consumption of certain fish and seafood.
- Bisphenol A (BPA): This toxin is found in many plastic materials like plastic water bottles and plastic food storage containers. It can also be found in canned foods. Use a glass or stainless-steel water bottle, switch to glass food storage, and minimize consumption of canned foods.
- Phthalates: This chemical can be found in beauty products, plastics, and household products. Look for products that are phthalate-free.
- Pesticides: Making an effort to buy and eat organic foods will help decrease pesticide ingestion and always remember to wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating.
Exposure to environmental toxins and pollutants have been shown to have significant harmful effects on fertility as well as your overall health. Become aware and educate yourself about the products you consume, use on your body or have in your home.
7. Decrease Stress Levels
The relationship between infertility and stress is complicated. Infertility can obviously cause significant stress and we assume that stress can impact your fertility although the exact mechanism is unclear. We know that stress can affect your hormone levels, which can in turn affect your body’s ability to ovulate. Bottom line: managing your stress levels while trying to conceive is good for not just your fertility, but your overall well-being. Some stress-reduction techniques to consider include finding a support group, talking to a counselor or therapist, and mind-body exercises like meditation or yoga. Simple things like being active, going for a walk outside, and taking time for self-care can also be effective. The most important thing is to find a strategy that works for you.
Even though you can’t change our age or genetics, which are the most important factors for your fertility, you can make modifications to help improve your natural fertility and therefore increase your chances of conceiving naturally.
- Start taking a prenatal vitamin as soon as you start thinking about building your family.
- Aim to maintain a healthy weight through a well-balanced diet and regular exercise.
- Lifestyle changes like limiting caffeine and alcohol consumption, quitting smoking, and reducing your exposure to environmental toxins can also make a difference.
- Take care of your mental health as much as your physical health.
And remember, if you have been trying to conceive and haven’t been successful, consider talking to a fertility doctor. We can do a fertility assessment and give you some guidance and recommendations to help you build your family. Wishing everyone lots of luck and baby dust!
Dr. Ghazal is a double board certified Fertility Specialist, a Southern California native, and an award-winning Top Doctor and Rising Star in the field. She specializes in all aspects of female and male infertility, IVF, egg freezing, LGBTQ+ family building, miscarriage & pregnancy loss, PCOS, ovulatory disorders, intrauterine insemination, fertility preservation for cancer patients, endometriosis, and preimplantation genetic testing. Her research has covered a wide variety of topics in the field of reproductive medicine including assisted reproductive techniques, embryo culture, fertility preservation, endometriosis, implantation, and IVF outcomes. She has authored numerous book chapters and articles that have been published in top journals and she has been invited to present her research at national meetings.