If you’re having trouble getting pregnant but you’re not quite ready for fertility treatments, there are things you can try on your own.
For some couples, getting pregnant is quick and easy. For others, things may not go exactly as planned.
Sometimes problems are linked to specific physiological issues such as blocked fallopian tubes in the woman or low or no sperm count in the man — problems that can be helped by fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) or insemination.
For many others however, reasons behind their infertility are much harder to define.
Fertility Booster No. 1: Eat Healthfully
In a study of some 17,000 women conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health, researchers were able to define a group of “fertility foods” able to improve conception odds.
Which dietary tenets were key to increasing fertility?
- Eating more monounsaturated fats (like olive oil) and less trans fats (like the kind found in many baked goods or fast foods).
- Increasing intake of vegetable protein (like soy), while reducing animal protein (like red meat).
Fertility Booster No. 2: Healthy Weight
Whether or not you eat the so-called “fertility foods,” maintaining a healthy weight is another way to enhance your fertility.
Studies show that having either a very low or very high BMI ( body mass index) disrupts ovulation and may also affect production of key reproductive hormones.
“One of the first things I counsel women about is the role of their weight in influencing their fertility,” says Janet Choi, MD, a reproductive endocrinologist at the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City.
For many women — particularly those who are overweight — problems are traced to ovulatory dysfunction, often caused by PCOS. That said, a recent Dutch study of some 3,000 women found excess weight could also interfere with fertility even if a woman is ovulating normally.
Reporting in the journal Human Reproduction, researchers documented a 4% decrease in conception odds for every point in BMI above 30. For women whose BMI was higher than 35, there was up to a 43% overall decrease in the ability to conceive.
The good news: Losing those extra pounds may preclude the need for pricey fertility treatments.
Fertility Booster No. 3: Reduce Stress
Although links between stress and infertility have been long debated, evidence continues to mount that the two are intertwined.
In studies conducted by Alice Domar, PhD, at Harvard’s Mind-Body Institute, women who underwent stress reduction therapy saw dramatic increases in their ability to get pregnant. In fact, even women who were already undergoing fertility treatments had more successful outcomes when stress was kept under control.
More recently, research conducted at Magee Women’s Hospital in Pittsburgh by Sarah Burga, MD, linked stress to a condition known as functional hypothalamic amenorrhea (FHA). Affecting some 5% of women in their reproductive years, it causes irregular or absent menstrual cycles.
Choi says, “I don’t advocate quitting your job just to get rid of stress, but if you can try to get better day-to-day management of your anxieties, I believe it can work in conjunction with other methods to encourage fertility.”
What can you do to reduce fertility-related stresses? Experts say anything that makes you feel relaxed can help — be it listening to music, doing yoga, getting regular massages, writing in a journal, reading, gardening… and of course there is always Hypnosis and specialisist relaxation techniques that your Hypnotherapist can assist you with.
Fertility Booster No. 4: Acupuncture
Studies linking acupuncture to conception have by and large been conducted on women undergoing fertility treatments. Still, many experts are quick to point out that this ancient Chinese medical art may also work to help encourage fertility overall — even for those couples trying to conceive naturally.
“I sometimes recommend acupuncture, in conjunction with stress reduction activities such as yoga, to help encourage pregnancy,” Pollack says.
“I wouldn’t advise a couple to rely only on acupuncture, or to try it without first getting a fertility workup, but if everything checks out OK, acupuncture can be helpful,” she says.
Fertility Booster No. 5: Timing of Ovulation
While being intimate during the “right time of the month” won’t do anything to increase your fertility, it can increase your chances of getting pregnant — simply by ensuring you and your partner connect during the time conception is possible.
Timing is key, says Pollack, because “an egg only lives for 24 to 36 hours.” But sperm can live in the lower portion of a woman’s reproductive tract a lot longer — often up to five days. So to increase your chances of conceiving you should be intimate with your partner beginning three to four days prior to ovulation, and continuing up to 24 hours after ovulation.
But how do you know when you’re about to ovulate? Experts say there are several methods you can use to approximate.
1. Chart your basal body temperature (BBT): Your BBT, which is the lowest temperature your body reaches during the day, is affected by the hormones that influence ovulation. Just prior to egg release, your BBT drops about a half degree, then rises again after you ovulate. So by carefully monitoring and keeping track of your daily temperature for one or two months, Pollack says you will begin to see a pattern take shape. If you have intercourse during the days when your temperature drops, then there is a good chance you will be within your fertility window.
2. Chart your cervical mucus: Corresponding to changes in body temperature are changes in cervical mucus. Just prior to ovulation, the mucus will seem more copious, thinner, and more clear than on other days. You might even be able to pull it apart so that it looks somewhat like rubber cement — a phenomenon known as “spinbarket.” By checking your cervical mucus daily and coordinating its consistency with your BBT, you can further nail down your most fertile time.
3. Use an ovulation predictor kit (OPK): These kits are available from the supermarkiet or chemist and check for the hormonal changes found in urine prior to ovulation. Some use a color-sensitive dipstick while newer OPKs have digital readouts that may be easier to interpret. OPKs can alert you to ovulation up to two days in advance. Once the OPK is positive, Pollack says, you would “have intercourse that day and every day for three days to help increase your chances of conception.”