By Korin Miller and Sarah Bradley
As appeared in: Women’s Health
Once you and your S.O. have successfully kept an animal alive for a few months (or, you know, a houseplant), you might start thinking you’re ready to take the plunge into parenthood.
That is the hard part after all, right? Deciding if you want kids or not. The other stuff should be easy enough. Not exactly…conception is a tricky business: It’s influenced by a lot of factors, including your overall health and daily habits, and, TBH, women don’t exactly have a ton of time to get pregnant (the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology says female fertility starts to decline at 32).
Still, there are ways you can increase your chances of getting pregnant. Stash Marvin away for special occasions and try one of these ob-gyn-approved tips instead.
1. TAKE PRENATAL VITAMINS.
You probably know that you should take prenatal vitamins when you’re actually pregnant, but they can also help when you’re trying to conceive.
“If you’re not eating varied food groups and getting the necessary nutritional building blocks, then supplementing with a vitamin can give you some of the elements missing from your diet,” says Christine Masterson, M.D., F.A.C.O.G., an ob-gyn and chief of the women and children’s service line at Summit Medical Group in New Jersey. Basically, it’s best for your body to be functioning as well as it can in order to get pregnant.
Prenatal vitamins can also help lessen menstrual abnormalities. If a woman is deficient in iron, for example, it may affect her menstrual cycle—and prenatal vitamins are a good source of iron with 28 micrograms per dose. (The World Health Organization recommends pregnant women get 30 to 60 micrograms of iron each day.)
Folic acid is another important nutrient to have in your diet, since taking it (even before pregnancy!) can help reduce the baby’s risk of developing neural tube defects, according to the March of Dimes.
2. TRACK YOUR OVULATION.
You can technically get pregnant at any time, as long as you’re menstruating—but you’re most fertile when you’re ovulating, which typically happens around day 14 of your cycle (FYI: the day you start your period is day one). According to ACOG, you’ve got seven days each month that are prime for baby making: Five days before you ovulate, the day you ovulate, and one day after.
Honestly, that’s a lot to keep track of on your own, so it’s best to track your cycle each month, while also practicing basic fertility awareness (like taking your basal body temp every morning and checking your cervical mucus) or using an OTC ovulation predictor kit.
Bonus? It will limit the pressure to have obligatory baby-making sex like, all the time. “It can be taxing on a relationship to have sex every day to conceive,” says Masterson. “I usually recommend every other day since the egg will live for 72 hours after ovulation and sperm live for 48 hours after ejaculation, so you definitely have some time in terms of when you can become pregnant [in that window].”
3. SKIP THE LUBE…AND DOUCHES.
“Lubricants can slow down sperm because of how viscous and thick they are—sperm can’t swim through that,” says Masterson. “You also should not douche, since that affects your pH levels and the sperm’s viability.”
If you can’t live without lube, Masterson says you can use Pre-Seed, an FDA-approved “fertility-friendly” lubricant developed by doctors. It’s pH-balanced to match fertile cervical mucus as well as the pH of his sperm, so it won’t hurt your odds of conceiving.
4. CUT BACK ON CAFFEINE AND ALCOHOL.
It’s bad enough trying to survive nine months of pregnancy without a morning cup of coffee or a Friday night glass of wine…but do you really have to cut back on your extracurricular beverages before you get pregnant, too?
If you’re looking to maximize your fertility, then it’s not a bad idea. Masterson says it’s important to pay attention to all the things you’re putting in your body when you’re trying to conceive: everything from caffeine and alcohol to prescription medications and radiation exposure (via x-ray machines) can affect your hormone levels and, ultimately, your fertility.
“Don’t drink more than two cups of coffee per day and pay attention to how much soda, chocolate, and energy drinks you’re consuming, since those also contain caffeine,” she says. “And excessive use of alcohol has been linked to decreased fertility rates—not to mention that it can lower estrogen levels, which can affect ovulation.”
5. DON’T DRASTICALLY INCREASE YOUR EXERCISE ROUTINE.
While maintaining a healthy weight is important for fertility, there is such a thing as having too little body fat when it comes to getting pregnant.
“Moderate exercise is good, but intense training could affect your BMI and body fat,” says Masterson. “If you don’t have enough fat, your body thinks you’re in a fight-or-flight stage and will prevent you from ovulating and conceiving since that’s not a good time to have a baby.”
6. TRY NOT TO STRESS—SERIOUSLY.
Honestly, “relax” and “just let it happen,” are two things no one wants to hear when trying to conceive; but sometimes, lessening stress (even if it’s baby-focused stress) can help.
According to Masterson, meditation and other stress reduction techniques can help increase fertility rates, because stress hormones (like cortisol) can affect the hormones that trigger ovulation. She recommends trying mindfulness activities, setting aside some time every day to meditate, or just doing your best to keep conceiving fun (instead of turning sex into an unromantic business transaction).
7. IF YOU’RE A SMOKER, STOP.
Let’s be honest: You shouldn’t be smoking at all. But, if you are, you’re (hopefully) planning on throwing out your cigarettes as soon as those two little blue lines showed up on your drugstore pregnancy test—the CDC has linked smoking during pregnancyto premature birth and certain birth defects.
But Masterson says that smoking during childbearing years, pregnant or not, can also put you at risk for early menopause, and drastically increase the number of eggs you lose every month. Basically, smoking is unhealthy at any stage of life, and may even hinder your family-planning goals.
(If you need help quitting smoking, you can talk to your healthcare provider, call 1-800-QUIT, or visit the CDC’s resource page.)
8. PRACTICE GOOD SLEEP HYGIENE.
“When your circadian rhythms are off, it can throw off your ovulation cycles,” says Masterson. “We see it a lot in women who work night shifts and travel internationally, frequently.”
If you have a job that interferes with a normal sleep routine, consider switching your schedule (if possible); if it’s not, try to get as much sleep in your downtime as you can to avoid accruing a sleep debt.
But even if you work a traditional 9 to 5, cleaning up your sleep habits may boost your pregnancy chances, too, says Masterson, by helping your body perform optimally. Get more zzz’s at night by keeping a regular sleep schedule, avoiding caffeine in the later hours, exercising regularly, and turning off all screens (including your TV and tablet) an hour before bedtime.