"Try drinking cough syrup", "You must have an orgasm" and "Keep your legs up for 20 minutes after sex"! What other advice have you read or received if you are trying to get pregnant and have you tried any of them? After trying to conceive for several months with zero success, many women will try any method they hear about that could potentially help. It is the fear of the unknown on whether a successful pregnancy will happen or not that starts to take over everyday life. Once that seed of fear gets planted, many couples start to worry whether they are doing something wrong or that something is wrong.
There are a good deal of myths and false information on what affects conception. To help alleviate trying to conceive stress and confusion, we address lifestyle factors that have been scientifically analyzed for whether they help or interfere with getting pregnant.
Antihistamines, Medications and Drugs
Do you have allergies and are taking antihistamines? Taking antihistamines is fairly common but they can actually impede conception. Antihistamines are just as effective as drying up your nose as as they are your cervical mucus. Why is this a problem? If you are too dry down there, this can prevent sperm from reaching your uterus (source).
Drugs in general, whether prescription or over-the-counter should be avoided when you are trying to conceive unless it is absolutely necessary for your health. No medication has been approved for pregnancy. If your medication is essential for your health and wellbeing, it will most likely be important to remain on the medication. Discuss any medications or supplements you may be taking or need to take with your doctor.
Illicit drugs such as marijuana can also negatively impact fertility. Most of us are aware that cocaine and heroin are extremely dangerous to pregnancy and the unborn baby, but many do not know that marijuana can have negative effects as well. Marijuana is the most commonly used drug around the world and has been found to both centrally and peripherally cause abnormal reproductive function in both men and women, as well as negative consequences during pregnancy  (source) ,  (source).
Other common drugs include alcohol and smoking. Smoking is proven to be bad for fertility, pregnancy and the baby. When it comes to alcohol, due to potentially harmful effects on your fertility and the baby, doctors recommend to stop drinking all together while trying to conceive and certaintly while pregnant.
Missing your Window of Opportunity: The Fertile Window
Research shows that women using ovulation prediction kits (detecting urinary hormones) to determine fertility only captured 30% of their fertile window (source). When using the calendar method, only a mere 3% of women with regular cycles were in their fertile window (source). This is a serious problem. Not only because daily intercourse (or intercourse every other day) throughout the 6 days of the fertile window significantly increase the odds of conception, but because many of us are starting our families at an older age and time is not on our side.
The biggest misunderstanding is what day we ovulate and timing the fertile window. Many of us are still told or read somewhere that we ovulate day 14. Even though we now have apps and the internet, there is still misguided information on what day women ovulate. Day 14 is based on an average from a group of women and an estimate for a 28-day cycle. Women have been found to ovulate on any day between day 6-21 in any given cycle. Women in general are fertile for about 6 days total each month depending on how long their partner's sperm is viable. Outside of the fertile window there is a zero percent chance of conception (source).
To determine ovulation, Dr. Don Aptekar says, "I recommend my patients use biomarkers such as your core body temperature, urine sticks that measure hormones (LH sticks) and the cervical fluid method."
Diet: What you Eat Matters
The landmark Nurses' Health Study found that women who ate a specific diet were indeed more fertile. Healthy diets can significantly improve ovulation and hormonal balance. Diet equally can impact sperm fertility health as well.
Men: studies find that men's sperm is significantly more fertile when they have a diet high in vegetables, fiber, folate, lycopene, fruit. A diet high in antioxidants also strongly correlates with improved semen quality.
Women: studies found that a diet with a higher monounsaturated to trans-fat ratio, vegetable over animal protein, high fat over low-fat diary, decreased gylcemic load and an increased intake of iron and multivitamins had lower rates of infertility due to ovulation disorders (source).
Foods to add:
- Protein: beans, beef, lamb, salmon, tuna, eggs, lentils, turkey, chicken, nuts and seeds, bean Two important tips: 1) women who got most of their protein and iron from a plant based diet (less red meat) were more fertile 2) watch for eating too much mercury. Current recommendations are to eat 2-3 servings per week from 'best list' or 1 serving per week from 'good list' (source).
- Vegetables: spinach, kale, beets, parsley, red peppers, broccoli, asparagus, brussels sprouts, leafy greens. NOTE: each vegetable contains different levels of necessary vitamins, so mix it up and eat plenty
- Slow Carbs: yams, whole wheat pasta, quinoa, brown rice
- Fruits: mango, berries, avocado, banana, organ, apples, papaya NOTE: same as veggies, each fruit contains different vitamins, so eat a variety.
- Dairy (in moderation): whole mile, whole mile yogurt, fresh cheese. NOTE: women were found to gain fertility benefits who had whole milk or whole milk yogurt but less fertility when consumed skim and low fat dairy products.
Caffeine: Too Much of a Good Thing is Possible
Watch out for caffeinated teas, sodas and energy drinks. It's not only the 16 oz a day that you can consume, but the actual amount of caffeine. In Starbucks Pikes Place Roast, for example, has 330mg of caffeine per 16 oz cup. Starbucks Coffee Company (source). A 2011 study from the Nevada School of Medicine found that caffeine interferes with the muscle contractions that help eggs travel from the ovaries and through the fallopian tubes to the womb, while a 2012 Danish study revealed that drinking five or more cups of coffee a day may cut a woman's chances of successful in vitro fertilization by half. That said, other studies suggest caffeine plays no role in fertility. Either way, if you're struggling to conceive, it's worth taking a look at your caffeine intake and cutting back if you're drinking more than 200 milligrams a day-that's 1 to 2 8-ounce cups of coffee.
Not Enough Sex (old sperm)
Google 'sex frequency for trying to conceive' and you will see all sorts of advice. Studies show that while it's true that sperm count may go up with abstinence, sperm vitality overall goes down. Researchers found that by ejaculating within 1 to 4 hours and 24 hours again, total motile sperm count increased over and above that of the first ejaculate (source).
Turns out the belief is that men should 'save up' their sperm before the fertile window, especially if they have low sperm count, may actually decrease the percent chance of conception. The studies mentioned conclude that daily ejaculation (or even twice daily) may overcome impaired sperm transport and may significantly increase the potential for conception in infertile men (source). This makes sense, doesn't it? If you have intercourse twice in an hour, you increase the amount of sperm on their way to the egg.
In general, research is showing that men should ejaculate between three and four times a week to ensure a proper amount of motile, normal sperm. If you know for sure that you have normal sperm count, however, studies demonstrate little change in motility following abstinence and didn't show signs of staleness until much later (source).
What if you have normal sperm count? For those with regular sperm count, the current recommendation is to have intercourse on multiple days throughout the 6 days of the fertile window. This will raise the overall probability of conception, though not additively. Daily intercourse during the fertile window is preferable to less frequent intercourse because each day of intercourse raises the probability of pregnancy. Men with low sperm count, however, may want to consider trying twice in one hour to increase chances of conception (see study here).
Sperm Does Not Like Heat
Hot tubs, lap tops Increased scrotal temperature can hamper sperm production. Although the benefits have not been fully proven, wearing loose-fitting underwear, reducing the time you spend sitting, avoiding saunas and hot tubs, and limiting scrotum exposure to warm objects, such as a laptop, might enhance sperm quality. Heat can temporarily lower sperm count. Other things that impact sperm fertility are long bike rides and horseback riding (source). Biking for more than five hours per week has been found to decrease sperm motile sperm and count (source).
Exercise is a Natural Medicine just Don't do Too Much
Exercise is a key component to manage weight, which is essential for getting pregnant due to hormonal imbalances that occur with excessive weight. Exercise has also been shown to improve rates of implantation and pregnancy as well as reduce the risk of miscarriage (source).
In men, the right amount of exercise can increase sperm count and quality. It can also improve sex drive in both men and women. Not to mention the incredible psychological and stress reduction benefits it provides. All of which are key components to making a baby.
Here are the national and international evidence-based physical activity guidelines relevant to men and women trying to conceive:
A minimum of 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity 6-7 days a week or 75 minutes/week of vigorous intensity or if over weight it is recommended to do moderate intensity physical activity for 225-300 minutes/week.
The key is to get into the mindset of training for your health and to make a baby. According to Running Doc, Lewis G. Maharam, if you are having a difficult time getting pregnant, try cutting your regime in half and see if that works. The key is to avoid excessive amounts of long or hard workouts that tax your body and immune system. Train for fitness rather than performance. For more information on exercise click here.
Sperm and Lube: Can Lube or Spit Really Kill Sperm?
While further research is needed on the effects of lubricants on fertility, the general advice from the research committee is to consider avoiding lubricants during intercourse during your fertile window. Check out these study results here  (source) and  (source) for the specific results on testing a variety of lubrications.
Sometimes, however, foreplay simply won't work for enough lubrication. If necessary, consider using olive oil, canola oil, or a fertility friendly lubricant, such as Pre-Seed  (source).
Toxins in Products Can Alter Hormones
Use products free from toxins (makeup, soap, household cleaners and yard products) exposure to pollutants, pesticides, and industrial compounds can decrease a couple's ability to have children by up to 29%, according to a 2013 study published in Environmental Health Perspectives. Additionally, a 2015 Washington University study found that 15 common chemicals were associated with early menopause.
These chemicals include nine PCBs (which have been banned since 1979 but still exist in older products), three pesticides, two forms of plastics called phthalates (often found in personal care items and beauty products like perfumes and nail polishes), and the toxin furan, a byproduct of industrial combustion.
How Not to Waste Another Month: Scientifically Backed Data to Help you Get Pregnant Sooner