In this article:
“A mother does not become pregnant in order to provide employment to medical people. Giving birth is an ecstatic jubilant adventure not available to males. It is a woman’s crowning creative experience of a lifetime.” – John Stevenson.
Getting pregnant is one of the most enriching and soul-satisfying experiences in a woman’s life. Without undermining the indispensable role of men, it’s fair to say that pregnancy is simply a woman’s shining hour as she is the one who does all the “heavy lifting.”
Once you and your partner have made the decision to try for a baby, you may want it to happen as soon as possible. For some women, getting pregnant is easy, while it may take time for others. On average, a woman will become pregnant within a year of trying to conceive if she has regular sex without any protection. (1)
While most people take this natural reproductive progression for granted as something that is bound to happen, some have to jump through quite a few hoops before registering success.
The process of conceiving a child has always been viewed through rose-tinted glasses, glorifying the highs without any mention of the lows.
What Causes Difficulty in Conception?
Once you have decided to bring a new life into this world, you need to see a doctor. Many things need to be taken care of while trying to conceive.
From your ovulation to your partner’s sperm quality, from your diet to other lifestyle choices, and from your age to your general health, everything contributes to building your fertility and reducing the risk of a miscarriage.
If your attempts to get pregnant fail to bear fruit despite having regular unprotected sex for more than 6 months, then you should consider seeing a doctor. Around 10% to 15% of couples have to deal with infertility (2) and such conception-related difficulties can stem from either of the partners or both.
As many as one-third of such cases are attributed to male infertility issues, and another one-third tend to be due to specific female problems. The remaining cases are either idiopathic or result from predisposing factors that apply to both partners.
Your doctor will test the female partner to rule out the following medical conditions, which are often at the root of female infertility:
The male partner will also be tested for infertility or impotency issues. Oligospermia, or low sperm count, is the predominant reason behind male infertility and can be traced back to any of the following reasons:
- Damaged sperm duct
- Presence of infection in the prostate
- Anomalies in semen production
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Excessive smoking
- Exposure to toxic chemicals
- Certain medications
- Prolonged use of steroids
- Sexually transmitted infections such as trichomoniasis and chlamydia
- Infected semen
If you or your partner does not suffer from any of these medical conditions and you still are failing to conceive, then the chances are you have just been unlucky.
Here Is What You Need to Do
If you have been struggling to get pregnant, some simple lifestyle changes may help increase your chance of conceiving and preventing miscarriages.
1. Manage your stress
For a couple tackling fertility difficulties, the emotional and mental toll that comes along with the struggle can be quite testing for their relationship. Instead of growing despondent with each failed attempt, it is recommended that both partners work as a team and comfort and support each other through these distressing times.
By letting the pressure get to you, you will further jeopardize your chances of procreating as stress is known to be a precipitating agent for infertility. Managing your stress levels thus becomes imperative to register reproductive success.
A 2011 study published in Fertility and Sterility reports that stress in life can significantly reduce the probability of conception. This is because stress exerts its negative effect through the sympathetic medullar pathway. (3)
When in stress, women have higher levels of alpha-amylase, an enzyme responsible for delayed ovulation. (4)
You can reduce stress by practicing relaxation techniques, such as acupuncture, meditation, massage therapy, reading self-help books, and listening to soothing, soft music with guided imagery.
2. Quit smoking
Stop smoking to increase your chance of getting pregnant and giving birth to a healthy baby. In fact, smoking reduces the effect of fertility treatment, if you are undertaking one.
In women, the toxins in cigarette smoke affect fertility by reducing the estrogen level in the body. In fact, women who smoke excessively are less likely to conceive than nonsmokers. (5)
A 2004 study published in Fertility and Sterility highlights the negative effects of smoking and passive smoke on sperm density and motility and a possible adverse effect on morphology. (6)
Another 2015 study published in the Journal of Postgraduate Medicine points out that men with infertility, or those having difficulty conceiving, should quit smoking to optimize their chances for successful conception. (7)
So, whether you are an active or passive smoker, it is time to take steps to quit smoking.
3. Limit drinking
If you are planning to conceive, you need to keep tabs on how much you are drinking. This is important as heavy drinking is linked to fertility-related problems in both women and men.
The toxins in alcohol increase the length of time it takes to conceive. If you do conceive, you increase the risk that your baby will be born with a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). (8)
A 2004 study published in Fertility and Sterility reports that high alcohol intake is associated with increased risk of infertility and, hence, it is important for the female partner in an infertile couple to limit alcohol intake or to not drink at all. (9)
In another 2017 study published in Scientific Reports, researchers used data from 19 studies that involved 98,657 reproductive-age women and came to the conclusion that, in relation to nondrinkers, drinking was significantly associated with a 13% (for any drinking), 11% (for light drinking), and 23% (for moderate-heavy drinking) reduction in fecundability. (10)
All experts recommend that women who are trying to conceive must avoid alcohol completely. If you cannot stop drinking, seek the help of an expert.
4. Check your vitamin D levels
Vitamin D deficiency may cause infertility and miscarriage, so get your levels checked before planning to conceive.
According to a 2010 study published in Molecular Nutrition and Food Research, this vitamin is important for pregnancy and for giving birth to a healthy baby. (11)
Also, a 2011 study published in Metabolism: Clinical and Experimental showed that vitamin D deficiency is associated with metabolic risk factors in patients with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which causes irregular ovulation. (12)
- As sunlight aids vitamin D production in the body, expose your body to early-morning sunlight for about 10 minutes daily.
- Eat foods high in vitamin D such as salmon, cheese, egg yolks, some mushrooms (grown in ultraviolet light), and foods fortified with vitamin D.
- Take vitamin D supplements after consulting your doctor. (13)
5. Have sufficient folic acid
Folic acid is an important vitamin for those who are trying to conceive. It helps cell division and promotes ovulation. In fact, health experts recommend taking this vitamin before and during pregnancy.
In a 2016 study published in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, researchers recommend the intake of folic acid supplementation at 0.4 mg/day for healthy and normal‐weight women for at least 6 months prior to conception. (14)
Folic acid also helps reduce the occurrence of neural tube defects (NTDs). (15)
- All women of reproductive age should get 400 mcg of folic acid daily. Take folic acid supplements daily for at least 5–6 months if you are planning to conceive. Talk to your doctor about how much you need before and after you conceive. (16)
- You can also eat foods rich in folic acid, such as dark-green leafy vegetables, broccoli, avocado, raisins, beans, and lentils. (17)
6. Limit your caffeine intake
Coffee is a popular beverage, but its addiction can make it difficult for you to conceive.
First of all, the caffeine in coffee works as a stimulant and a diuretic. This means its high intake can increase your blood pressure and heart rate, which can affect your capability to conceive.
Even during pregnancy, expecting women are advised against coffee consumption as it can negatively impact the health of the unborn baby. (18)
In a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, researchers concluded that high levels of caffeine intake may delay conception among fertile women. (19)
Another study published in Nutrition Journal in 2017 suggests that caffeine intake may negatively affect male reproductive function. (20)
Caffeine is not just present in coffee. There are many food items that contain caffeine. Hence, choose your food wisely.
7. Be physically active
When it comes to increasing your chances to conceive, incorporating moderate exercise in your daily routine is a must.
Moderate exercise will help you maintain a normal weight and fight obesity. Both overweight and underweight women are prone to suffer from ovulation disorders, and a regular dose of fitness activity is your best bet against such weight issues.
According to a 2015 study published in the Journal of the Turkish-German Gynecological Association, overweight and obese women have increased risk of subfecundity and infertility, conception rates, miscarriage rates, and pregnancy complications. (21)
Regular exercise including walking, jogging, and swimming will help keep you fit and active. However, avoid doing too much intense aerobic activity, which may inhibit ovulation and reduce the production of the hormone progesterone.
Additional Tips to Increase Your Chances of Conceiving
Some other natural ways to improve your odds of conceiving: (22)
- The preliminary step in planning for a baby is to chalk out an ovulation plan. Your chances of conceiving tend to be highest in periods when you are ovulating. By keeping track of your ovulation cycles with the help of a fertility monitor or ovulation predictor kits, you and your partner will know just when to try.
- Another way to determine your ovulation dates is by tracking your basal body temperature, which tends to spike right after ovulation. You can use a basal thermometer to do the same.
- Ovulation typically occurs between day 11 and day 21 of your cycle. Plan accordingly.
- Consume a well-balanced diet that has an appropriate supply of carbohydrates, fiber, protein, and essential fats.
- Maintain optimum fluid intake to keep your body adequately hydrated and in the prime of health. Drinking adequate amounts of water not only helps flush out toxins from the body, but is also essential for maintaining proper organ function and hormonal balance.
- Cut back on processed foods, red meat, and soy products.
- Drinking whole milk might help improve your fertility.
- Certain medications can adversely affect your fertility. It is, therefore, advised that you are well versed with the probable side effects of every medication that you are planning to take to eliminate potential fertility-related complications. Confer with your healthcare provider regarding any prescription medication you are taking or planning to take, just to be completely sure.
A lot of people encounter multiple hassles in planning for a child but rarely speak of their struggle due to a misguided sense of embarrassment. This is largely due to the stigmatization of infertility, an unfortunate and shameful concept that has been perpetuated across generations and continues to be relevant still.
Most couples who face difficulty in procreating consider it as a personal failure and shy away from talking about it, not realizing that there are countless others sailing in the same boat.
You can help your chances of conceiving by reaching out to others who have either previously gone through similar problems or are still struggling. Not only will this give you a sense of community, but it may enlighten you about some key factors that you may be overlooking.
Besides, bottling up your anxieties tends to add further mental and emotional strain to your already vulnerable state. Because stress and other psychological determinants can also have a negative bearing on your reproductive health just like physiological factors, it is best that you give it a proper release by talking about your condition with experts as well as friends and family.