If you’re looking to become pregnant, there are several ways you can optimize your chances of conceiving at the time you want to. Giving up smoking is a no-brainer, along with eating the right foods, keeping yourself healthy through exercise, and tracking your ovulation. Still, many women struggle to conceive — you’ve probably heard of American model Chrissy Teigen and her very public journey with in vitro fertilization. But you may not know that 1 in 6 couples will experience infertility in conceiving their first child, while secondary infertility is a continual mystery. Others have pre-pregnancy complications, or lose a baby to miscarriage and struggle to get pregnant again.
There are a few things to know about trying to conceive a baby and the best ways to get pregnant. A lot of resources exist out there, but we’ll break down the top five below, as well as sprinkle in some interesting fertility statistics.
If you found the best way for you to conceive, please share with us in the comments below!
1. Be sexy with your partner.
We’re not here to be like Cosmo magazine, but some fertility experts have noted that our brain chemistry can help us with baby chemistry. If you spend so much time focusing on making a baby, rather than making love, with your partner, it becomes more stressful and if we’re being honest — less fun.
In case you were wondering, there is an actual science beyond having sex. It’s called the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis, and it’s basically how the ovaries and testicles respond to each other. According to fertility expert Jani White:
Your desire kicks off a signal to the limbic system which triggers your dopamine, the ‘I want’ hormone. This in turn triggers oxytocin, the so called ‘love hormone’ as it develops our sense of bonding, a most necessary ingredient in the quest to conceive. This domino effect, as one hormone triggers another, is why we call it a hormone cascade.
White says our hormones, then, are in peak sexuality when we are in this state of wanting. We also can trigger an oxytocin response — reproductive energy — outside of the bedroom by constant contact: holding hands, hugging, gazing into each other’s eyes. You get the idea.
2. Track your period and monitor your ovulation.
That said, while you want to keep the stress outside of the sheets as much as possible, it’s still important to know when you are at your most fertile to conceive. Every woman should track their period via calendar and know when they are ovulating so they can ramp up sexual activity at the best times.
Women who have regular cycles — talk to your doctor if you’re unsure about whether yours is regular or irregular — tend to ovulate two weeks before the arrival of their periods. There are lots of ovulation kits and apps that can help, but a few things you should monitor include:
- Cervical fluid. According to the American Pregnancy Association, ovulation takes place on the day women have the most wet fluid. A more “egg whites” type of fluid is another good sign you’re ovulating.
- Basal body temperature. You may have a slight decline in this right before ovulation, and then a sharp increase after. If you track your basal body temperature for a few months, you’ll be able to best determine ovulation.
- Cervical position or firmness change. This is something women will need to do over a period of a few months as well to get comfortable with what their cervix normally feels like so they can recognize when it’s soft, high, open, and wet during ovulation.
For some women, other ovulation symptoms can include light spotting, breast tenderness, abdominal bloating, slight cramping on one side of the pelvis, increased sex drive, and heightened senses (taste, smell, or vision).
3. Pay attention to your diet — and lifestyle.
We know a lot about the foods you should eat and avoid while pregnant, but what about when you’re trying to conceive? New research has shown that at the least, overeating and being obese is not helping your chances of becoming pregnant. In fact, it may take these couples 55% longer to conceive. (That includes the men out there, too, whose genetics do have an effect on baby — much more than many realize.)
A recent Longitudinal Investigation of Fertility and the Environment (LIFE) Study examining the link between fertility and exposure to environmental chemicals took a look at 500 couples in Michigan and Texas. The study followed couples who were pregnant or trying for up to one year to conceive, splitting the groups by body mass index — one for couples both under a BMI of 35, and one for those who were greater than that, or obese. Compared to their normal weight counterparts, it was clear that obese couples struggled for longer to get pregnant.
According to a National Vital Statistics Report in 2016, “increased maternal weight before and during pregnancy has been associated with fertility problems, increased risk of cesarean delivery, increased macrosomia among infants, and other adverse pregnancy and infant outcomes.” Although obese women have had a harder time conceiving, there are more of them among our population each year — nearly 50% of women who delivered a live-born infant in 2014 were either overweight or obese before becoming pregnant.
Aside from eating a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables and aiming for 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week (check with your doctor before any vigorous activity, which is generally a no-no when trying to conceive or pregnant), other lifestyle changes you should consider include:
- Stop smoking. It’s been shown to decrease fertility, and if you’re already pregnant, it’s associated with delivery of preterm babies, low infant birthweight, and increased infant mortality. While smoking pot during pregnancy hasn’t proved to be harmful to the baby, many women who use marijuana also smoke cigarettes — and you could be breaking the law.
- Limit alcohol intake. Heavy drinking has been linked to ovulation disorders. If you’re trying to get pregnant, it’s a good idea in general to lay off the booze.
- Kick your caffeine addiction. A lot of us love coffee first thing in the morning, and it’s generally OK to consume two 8-ounce cups each day of a weak brew. The research isn’t conclusive, but too much caffeine might affect fertility.
See also: Should I Exercise While Pregnant?
4. Figure out your work-life balance.
Like the stress and pressure associated with babymaking versus lovemaking and its disruption of our hormones, the type of work a woman does may affect her chances of getting pregnant.
Researchers have found that there may be a link to the type of hours a woman works and her hormone fluctuations. Women working night shifts or inconsistent shifts, such as a job in nursing, may find it difficult to get pregnant. If they work a job where they lift heavy items, such as in construction, they also may struggle to conceive.
According to the study, women who work night shifts have 24% fewer mature eggs — those capable of turning into a healthy embryo. Women who had jobs where they did heavy lifting had 14% fewer mature eggs. Experts think that lifestyle factors, like not getting enough sunlight or taking on too much physical activity, is what interferes with our hormonal activity and the ability to get pregnant. They suggest if women can’t get pregnant within the first year of trying to conceive while also doing one of these jobs, if possible, to limit this type of work or find other work completely.
Another study has indicated that shift work leads to increased miscarriages, preterm births, and low birth weights. However, our circadian rhythm and the link to fertility hasn’t been studied quite enough yet, so take this advice with a grain of salt.
5. Be patient.
Getting pregnant can take a long time. For some women, it happens when we least expect it (or don’t plan for it), and for others, it takes years. Although there are increased health risks and lower fertility rates, more women are older moms today. The first birth rates for women aged 35-39 has increased six-fold since the 1970s. The average age women have their first child is now 26.
Our fertility — and desire for the right time in our lives to have children — can change seemingly at the drop of a hat. But there also may be conditions affecting female fertility we have no control over, such as endometriosis, blockage of the fallopian tubes, and excessive prolactin in the blood.
Consider this bit of advice, by health and fitness guru Jillian Michaels:
As younger women, we spend a considerable amount of effort trying not to get pregnant. Then, when the time comes to completely reverse that mindset, it can be a little disorienting. ‘Please don’t let me be pregnant’ somehow turns into ‘Please let me be pregnant!’ The average woman in the United States spends 3 decades of her life (not necessarily all in a row) trying to avoid pregnancy and about 5 years trying to get pregnant, being pregnant, and going through the postpartum period, to get the two children most women say they want.
We here at Safe Birth Project wish you the best of luck! If you do become pregnant, check back here for all the information you’ll need to help you along the way.