For many couples, trying to get pregnant can often be a challenging situation. There are so many questions and a plethora of answers. Optimizing fertility, understanding cycles, eating the right foods to increase chances of conception, how to increase sperm count and sperm quality, and understanding all the assisted reproductive methods available today. In this article, we’ll try to answer many of your questions to help guide you toward conceiving faster. We’ll give you tips on increasing chances of pregnancy, how to calculate your most fertile days to conceive, how to increase sperm count, specific foods to consume while trying to get pregnant (and what foods to avoid), which vitamin supplements are showing promise in aiding conception, and a list of the many assisted reproductive techniques (ART) and medications available today.
Your menstrual cycle
Do you know exactly when you ovulate? Can you feel it? Most women do not. But there are methods to help ascertain this important info. Charting correctly and identifying your most promising days of ovulation will give you the best chances for conception. Here are our favorite three methods for tracking cycles below.
Basal Body Thermometer: This highly sensitive and effective thermometer measures a woman’s basal temperature more precisely than a regular thermometer. Tracking your basal temperature is an easy way to pinpoint your exact ovulation and help lead you into conception. IMPORTANT NOTE: Always measure at the exact same time each morning for best accuracy.
Ovulation Predictor Kits: By 2016 standards, an ovulation predictor kit is an ideal tool to help guide you toward detecting your optimal ovulation time frame. An OPK is an inexpensive over the counter test that detects the LH (luteinizing hormone) through a woman’s urine. Just prior to ovulation the LH level rises indicating ovulation is imminent.
Ovulation Calculator: Though not as precise as the above two methods, this free online ovulation calculator/calendar can help determine the average woman’s cycle and help nail down an ovulation time frame.
FOODS TO HELP YOU GET PREGNANT – 15 FERTILITY SUPERFOODS
Consuming a healthy diet, and a moderate exercise, leading up to conception, is one of the best things a couple can do to maximize the chances of a healthy full-term pregnancy. It is easiest for a woman to conceive when she is at an optimal weight with a body mass index (BMI) of 20-25.
And this isn’t just a female concern. An overweight male, who eats poorly and doesn’t exercise may see negative effects on the morphology of his sperm. Ultimately causing low sperm count, or infertility issues.
To help combat a poor diet and eat foods that are known to help increase fertility chances, below is a list of our favorite Fertility Superfoods.
Everyone knows a pre-conception diet of vegetables, fruits, whole grain bread and protein rich foods are a must, but we honed in on some specific super foods you may not be aware of to add to the mix. These suggestions are natural ways to not only boost ovulation for women, but increase sperm count for men as well.
With plenty to choose from, these little protein gems are rich in everything a couple needs to help aid in conception. Replacing a diet that is heavy in animal protein with one that is more plant-based has shown very positive results. In fact, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health conducted a long-term study of 19,000 nurses who were actively trying to get pregnant. It revealed that 39 % of women who ate a high animal protein diet had infertility issues. But, those who consumed their proteins from plants had substantially less trouble conceiving.
So stockpile your cabinets with plenty of beans such as white (approx. 15-17 grams protein/cup), pinto, kidney, black, navy, garbanzo, adzuki and even lima beans. Additionally, a variation of lentils, as well as quinoa will help fill that plant-based protein need deliciously.
High in folate; spinach, kale, arugula, romaine lettuce and broccoli are a must!
Dark leafy greens may improve ovulation as well as generate better, healthier sperm, thus reducing the chances of genetic abnormalities and/or miscarriage.
An excellent source of folate, vitamins (K, B2, B6, C, A and E), selenium and copper, as well as a great source of dietary fiber, this tasty gem should be a regular.
Asparagus is chocked full of nutrients, including folic acid. Not only is folic acid essential for limiting birth defects, it can help reduce the chances of ovulation malfunction.
SALMON (Wild Caught)
Rich in omega-3 fatty acids and lower in mercury than other fish, salmon may help to synchronize reproductive hormones in women. It may also aid in increasing the blood flow to reproductive organs.
Another great fish protein source is canned light tuna. (Avoid fancy albacore though as the mercury level is higher.)
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, tilefish, swordfish, mackerel and shark contain high levels of mercury. They advise against consumption of any of those fish while pregnant or even while trying to get pregnant.
Vitamin B12 is vital for a woman’s reproductive health as well as many other physiological characteristics of the human body. It may even help to strengthen the endometrium lining.
A vitamin B12 deficiency in men can lead to low sperm count and infertility issues. Adding additional vitamin B12 to the diet is easy with shrimp, oysters, crab or lobster on the menu.
Just be sure to stay within the recommended servings that are low in mercury.
A true gem for women and men! Loaded with vitamin B6 and potassium, bananas may help regulate hormones and help stave off poor egg and/or sperm development.
Known to help boost the production of progesterone in women, this rich in beta-carotene veggie giant is a nutritious choice for women. For men, butternut squash may help increase sperm count and sperm quality.
Stock up on seeds! An excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids; seeds like pumpkin, flax, sesame, and sunflower have shown great promise in balancing hormones throughout the month. Hemp seeds and chia seeds offer many great benefits as well.
Additionally, zinc, found in pumpkin and sesame seeds aid in better development of an egg and sperm as well as reducing the chances of chromosomal abnormalities.
With an abundance of great choices like walnuts and Brazil nuts, these jewels offer both women and men a great source of omega-3. Always choose organic, if possible. Try to stay away from roasted and salted. And be sure they are fresh and not rancid.
Other great nut choices include almonds, hazelnuts, pecans and pistachios. And a daily 1-ounce serving of peanuts provides about ten percent of daily folic acid that aids in reducing neural tube defects and spina bifida.
Brazil nuts have one of the highest levels of selenium, an essential trace mineral crucial to the development of healthy ovarian follicles and eggs.
In 2012, The Journal of Reproduction published impressive findings on the correlation between walnuts and sperm. Men who consumed 2-3 ounces of walnuts per day improved sperm vitality, motility and morphology.
A nutritional dynamo chock-full of vitamins, minerals, fiber, folate, protein and essential fats, avocados should be consumed by both women and men while trying to conceive. The vitamin E in avocados has shown promise of helping to improve and ready the lining of the uterus for pregnancy, and the folate helps in reducing the chances of spina bifida.
BREAD, PASTA and RICE (Dark Whole Wheat)
Always choose dark over light! The complex carbohydrates in wheat breads, pasta and rice take longer to digest, thus helping to balance blood sugar levels, and ready the bodyfor pregnancy.
Keeping insulin levels in check when trying to conceive is a smart decision as increased insulin levels can disturb reproductive hormones. A Dutch study revealed that women who had a high level of blood sugar were only half as likely to get pregnant.
Olive oil is a mono-saturated fat rich in anti-oxidants and known to have great health benefits. It can increase a woman’s insulin sensitivity and decrease inflammation within the body.
A research team in Great Britain tested 100 couples who underwent IVF procedures while adding more olive oil to their diets. Their findings showed a fertility increase of 40 %.
An excellent source of protein, minerals, vitamins, essential fats and choline; eggs are first-rate food choice when trying to conceive.
A study at Cornell University suggests consumption of cooked eggs may have positive results on fetal development in utero as well. Always be sure they are well cooked to avoid any potential of salmonella.
FULL DAIRY (1 serving/day)
According to the long-running Nurses’ Health Study in Boston, researchers found that women who consumed 1 serving of a full-fat dairy product daily were less likely to experience ovulatory problems. Oddly enough, low-fat dairy and skim milk products had the opposite effect.
Nature’s liquid gold. Be sure you consume eight to nine 8-ounce glasses of water daily (approx. 2 liters). Water plays a vital role in balancing the body and aids in proper implantation of a fertilized egg.
Water is necessary for proper division of cells as well. It also helps to thin out cervical mucus making a more welcoming environment for sperm.
And just as important as water is for women, the same goes for men. Semen is water-
based. To improve an ejaculate, the average man should consume at least thirteen cups of water (3 liters) daily.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Reduce and/or stop alcohol consumption as it dehydrates and also thickens up cervical mucus thus making it difficult for sperm to travel through.
SUPPLEMENTS – VITAMINS AND MINERALS KNOWN TO INCREASE FERTILITY
Of course, there are natural ways to get these vitamins and minerals through food, but for those looking at speaking with their doctors regarding supplements, you may want to ask about the following.
Before adding ANY additional vitamin supplements to your diet, aside from a pre-natal vitamin with 400 mcg of folic acid, be sure to speak with your doctor first. It may be a smart decision to run blood work first to determine any deficiencies.
ZINC – Known to help increase sperm motility and the quality of sperm.
SELENIUM – Known to aid in estrogen regulation in women as well as defend against oxidants that lead to egg deterioration, and increased sperm motility and viability in men.
COENZYME Q10 – Preliminary findings show that coenzyme Q10 may reverse some reproductive deterioration. It has shown great improvement in sperm and egg characteristics.
FOLIC ACID – We know it is necessary for women, however, men need it as well to help produce healthy sperm. A study at Cal Berkeley suggests men with the higher amounts of folic acid in their diets had more than a twenty percent decrease of abnormal sperm.
OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS – Known to help increase egg release, balance hormones and increase blood flow to the uterus. Some preliminary studies show positive assistance with the brain development in fetuses.
Additionally, ask your doctor if you are a candidate for additional sources of vitamins like B vitamins, choline, bromelain, vitamin D, vitamin E and iron. There is much information on all of these and more, however taking too many, or, taking them at the wrong time can actually hinder conception.
FOODS/DRINKS TO AVOID WHEN TRYING TO GET PREGNANT
Avoiding certain foods when trying to get pregnant is just as important as consuming certain foods when trying to conceive. Check out the infographic to see if you’re avoiding the right things.
Fish with high levels of mercury
Unpasteurized dairy products
Products with High Fructose Corn Syrup
Products with Aspartame
JUST SAY “NO” – WHAT NOT TO DO WHEN TRYING TO CONCEIVE
Sure. Saying “yes” is easy, but it’s truly vital to say “no” to certain things when trying to conceive a healthy baby. The jury is still out on some of the items on our list, but better safe than sorry!
Over exposure to hair dyes directly on scalp
Cell phones (kept near reproductive organs)
Laptop computers (on men’s laps)
High impact workouts, horseback riding, roller coasters (women)
Pesticides and toxins
Avoid artificial lubricants (for a sperm-friendly environment)
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) approximately 12 percent of the population in their reproductive years, are infertile or have fertility issues.
Medically speaking, infertility is actually considered a disease of the reproductive system when pregnancy does not occur after twelve or more months of trying to conceive with regular unprotected sexual intercourse.
The good news is there are numerous ways to combat being infertile or sub-fertile.
BEST MEDICATIONS FOR TREATING INFERTILITY
After a year of doing everything right, from diet and exercise to not smoking or drinking alcohol and you are still not pregnant, consider speaking with your doctor about the many assisted reproductive techniques (ART) available today for overcoming infertility.
Listed below are the most widely used and successful assisted reproductive techniques your doctor may recommend. Becoming familiar with the terminology before visiting your doc may help in understanding the treatments better during your visit.
CLOMID: One of the first “go to” medications of choice for couples experiencing infertility issues, Clomiphene citrate (Clomid) is a medicine, taking orally by the woman, that stimulates a healthy ovulation.
REPRONEX / PERGONAL: An injected medication, Human menopausal gonadotropin or hMG (Repronex; Pergonal) are medicines often used for women who don’t ovulate regularly due to pituitary gland issues. This too, aids in stimulating ovulation.
GONAL-F / FOLLISTIM: Follicle-stimulating hormone or FSH (Gonal-F; Follistim) are medicines that work much like hMG. This medication mobilizes the ovaries to begin the process of ovulation. These can be injected at home.
GNRH: Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (Gn-RH) are medicines often used for women who don’t ovulate regularly each month, or who have endometriosis. Those who ovulate before the egg is healthy and ready can also use this. Gn-RH stimulates the pituitary gland to change when and how the body ovulates. These medicines are usually injected, although some doctors recommend a nasal spray.
GLUCOPHAGE: Metformin (Glucophage) is an oral medicine doctors use for women who have insulin resistance and/or Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). This drug helps lower elevated levels of male hormones in women with these disorders and aids the body in ovulation. Some doctors suggest a combination of both Clomid and Glucophage.
PARLODEL: Bromocriptine (Parlodel) taken orally, is a medicine used for women with ovulation problems due to high levels of prolactin. This drug is used to suppress excessive prolactin secretion. Prolactin is a hormone that causes milk production. Parlodel is also used to help regulate menstrual cycles.
*Note: Fertility drugs may increase a woman’s chance of having multiples.
BEST ASSISTED REPRODUCTIVE TECHNIQUES FOR TREATING INFERTILITY
Aside from the medications listed above, your doctor may want you to consider a surgical procedure. These therapies have shown great success for many couples experiencing infertility issues. Discuss the following procedures with your doctor. These are the most widely used methods of assisted reproductive techniques.
(IUI) Intrauterine Insemination: A fertility treatment also known as artificial insemination, that places specially prepped sperm directly inside a woman’s uterus thus increasing the chances of pregnancy by increasing the number of sperm that make their way into the fallopian tubes.
(IVF) In Vitro Fertilization: IVF is the most sought after and most effective form of ART. This technique requires the stimulation of ovulation, removal of eggs from ovaries, fertilizing with sperm in a lab, propogating for 2 – 6 days, then implanting in a woman’s uterus.
(ICSI) Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection: Often used for couples with male factor infertility and older couples, or for those with failed IVF attempts. ICSI usually follows an IVF procedure where the egg is removed from the woman. A single sperm is injected into a mature, healthy egg; cultivated in lab and placed back in the woman’s uterus.
DONOR EGGS: ART procedures sometimes involve the usage of donor eggs. These eggs are from another woman. Donor eggs can be used for women who cannot produce healthy, viable eggs. Additionally, donor sperm can be used to facilitate pregnancy as well.
DONOR EMBRYOS: An infertile woman or couple have the option to use donor embryos from another couple. Through IVF, the donated embryo is transferred to the uterus.
SURROGACY: A surrogate is a woman who agrees to become pregnant using the man’s sperm and her own egg.
GESTATIONAL CARRIER: Women with healthy ovaries and eggs, but no uterus, may be able to use a gestational carrier. In this case, a woman uses her own egg. Fertilized by her partner’s sperm, the embryo is placed inside the gestational carrier’s uterus usually through an IVF procedure.
FINAL TIPS ON CONCEPTION
As difficult as trying to conceive may be, many studies have shown that with lifestyle modifications and some assisted reproductive help, more than half of the couples of child-bearing age trying to conceive were ultimately successful.
The fact you are trying to get pregnant for some time doesn’t necessarily mean that you or your partner are infertile. We tend to gravitate toward “what ifs” and dwell on failure rates, even when a prognosis may be good. Staying in the present positive moment, difficult as it seems, may prove very helpful.
Reach out for support, not comparison – connect with your partner and loved ones, and doctors. Support from your family will definitely make you feel better than internet discussions alone. It’s great to know that you’re not alone with fertility issues but also, anonymous discussions may give you a bit of stress relief about things which may or may not be true.