Pregnancy, Women's Wellbeing

How To Have A Baby – Increase Your Chances Of Conceiving

There has been a well documented rise in the number of couples struggling to conceive, in the UK is it estimated to be as high as one in six1. Unsuccessfully trying for a baby can be a heart breaking, frustrating and increasingly desperate experience which often results in medical intervention. Improving our overall health and wellbeing including your nutritional status to increase chances of success is a great place to start without any risk to our health or real financial cost – and with scientific research demonstrating its success. Really, if you want to conceive – why wouldn’t you want to follow a healthy food guide and make sure that all of the changes you can? Some medical conditions prevent conception or implantation, but improving your overall health can enable the body to adapt well to medical interventions. Where to start?

Sort out testing as soon as possible

Insist on immediate referral for full fertility testing as soon after your local health trust rule book allows – you might as well get on to this. Avoid delay and go through the process at the same time – a small problem in each of you could be contributing to your combined much bigger problem – and you can support each other on the journey.  In addition:

  • For women, check your thyroid health and consider a female hormone profile test which measures hormones throughout your monthly cycle.
  • For both: check for infections in the genitals or urinary tract (e.g. thrush, Chlamydia, Streptococcus) which could be seriously affecting your chances of conceiving naturally 2,3 and via IVF4- you may not have symptoms!  Eliminate Helicobacter Pylori which is responsible for stomach ulcers and is linked to subfertility5. Cut to the chase on nutrient status and complete a test to identify what you are both missing – consult a nutritional therapist or naturopathic doctor to help you.

Although it is sometimes daunting to get all this done, you will feel better if you identify any problems and get on to fixing them.

Have enough sex at the right time!

It sounds ridiculous but make sure you are having enough sex at the right time. There are several ovulation testing kits on the market, if you want to investigate this any good chemist can advise you. The more natural version is to get to know what fertile vaginal mucus looks and feels like, identify when it is present – then have as much sex as possible. When vaginal discharge becomes the consistency of a raw egg-white (stringy and slippery) this is an indication that a woman is about to ovulate. Sperm is most likely to survive in these conditions – it is ‘fertile mucus’. Prioritise this time and make every effort to be in the right location and mindset to maximise your chances of success – it has been scientifically proven that when a woman experiences an orgasm, she retains more sperm6!

Eliminating ‘unhelpful’ health, lifestyle and dietary factors that can lower chances of conception

  • Weight management: It has been repeatedly shown that those with a BMI above 25 (therefore clinically overweight) or under 20 (which is above the 18.5 defined as underweight)7,8 not only have a higher chance of sub-fertility, but also of miscarriage, poor pregnancy outcome and a less healthy foetus7, weight loss has been shown to improve chances of conceiving in those who have a high BMI both naturally and during IVF8. So it’s worthwhile reviewing your weight management techniques and getting advice on exercise and eating to lose weight.
  • Drinking alcohol: has been shown to reduce fertility in both men and women. The latest recommendation is that couples abstain from drinking alcohol while trying for a baby (a woman may not know she is pregnant for the first couple of weeks) and that a woman should not drink during the first three months of pregnancy, but can choose to drink   1-2 units a week after this9.
  • Caffeine: There is some strong evidence that consuming caffeine can lower chances of conceiving10, there is some debate in the research as to ‘how much’ but why drink it if it could be reducing your chances of having a baby?
  • Smoking: has been shown to have a ‘devastating’ impact on the live birth rate after IVF, comparable in significance to aging ten years from 20-30 years old for women8. Smoking is also known to reduce sperm quality11 and result in a longer time to conceiving for those who are subfertile12, one study suggests that women smoking 10 cigarettes a day delays conception by a year in 40% of cases13- need we say more?
  • Consider reducing exposure to environmental toxins – indeed lower sperm motility (ability to swim) has been shown to be associated with poor air quality14 and environmental pollutants e.g. lead, pesticides, methyl mercury, welding, organic solvents and household glues have been associated lowered fertility and impaired foetal development15. Walk or exercise away from traffic fumes, switch to natural household cleaning products, avoid chemical spraying on crops and wash non-organic produce thoroughly. Health Tip – Understand detox myths and how your body gets rid of toxis naturally.
  • Stress: there is little research that directly links stress with lowered chances of natural conception. Hormones, released when you are feeling stressed e.g. cortisol, are made from the same ‘ingredients’ as our sex hormones. Logically, if your body feels that it is in danger (under stress), it is less likely to focus resources on reproduction. What has been confirmed by research is that both men and women who scored higher on stress measures whilst starting on IVF had lower success rates16. So look for ways on how to manage stress levels and reduce anxiety.

Feed both of your bodies with the best nutrients to encourage healthy conception:

It takes approximately three months to develop eggs to be released (at ovulation) and a similar amount of time for sperm cells to mature to be ejaculated. So, during the three months before ‘trying’, as much care should be taken with diet and lifestyle as during a pregnancy for women.

The broad principles of eating well and healthily offer the best advice to achieve the maximum number of nutrients from your diet. There are some specific modifications that are particularly vital if you are taking longer that you would like to become pregnant:

  1. Eat a minimum of 2-3 portions of fish, with at least one which is oily, per week. Eating plenty of Omega 3 fish oil has been shown to regulate hormone balance in women17 and to increase chances of becoming pregnant18. Omega 3 concentrations in sperm of fertile men vs infertile mean are higher19. Replace saturated fats in full fat dairy products and red meat with fish and nut butters whenever possible.
  2. Low levels of antioxidants in the diet and have been associated with lower fertility in men and women15, 20, 21. Antioxidants are nutrients that protect the body from ‘free radicals’; chemicals that damage cells. These exist as waste products from natural bodily processes but are also introduced through pollutants and toxins as described above. Antioxidants include Vitamin A, vitamin C, vitmain E and important co-factors of antioxidant chemicals made in the body including Zinc and Selenium. Make sure that you eat at a very minimum 5 pieces of varied fruit and vegetables a day with at least 20-30% raw – cooking can damage antioxidants in food. WARNING: do not supplement Vitamin A retinol if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant and avoid eating foods rich in animal-sourced Vitamin A.
  3. Eat a diet rich in dark green leafy vegetables and whole grains including brown rice, flour, bread and pasta, oats and edible seeds. Eat these foodstuffs EVERYDAY – they are high in fibre which helps the body to balance sex hormones and contain plenty of B vitamins including folic acid, which is universally recommended to all women wishing to conceive.
  4. One crucial way to help your body to prioritise reproducing is to reduce the amount of stress that it feels – both emotionally and also physically. When your blood sugar suffers from highs and crashing lows your body responds as if it is under attack, releasing a stress hormone, cortisol. Eat well, little and often. Make sure that you include protein and some fibre within each food choiceto slow the release of sugar into the bloodstream reducing chances of a sugar high and subsequent low.
  5. Eat whole foods rather than processed foods to increase your nutrient intake and reduce your exposure to preservatives, colourings, additives etc. These are all foreign to the body and will require detoxification by the liver – which is also responsible for recycling your sex hormones! Aim to choose at least 80% of your total health food intake as natural, unprocessed choices.
  6. Make sure that you are drinking enough thirst quenching water or herbal teas! The recommended amount of water is 6-8 small glasses a day– but remember that increasing your intake of fresh fruit and vegetables will increase the amount of water in your food too. Water helps your body to transport unwanted toxins in and out of the body and hydration contributes to travel time in the gut avoiding stagnation of stools and reuptake of unwanted sex hormones – leading to hormone imbalances and potentially contributing to lowered fertility.

Conclusion

It is important to recognise that it has been repeatedly proven in research that changes in lifestyle and diet can increase chances of conception and having a healthy baby. The changes here require dedication, discipline and energy but once they are incorporated into your everyday lifestyle, they are actually very simple. Nutrient status is a significant factor in successful conception, changes to diet can go a long way to fixing these but taking a daily supplement that has been designed for preconception and pregnancy has been scientifically proven to improve natural conception rate and increase chances of success in IVF22.

References

1 Irvin DS, 1998, Epidemiology and aetiology of male infertility, Human Reproduction, 13:33-44

 

2 Rodríguez R, Hernández R, Fuster F, Torres A, Prieto P, Alberto J., 2001, Genital Infection and Infertility, Enfermedades Infecciosas Microbiologia Clinica, 19:261-266

 

3 Pellati D, Mylonakis I, Bertoloni G, Fiore C, Ambrosini G, Armanini D, 2008, Genital Tract infections and Infertility, European Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Reproductive Biology, 140:3-11

 

4 Wilson JD, Ralph SG, Rutherford AJ, 2002, Rates of bacterial vaginosis in women undergoing in vitro fertilisation for different types of infertility, BJOG. 109:714-717.

5 Ambrosini G, Andrisani A, Fiore C, Faggian D, D’Antona D, Ragazzi E, Plebani M, Armanini D, 2011, Anti-Helicobacter pylori antibodies in cervical mucus: a new cause of infertility, European Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Reproductive Biology, 155:157-160

6 Baker R, Bellis M, 1993 (2006), Human Sperm Competition: ejaculate manipulation by females and the function for the female orgasm, Sperm Competition in Humans, 2:177-210

7 Clark AM, Thornley B, Tomlinson L, Galletley C, Norman RJ, 1998, Weight loss in obese infertile women results in improvement in reproductive outcome for all forms of fertility treatment., Human Reproduction, 13:1502-1505

8 Lintsen AME, Pasker-de Jong PCM, de Boer EJ, Jansen CAM, Braat DDM, van Leeuwen FE and the OMEGA project group, 2005, Effects of subfertility cause, smoking and body weight on the success rate of IVF, Human Reproduction, 20:1867-1875

9 Drinking in Pregnancy Guidelines, 2008, National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, NHS Choices, http://www.nhs.uk/news/2008/03March/Pages/Pregnancydrinkinglimits.aspx retrieved 29.09.11

10 Bolumar F, Olsen J, Rebagliato M, Bisanti L and European Study Group on Infertility and Subfecundity, 1997, Caffeine Intake and Delayed Conception: A European Multicenter Study on Infertility and Subfecundity, American Journal of Epidemiology, 145:324-334

11 Ramlau CH, Thulstrup AM, Aggerholm AS, Jensen MS, Toft G, Bonde JP, 2007, Is smoking a risk factor for decreased semen quality? A cross-sectional analysis, Human Reproduction, 22:188-196

12 Bolumar F, Olsen J, Boldsen J and the European Study Group on Infertility and Subfecundity, 1996, Smoking Reduces Fecundity: A European Multicenter Study on Infertility and Subfecundity, American Journal of Epidemiology, 143:578-587

13 C Augood, Duckitt K, Templeton AA, 1998, Smoking and female infertility: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Human Reproduction, 13:1532-1539

14 Hammoud A, Carrell DT, Gibson M, Sanderson BS, Parker-Jones K, Peterson M, 2008, Decreased sperm motility is associated with air pollution in Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Fertility and Sterility, 93:1875-1879

15 Andersen K, Nisenblat V, Norman R, 2010, Lifestyle factors in people seeking infertility treatment – A review, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 50:8-20

16 Bovin J, Schmidt L, 2004, Infertility-related stress in men and women predicts treatment outcome 1 year later, Fertility and Sterility, 83:1745-1752

17 Chavarro JE, Rich-Edwards JW, Rosner BA, Willett WC, 2007, Diet and lifestyle in the prevention of ovulatory disorder infertility. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 110: 1050–1058

18 Saldeen P, Saldeen T, 2004, Women and Omega 3 fatty acids, Obstetrical and Gynecological Survey, 59:722-730

19 Safarinejad MR, Hosseini SY, Dadkah F, Asgari MA, 2010, Relationship of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids with semen characteristics, and anti-oxidant status of seminal plasma: A comparison between fertile and infertile men, Clinical Nutrition, 29:100-105

20 Agarwal A, Sharma RK, Desai NR, Prabakaran S, Tarrares A, Sabenenegh E, 2009, Oxidative stress in Pathogenesis of Varicocele and Infertility, Urology, 73:461-469

21 Tremellen K, 2008, Oxidative stress and male infertility – a clinical perspective, Human Reproduction, 14:243–258.

22 Comhaire F, 2010, The role of food supplementation in the treatment of the infertile couple and for assisted reproduction, Andrologia, 42:331-340

Disclaimer: Seven Seas Life is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. The articles are based on peer reviewed research, and discoveries/products mentioned in the articles may not be approved by our regulatory bodies, you will find no mention of Seven Seas products within the pages of the Seven Seas Life Section..Read more

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