1. Quit smoking. We know, we know — you’ve heard it a million times before. And we know it’s hard. But if you smoke, you are seriously hurting your chances of getting pregnant. One study found that smoking couples were twice as likely to be childless after five years of not using contraception. There are a lot of different reasons for this, but the bottom line is that there is nothing good about smoking for you, your baby or anyone else around you. You should talk to your fertility doctor about methods you could use to help you quit, such as nicotine patches.
2. Get up-to-date on your vaccinations. There are several diseases that can cause miscarriage or severe birth defects if you get them while you are pregnant, especially rubella (also called German measles) and chicken pox. A simple blood test at your doctor’s office can tell if you are immune to these. If you aren’t, you should get the vaccines. You should wait at least four weeks to get pregnant after receiving any live vaccine.
3. Get any chronic medical conditions you have under control. Pregnancy significantly increases demands on your body. If you have a chronic condition such as asthma or diabetes, you must understand that pregnancy can complicate these conditions. Because of this, you want to be sure you have the condition under control to start with. You should also talk to your doctor about any adjustments in treatment you might need to make before or during pregnancy.
4. Get a complete physical exam. You’ll talk about your personal and family medical history to see if these could affect you in any way as you try to become pregnant or while you are pregnant. Your doctor will also check and make sure that you don’t have any conditions or infections that could harm your baby. These include HIV, hepatitis, urinary tract infections, anemia and high blood pressure, all of which can impact your chances of getting pregnant and carrying a healthy baby to term.
5. Start (or continue) your exercise routine. Regular exercise is an important factor in fertility because it impacts your weight (see No. 6) and stress levels (see No. 7). Like quitting smoking, being physically fit is just one of those things that you should strive for whether or not you’re trying to get pregnant. Consider low-impact activities, such as walking, swimming, yoga or biking, that you can continue while you are pregnant. If you’re just starting an exercise routine, aim to slowly work up to 30 minutes a day, three to four times a week.
6. Achieve and maintain a healthy weight for your height and body type. Being too heavy can reduce your chances of getting pregnant, but so can being too skinny. Body fat helps regulate the production of estrogen, so if you have too much or too little body fat you may have irregular ovulation. Talk to your fertility doctor about the range of weights that’s healthy for you and how to get there through exercise and healthy diet.
7. Try to reduce stress in your life. There is still a lot that we don’t know about how stress affects fertility. But we do know that it increases the risk of things like cardiovascular disease and depression, and we know that these things can affect ovulation and fertility. Regular exercise can help reduce stress levels by releasing natural endorphins. You can also look at your overall lifestyle to try to see if there are places where you can reduce stress.
8. Stop taking hormonal forms of birth control. You’re probably saying, “Of course I’m going to stop using birth control if I want to get pregnant!” But you should actually stop taking hormonal forms of birth control a few months before you begin trying to get pregnant. This gives your menstrual cycle a few months to become regular before you become pregnant, which helps establish an accurate due date. Depending on what method you’ve been using, it can take a few weeks (the pill) to a few months (Depo-Provera)
9. Take a prenatal vitamin with folic acid. Replacing other vitamins and supplements with a prenatal vitamin can help make sure that you are getting the right things in the right amounts. Folic acid is especially important pre-pregnancy because it is the most important way to prevent neural tube defects that occur in the earliest weeks of pregnancy. You can also eat foods rich in folates, such as leafy green vegetables and enriched bread.
10. Take a good look at your diet. A prenatal vitamin can help make sure you’re getting certain vitamins and minerals you need. But there’s a lot more your body needs to be at its best. Start by cutting out, or at least back on, processed foods. Ultimately, you want a diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy and lean protein. This will help you feel your best—and keep your reproductive system functioning at its best.
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