If having a baby is something you think is in your future, it can be helpful to know a thing or two about the process (that is, beyond what it takes to make a baby). Most people are familiar with some of the “rules” involved during pregnancy — namely, avoiding alcohol and smoking and taking your prenatals — but are left in the dark about what matters when trying to conceive.
You can impact your fertility in the months leading up to when you plan on starting to try to conceive. “Most couples can indeed conceive even if they are not maintaining the healthiest of lifestyles; however, I tell women who are trying to conceive that they should prepare by acting as if they are pregnant,” says Banafsheh Kashani, M.D., board-certified OB/GYN and specialist in reproductive endocrinology and infertility. “This is particularly important if a couple has had trouble conceiving, as they should be making optimal lifestyle changes for fertility.”
Women are born with the most eggs they will ever have — an estimated two million, per research published in the Reproductive BioMedicine Online — and all of our exposures throughout life then impact these eggs. Puberty jump-starts the next stage of maturation. “Each month, your body recruits a group of eggs that have the potential to become the ‘chosen one’ that will ovulate that month if exposed to gonadotropins, a.k.a. hormones your brain makes that tell the egg to grow,” Anate Brauer, M.D., OB/GYN, a reproductive endocrinologist at Shady Grove Fertility in Manhattan. “Once chosen, the egg will continue to mature and eventually be released with ovulation, at which time it is called an ‘ovum,’ which is a fully mature human egg.” This is the fun part— when the egg has the potential to meet with sperm and make an embryo. In short, egg quality can be impacted throughout life, not just at birth.
While you might think you’re as healthy as a horse (and maybe you are!), you may be surprised to learn that some of your everyday habits could be sabotaging your baby-making plans. Here, fertility experts share what you should stop doing if you’re trying to get pregnant.
Even if you drink moderately — i.e., enjoy a glass or two of wine each night — it could be getting in the way of your pregnancy plans. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends against drinking alcohol when trying to get pregnant or, of course, when you are pregnant. “This is because there are many unplanned pregnancies. You don’t miss your period until two weeks after ovulation and fertilization,” explains Allison Rodgers, M.D., OB/GYN, a reproductive endocrinologist at Fertility Centers of Illinois. For patients tracking their cycles, she typically recommends no alcohol after ovulation. Not sure when you’re ovulating? It’s better to skip the drinks, as large amounts of alcohol can impact fertility. Small amounts (no more than two drinks for women or three for men) should be okay in moderation and before ovulation, notes Dr. Rodgers.
According to the CDC, smoking has well-known consequences for your health, from diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) to heart disease and cancer. However, its impact on fertility is less discussed. Even smoking half a pack per day will decrease fertility, according to Dr. Mark Trolice, M.D., an infertility specialist at Florida’s Fertility Care IVF Center. What’s more: He says it takes close to an entire year of not smoking to return to normal fertility. “Approximately 13 percent of female infertility is due to smoking and increases with higher amounts of smoking, causing early menopause by accelerating the loss of eggs, higher rates of miscarriage, and possible genetic damage to eggs. It also causes higher ectopic pregnancy rates, which is pregnancy implantation outside the uterus, usually in the fallopian tube. ”
The same goes for marijuana, as recent research by the National Institutes of Health has found that women who use marijuana could have a more challenging time getting pregnant than women who don’t use it.
While lubricants can help make sex more comfortable and more enjoyable, most regular lubricants are not designed to be sperm-friendly. The research found that many vaginal lubricants can reduce sperm motility (movement) and concentrations (amount). The good news is that you don’t have to avoid all lubes — make sure you’re using one that’s sperm-friendly, such as Pre-seed®, which has been shown to have the least negative impact on sperm function. Conceive Plus® is the next best option, per a study published in the Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics.
Gaining or losing too much weight
A healthy BMI — somewhere between 18.5 and 24.9 — is important for your overall health, as it lowers your risk of diseases including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease, per the CDC. It also plays a role in a healthy pregnancy. Obesity is one of the most common causes of infertility in women. Being underweight, or having a BMI lower than 18.5, is also counterproductive to a healthy pregnancy and conception. “Being underweight can impair ovulation function, reduce fertility, and increase pregnancy complications,” warns Dr. Trolice.
Eating fast foods
Daily trips to McDonald’s might be convenient, but it’s also not going to get you any closer to pregnancy. That’s because it’s ultra-processed, which can negatively impact fertility, according to Dr. Kashani. Instead, she recommends focusing on more whole foods, particularly those with healthy fats such as avocado or nuts and foods rich in antioxidants like blueberries, pomegranate, or acai.
So, what should you be doing to get pregnant?
Start by having a chat with your OB if you have concerns. Meanwhile, apps like Ovia that help you track your ovulation cycles and ovulation tests can give you an idea of which days you’ll experience the highest fertility (and highest chances of conceiving).
As long as you are healthy, mild to moderate exercise is strongly recommended to improve fertility, mom’s health, and pregnancy, notes Dr. Trolice. The American Heart Association (AHA) advises at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise. “Even during pregnancy, it’s recommended that women maintain this same degree of exercise as there is no medical contraindication,” Dr. Trolice says.
It’s also essential to take a daily prenatal vitamin (PNV) and eat a well-rounded diet that provides all the vitamins and minerals needed during pregnancy. “Folic acid is a B vitamin that is vitally necessary for pregnant women, so it’s a good idea to make sure you’re getting enough (600 mg) at least three months before pregnancy and during pregnancy to help prevent major congenital disabilities of the fetal brain and spine called neural tube defects,” says Dr. Trolice.