Want to give yourself the best chance possible? Read on for our top tips on keeping your body and mind in great shape during your fertility journey.
Dr Thomas Mathews, our UK Medical Director, believes there are many things couples can do to improve their chances of conceiving.
Providing evidence that you are aware of these, and that you’ve acted upon them, will help your GP to agree the next steps with you.
1. The secret is in the timing
Many people are unaware that there are only about six days each month when you may get pregnant, and that your best chance (around 33%) is on the day of ovulation, when one of the ovaries releases a ripe egg. It is important that you have sex during this window of opportunity so that the sperm makes contact with the egg and fertilisation occurs.
For a woman on a regular 28-day cycle, the day of ovulation will be about 14 days after the start of her period. This can vary, however, so it helps to keep a diary. There are also a number of ovulation prediction kits available that might help.
2. Reduce alcohol and cut out smoking
Heavy drinking (more than six units per day) can lower a man’s sperm count and affect the health of the sperm. It’s also best for women to avoid alcohol when trying to conceive as it can affect a developing foetus and cause birth defects.
Smoking harms sperm and can reduce a man’s sex drive, while in women it affects ovulation and can reduce fertility, so cut it out!
3. Keep to a healthy weight
Body Mass Index (BMI) is calculated using height and weight, and is an indicator of health. According to NICE guidelines, women should have a BMI of between 19-30 before they are eligible for IVF treatment, but some hospitals use different criteria.
Ideally, your BMI should be below 25. Excess body fat in men is also a significant cause of low sperm count.
4. Eat well
Eating a healthy, balanced diet has many advantages. It helps maintain an ideal body weight, helps to regulate hormones and improves the health of the reproductive system. Vitamins C and E and zinc may play key roles in fertility, increasing sperm count and motility (movement) and reducing stress on eggs and the female reproductive organs.
Foods such as green leafy vegetables (folic acid, calcium and iron), eggs and dairy (calcium), nuts and seeds (vitamin E, zinc and selenium) and citrus fruits (vitamin C) provide key nutrients.
5. Cut down on caffeine
It is thought caffeine affects the fertility level of both men and women, so cutting back is a sensible precaution. Caffeine is not just found in tea and coffee, but also in chocolate and some soft drinks.
6. Take up exercise
Doing some exercise every day is key to maintaining a healthy body, helping to burn off excess body fat and reducing the effect of stress on hormone levels.
For men, it can boost the fertility hormone testosterone, but it is important that women avoid excessive exercise as this can result in irregular periods. Try low-impact activities that you enjoy, such as walking, swimming, cycling, pilates and yoga.
7. Keep your cool
For men, overheated testicles can temporarily lower sperm counts. So it’s important to avoid saunas, hot baths, sun bathing and tight underwear.
In addition, regular and prolonged cycling on hard bike seats can also reduce fertility through pressure on the perineum, potentially damaging nerves and blood vessels to the genital area. Consider a gel seat for cushioning these parts of the body.
8. Get more sleep
Getting a good night’s sleep of about eight hours or more can help both men and women optimise their fertility.
Lack of sleep can have a negative effect on hormone levels, with studies of female professionals with sleep deprivation (such as flight attendants and shift workers) showing an increase in irregular periods.
9. Think about your health
Get some advice about the treatments you are taking to see if these may affect fertility. As well as over-the-counter medicines, some herbal remedies such as St John’s wort, ginkgo biloba and echinacea may have an adverse effect on your fertility.
10. Take it easy!
Last, but not least, don’t forget to take time to wind down and enjoy each other’s company.
Emotional stress has profound effects on fertility, including interfering with the hormone responsible for egg and sperm production. Consider taking regular exercise, getting home on time and taking more frequent and/or longer holidays, all of which can help to reduce the pressure on you both.