Struggling to conceive when it seems as though everyone around you is getting pregnant with ease can be really tough. Some good advice can make all the difference. At our regular Fertility Awareness Events, fertility experts from Bourn Hall Clinic provide the opportunity for people to explore how they might be able to boost their own fertility, as well as find out about the more common reasons for infertility such as low sperm count, failure to release eggs (ovulate) regularly, fibroids and endometriosis and how to treat them.
“Eighty per cent of couples will become pregnant within one year of actively trying to conceive, so if you are still not pregnant after this length of time you should seek advice,” says Carol Steel, Lead Specialist Fertility Nurse at Bourn Hall Clinic. “The good news, however, is that there are many things which you can do to improve your chances of conceiving”.
Carol, who is based in King’s Lynn and has specialised in fertility nursing for the last 25 years, says simple measures can help couples improve their fertility:
Calculate when you are ovulating and keep a diary
Many people are unaware that there are only around six days each month when you can get pregnant. Your best chance of conceiving is on the day of ovulation, when one of the ovaries releases a ripe egg. For a woman on a regular 28-day cycle the day of ovulation will be around 14 days after the start of her period but this can vary so it helps to keep a diary. There are also a number of ovulation prediction kits available which might help.
Drink less alcohol and caffeine – and cut out smoking altogether
Smoking harms sperm and can reduce a man’s sex drive; in women it affects ovulation and reduces fertility. The best thing would be to stop completely.
Heavy drinking (more than six units per day) can lower a man’s sperm count and affect the health of the sperm so men should really watch their alcohol intake. Women should ideally avoid alcohol altogether when they are trying to conceive as it can affect a developing foetus and cause birth defects.
In addition it is thought that 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 in chocolate and some soft drinks too.
Keep to a healthy weight, eat well and do more exercise
Eating a healthy, balanced diet is good news all round. It helps maintain an ideal body weight, helps to regulate hormones and improves the health of the reproductive system. Excess body fat in men is also a significant cause of low sperm count.
Vitamins C and E and zinc may play key roles in fertility, increasing sperm count and motility (movement) and supporting the female reproductive organs. Foods such as green leafy vegetables, eggs and dairy, nuts, seeds and citrus fruits provide key nutrients.
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.
Ditch the hard bike seats and keep your cool
For men, overheated testicles can temporarily lower sperm counts, so it is important to avoid saunas, hot baths, sunbathing and tight underwear. In addition, cycling regularly and for long periods of time on hard bike seats can also reduce fertility through pressure on the perineum, potentially damaging nerves and blood vessels to the genital area. Think about buying yourself a gel seat for your bike to provide more cushioning.
Consider your health
Get some advice about any treatments you might be taking to see if they are affecting your fertility. As well as over-the-counter medicines, some herbal remedies such as St John’s Wort, ginko biloba and Echinacea might have an adverse effect on your fertility.
Take it easy and get more sleep!
Getting a good night’s sleep of about eight hours a day or more can help men and women optimise their fertility. Not getting enough sleep can have a negative impact on hormone levels and studies of female professionals with sleep deprivation have shown an increase in irregular periods.
Last but not least, couples should not forget to take the time to wind down and enjoy each other’s company. Emotional stress has profound effects on fertility, including interfering with the hormones responsible for egg and sperm production. Try and get home from work on time and take more holidays if you can!