Are you trying to get pregnant? Deciding to have a baby is a milestone for any couple, but translating that goal into reality can sometimes be frustrating. Now’s the time to focus on getting your timing right and doing all you can to increase your chances of conceiving. And from eating right and waving any vices goodbye to alleviating stress, there’s plenty you should be aware of. Here’s what you’ll need to know to get a head start!
Understand The Basics Of Conception
A woman conceives a child when the man’s sperm enters her egg and fertilizes it. This could happen naturally during intercourse or, in some cases, via an assisted or lab-aided technique like in vitro fertilization (IVF).1 After fertilization by the sperm, the egg needs to make its way from the fallopian tube into the uterus of the woman to attach itself there. This last step known as implantation is critical for a pregnancy to take place.2
The ancient ayurvedic text Sushruta Samhita likens conception to the planting and germination of a seed and explains that four factors should fall into place for conception to happen: ritu (timing of conception), kshetra (the right playing field, referring to a healthy reproductive system), ambu (proper nutrition), and bija (seed or healthy ovum and sperm).3
Have Sex A Day Or Two Before Ovulation
You’ve probably heard about there being a more fertile time of the month for a woman – and there is. Assuming you have an average menstrual cycle length of 28 days, the woman’s ovaries release an egg (ovulation) 12 to 16 days from the first day of the previous period. Try and have sex within a day of this release and you improve your chances greatly.
An egg lasts in the body for between 12 and 24 hours after it is released from the ovaries and a sperm must fertilize it in this small window. It may seem like a tough target but there are some things on your side. For one, sperm last longer in the woman’s body – even as much as 7 days. So if you have intercourse in the days leading up to ovulation, you give the sperm a better chance (and time) to travel up the fallopian tubes and be ready for an egg to be released. This way, once ovulation occurs, sperm are waiting in the wings to fertilize the egg and create a baby. That’s definitely better than the sperm racing against time to make their way to the egg after ovulation occurs.4
Track Your Fertility
To simplify things for you, some tools available in the market can help you gauge how fertile you are or tell you when ovulation occurs. Having sex at this time increases chances of conceiving a baby. In addition, you could simply monitor the changes to your body to arrive at the most fertile window. The natural fertility awareness methods that follow are a great natural way to help improve your chances of conceiving.5
- Basal body temperature method: Your body temperature goes up by 0.4 to 0.8 degrees Fahrenheit around ovulation. So by tracking your temperature using a basal body thermometer available at most pharmacies, you can gauge when you are more fertile.
- Calendar method: Know your menstrual cycle and track dates where you are most fertile. This works well if you have a regular cycle. To create a broader window when you are fertile, do this. Start trying to conceive on day number corresponding to [total number of days in your shortest cycle − 18] and stop trying on day number corresponding to [total number of days in your longest cycle − 11]. So if you have a 30-day cycle, you can start trying on day 12 (measured from day 1 being the first day of your period) and stop trying on day 19.
- Cervical mucus/Ovulation method: A less reliable method but one that works for some women involves monitoring the consistency and color of mucus in the vagina. As an egg matures, the mucus becomes cloudy, sticky, and white/yellow. The quantity appearing at the vaginal opening also increases. In the period just before ovulation, it turns clear and slippery, something that’s compared to raw egg whites in consistency. The quantity of mucus is also higher. This is an indication of the period where you are most fertile.
Have Intercourse More Often
The best way to boost your chances to conceive is actually good old-fashioned sex. That way, even if you aren’t using some fertility awareness methods or tracing your cycle, you improve your odds of getting pregnant. Aim to have sex at least once in 3–4 days throughout the month.6 Of course, be sure not to overstrain yourself or go about it mechanically either!
Be Prepared To Wait A Bit After Stopping Birth Control
Your body may take some time to readjust to life without hormonal birth control. While some women may conceive immediately after they go off the pill, others may take a few cycles. So don’t expect to get pregnant immediately after you stop taking birth control pills. Give your body some time to regularize the menstrual period and also to help you understand your natural cycle and ovulation dates. If you have an intrauterine device, you’ll need to fix an appointment to have it taken out before you can try conceiving. Barrier methods like condoms or the diaphragm can, of course, be stopped immediately.7
Lose Some Weight If You Are Obese
Being obese can make conceiving more challenging. In women, it could interfere with ovulation by causing excess insulin buildup or insulin resistance, making it harder to get pregnant. Men who are obese may have low testosterone levels. This affects their fertility and sperm production and could also increase chances of developing erectile dysfunction.8
What’s more, even if you do manage to conceive when you are overweight or obese, it still raises risks of pregnancy complications like preeclampsia and gestational diabetes which can be potentially life-threatening to you and your baby. It also increases the possibility of needing a cesarean delivery or having a stillbirth. The risk of the baby developing congenital heart defects at birth goes up by as much as 15% and that’s besides a higher risk of neural tube defects like spina bifida.9
Find Ways To De-Stress And Ease Anxiety
Being stressed out could interfere with your ability to conceive, either directly because you are not in the mood to have intercourse or because you have trouble with an erection as a result of stress.10 In addition, a small study by the National Institutes of Health has found that women who have high levels of stress (as measured by alpha-amylase levels, an indicator of physical or psychological stress) are less likely to be able to conceive during their fertile window than women who have lower levels of stress.11 Don’t take to drinking or smoking to relax as these could be problematic during pregnancy. Instead, try some of these ways to ease stress and relax:
- Join a yoga class or tai chi class.
- Use relaxing aromatherapy oils to create a relaxing atmosphere at home.
- Take a walk.
- Try meditation or pranayama (yogic breathing).
- Take up any form of exercise that you enjoy – even dancing!
- Get adequate sleep (7 to 8 hours a day).
Get Healthy When You’re Trying To Conceive
It is important to give your body the best possible shot at having a healthy pregnancy and set yourself up for success. Here are some tips on what to do in the leadup to when you actually get pregnant:12
- Eat a diet that’s higher in fiber and rich in fresh fruits and vegetables to lower risk of gestational diabetes.
- Cut intake of sugary drinks and sodas to avoid increasing risk of gestational diabetes
- Get in folate-rich foods every day in the months leading up to when you try to conceive (or right away if you’re already trying) to cut the risk of birth defects like spina bifida.
- Quit smoking, drinking alcohol, or taking drugs if you do any of these at present. They significantly raise the risk of birth defects, preterm birth, fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
- If you have any health problems like hypertension, diabetes, asthma, any infections or STDs, seizure disorders, or problems like maternal phenylketonuria, have them treated and brought under control before you try to conceive to reduce chances of a miscarriage or stillbirth.
Ayurveda prescribes several tonics to strengthen the reproductive system and boost strength and vigor while trying to conceive. Herbal formulations such as phala grita, ashokarishta, and shatavari kalpa are often used. Preparations with amalaki, guduchi, bala, and ashwagandha are also considered effective in improving chances of conception. Cleansing therapies with herbal formulations such as triphala and kshara taila are also recommended. An experienced ayurvedic practitioner will tailor a regimen depending on your individual case if you are having trouble conceiving.13
Pay Attention To Sex Positions And Lubricants
According to the experts, the position in which you have intercourse really doesn’t matter as long as the semen is deposited in the vagina. However, after intercourse, it is ideal if a woman avoids standing or sitting upright as this may cause the semen to drain out of the vagina, lowering chances of sperm being able to make it up the fallopian tubes. That said, there isn’t any solid research to back up claims that lying down after intercourse increases chances of conceiving or that having sex standing up reduces your chances.14
Also talk to your doctor about what lubricants are best suited to sperm. Some can interfere with the sperm’s motility (ability to move) and also the viability (ability to fertilize the egg).
Know That Issues With Conceiving Could Be Linked To Either Partner
For 1 in 10 couples, conceiving can be a challenge due to infertility. The causes, on average, are evenly split between the male partner and female partner. They may also be problems with both, or other non-attributable causes.
In men, problems with the number of sperm, their shape, their ability to move, or hormonal imbalances in the body can all make it hard to conceive.
Women may have issues due to blocked fallopian tubes or ovulation problems stemming from an irregular menstrual cycle, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), or advanced maternal age, which in turn affects the egg quality and number. Endometriosis or irregularities in uterine lining may also affect implantation.15
Explore Assisted Techniques When All Else Fails
Are natural ways to conceive not working for you? You may also want to consider talking to your gynecologist about techniques like intrauterine insemination (IUI) and in vitro fertilization (IVF). Healthcare professionals recommend trying to conceive naturally for at least a year on your own before getting help with these methods. If the mom-to-be is over 35, give yourself 6 months before reaching out to professionals for artificial or assisted techniques to get pregnant.16
In IUI, the egg is fertilized with concentrated motile sperm that are placed in a woman’s uterus a day or two before ovulation. The rest is left to your body’s natural processes, with the sperm making its way to the egg to make a baby. Since there is a high level of good quality sperm introduced to the uterus, the odds of fertilization and conceiving are improved greatly.17 In IVF, on the other hand, less is left to chance, which is also why it is so popular and has high success rates compared to other methods. First, the woman’s ovaries are stimulated so multiple eggs are produced which are then extracted during a simple egg retrieval process. These are then fertilized in the laboratory and after the embryos are formed, these are introduced into the uterus.18
Of course, even these methods have their shortcomings and cannot guarantee a pregnancy. The chances of a successful conception depend on things like:19
- The age of the woman
- Reasons for infertility
- Factors pertaining to the quality of the IVF laboratory
Whether you choose a natural method and are lucky enough to conceive without much trouble or have to go through artificial methods to help you conceive, the results will be well worth it. So just remind yourself that it isn’t easy for everyone and don’t give up!
|↑1, ↑4, ↑6||Trying to get pregnant. National Health Service.|
|↑2, ↑15, ↑16||Pregnancy Problems?. NIH Office of Communications and Public Liaison.|
|↑3||Sarmah, Smita and Balen Baishya. “Infertility: An Ayurvedic Perspective”. International Ayurvedic Medical Journal, 5(9), 2017.|
|↑5||Trying to conceive. Office on Women’s Health.|
|↑7||Parker-Littler, Catherine. Ask a midwife. Dorling Kindersley Ltd, 2008.|
|↑8||Pasquali, Renato, Laura Patton, and Alessandra Gambineri. “Obesity and infertility.” Current Opinion in Endocrinology, Diabetes and Obesity 14, no. 6 (2007): 482-487.|
|↑9, ↑12||Can you promote a healthy pregnancy before getting pregnant?. Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.|
|↑10||Hedon, F. “Anxiety and erectile dysfunction: a global approach to ED enhances results and quality of life.” International journal of impotence research 15, no. S2 (2003): S16.|
|↑11||NIH study indicates stress may delay women getting pregnant. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑13||Mishra, Lakshmi C., ed. Scientific basis for Ayurvedic therapies. CRC press, 2003.|
|↑14||Sharkey, Harriet and Professor Ian Greer. Need to Know Fertility, Conception and Pregnancy. Harper Collins UK(2010)|
|↑17, ↑18, ↑19||Back to Basics: The Difference Between IUI and IVF. USC Fertility, Keek School of Medicine of USC.|