Fertility and Pregnancy

Trying to conceive isn’t always as easy as it may first appear, but there are positive steps you can take to improve your chances.

Making the momentous decision to have a baby can be followed by a tidal wave of emotions including excitement, anticipation and—sometimes—anxiety. Before you begin, keep these important tips in mind.

What can you do to facilitate conception?

Limit drinking 

Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can affect both partners and significantly hinder chances of getting pregnant. Alcohol also poses a risk to pregnant women. According to the UK’s chief medical health officers, the safest approach is to drink no alcohol at all. Excessive drinking is also known to affect the quality of sperm—males should drink no more than 14 units per week spread across several days. 

Lead a healthy lifestyle

According to the NHS, ‘you’re more likely to get pregnant if you and your partner are both in good health’. Being dangerously overweight or underweight can make conception a lot more difficult—this applies to both men and women. For women, this can lead to irregular periods or even stop them altogether. For men, this can dramatically impede sperm count. Eat a balanced diet and make space for exercise in your daily routine. Continue these good habits once pregnant.

Time it well 

While most couples will be having regular sex when trying to conceive, there is only a small window when conception is actually possible. The egg can only be fertilised during the days of ovulation (when the egg is released from the ovaries) and the days leading up to it. One of the most accurate ways to track a woman’s ovulation window is via an ovulation test. Most of these work by measuring levels of the luteinising hormone (LH) in urine. Levels of LH increase by around two to five times the normal level when ovulation occurs. 

Quit smoking

Smoking is known to have devastating effects on the body, particularly when it comes to fertility. Studies have shown a strong link between smoking and poor quality sperm. An analysis of 2,542 healthy men from 1987 to 2004 conducted by Ramlau-Hansen et al. found that ‘on semen analysis, cigarette smokers had lower semen volumes, sperm counts and percentage of motile sperm compared to men who did not smoke’. Quitting smoking is, therefore, vital for facilitating conception. Female partners should also avoid smoking at all costs because it can reduce fertility— this includes passive smoking. For advice on quitting smoking, visit the NHS Smokefree website.

Take vitamins

The UK’s chief medical officers recommend that women planning a pregnancy, or women who are pregnant, take 400 micrograms of folic acid every day. Folic acid can help prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida. While this may not necessarily make conception easier, it will help to ensure your baby is strong and healthy. 

How long does it take to get pregnant?

When most couples decide to have a baby, they usually begin with high expectations. A study by Johnson S R et al. in 2013 found that out of the 1,400 women that were tested on the planning of their most recent pregnancy, 30-44 percent reported that conception took longer than they had anticipated. 

It is very difficult to say exactly how long it takes to conceive because every couple is different. There are a number of factors that can affect your chances of getting pregnant including age, lifestyle, reproductive health and history and how often you have sex. According to the NHS, 92 percent of couples between the ages of 19 and 26 will conceive after a year of having regular sex without contraception. This statistic decreases slightly with age; from the ages of 35 to 39, 82 percent will conceive after a year. If you have been trying to conceive for one to two years without success, seek further advice from a doctor. They will be able to talk you through your options. 

Emotional and practical support

Not being able to conceive naturally can bring stress, anxiety and emotional strain. However, there are many alternatives available to couples wishing to become parents. IVF, adoption, surrogacy and artificial insemination are all worth exploring. Speak to your doctor to determine which route is most suitable for you. Individuals dealing with fertility issues should seek support and speak to friends and family—or a professional—about their worries and fears. Whether they’re local or housed on the internet, support groups can provide the necessary resources and bring people who are going through the same thing together. If you decide to see a therapist, make sure they have knowledge in reproductive medicine. In addition to this, patients undergoing fertility treatment may also require support—these therapies can take a huge physical and emotional toll on the body. According to babycenter.com, women with fertility problems are as anxious and depressed as women with cancer, HIV or heart disease. Don’t blame yourself—it is important to work with your partner as a team, identify and share your feelings and educate yourself on the specific condition that is causing your infertility. •

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