Want to try for a baby? Experts tell Lisa Salmon their top tips for couples hoping to conceive.
Around one in seven UK couples – amounting to some 3.5 million people – have difficulty conceiving.
And while some might end up needing tests and medical support – according to the NHS, for couples who’ve been trying with no luck for more than three years, the likelihood of getting pregnant naturally within the next 12 months is around 25% or less – there are lots of steps men and women can take to help optimise their chances.
Here, a fertility doctor, pharmacist and clinical nutritionist share 12 top tips for couples trying to conceive…
1. Maximise your nutrition
Dr Phil Boyle, a consultant in reproductive medicine at Dublin’s Neo Fertility clinic, says it’s important to optimise nutrition in preparation for pregnancy, but warns: “Don’t be taken in by trendy diets. While it’s always a good idea to cut down on processed foods, don’t be tempted to cut out certain food groups or skip meals. Instead, opt for a balanced diet that’s rich in nutrients, vitamins and minerals to help give you the best chances of pregnancy.”
He says taking a supplement with a comprehensive formulation can also be a good idea. Women should also take something that includes B vitamins and magnesium as well as folic acid, he adds, while men can help boost the quality of their sperm with selenium and arginine.
2. Don’t forget your relationship
If you’ve found yourself trying for a baby longer than expected, it may start to take a toll on your relationship. “Try to actively invest in your relationship by taking the time to do the things you both enjoy, and make sure you talk to each other about how you feel,” suggests Boyle.
3. Men matter too
Although men tend to think they’ll be able to conceive forever, this isn’t the case, stresses Boyle, who says men need to understand the importance of having good quality sperm for a healthy pregnancy. “After the age of 40, the quality of men’s sperm declines. Older men trying for a baby may experience a low sperm count, poor mobility, poor motility and damage to the DNA,” he explains.
4. Check medication
Laura Dowling, aka Fabulous Pharmacist, advises couples to pop into their local pharmacy and have a chat about any medication they’re taking. “They’ll tell you if they’re safe to continue taking while trying to conceive and in early pregnancy, and whether you need to visit your GP to discuss alternatives.”
5. Plan ahead
Stop taking birth control medicine a couple of months before you start trying for a baby, advises Dowling. “Medically, there’s no risk in trying straight away, it just helps to date your pregnancy once you conceive,” she says. Many also find it helpful to track their periods for a few months, to make it easier to pinpoint when they’re ovulating.
6. Be careful with lubricants
Many couples use lubricants as part of their sex lives – but check the labels or ask your pharmacist for advice about the best brands to use, as many contain spermicide which can hamper conception.
7. Act like you’re pregnant
Dowling says that by following some of the lifestyle rules you’ll adopt once pregnant, such as reducing caffeine and alcohol intake, you could help improve your chances of conceiving. “Eat well, sleep well, and party a little less,” she suggests.
8. Maintain a healthy weight
Public health nutritionist Gaye Godkin warns that being overweight decreases the chances of conception in both men and women, as fat cells may disrupt the functioning of the sex glands and interfere with ‘hormonal harmony’. To reduce tummy fat, avoid eating processed carbohydrates and aim to eliminate all sugars and foods containing processed fats. Replace these with good quality protein and vegetables.
9. Don’t overdo sweet treats
Only eat sweet treats in moderation, adds Godkin. Consuming too many transfats, found in food like cake and biscuits, may interfere with the delicate signalling between male and female hormones.
10. Nail your iron intake
Red blood cells deliver oxygen to the ovaries, which is important as if they receive insufficient oxygen and iron, the eggs can become less viable. Godkin says studies show lack of iron can cause anovulation, when a woman doesn’t ovulate as her egg may be in poor health. Rich food sources of iron include lamb liver, red meat and fish. Vegetarians and vegans may need to keep an extra check on their iron intake – lentils, kidney beans and green leafy veg like kale and spinach are among good non-meat sources – and possibly consider topping up with supplements if diet alone isn’t providing enough.
11. Fantastic fish
Omega 3 is important to help support sperm mobility and motility, and it’s also involved in female hormone signalling and hormonal balancing, says Godkin. The body can’t make omega 3 fats, so it must be consumed in the diet, and the best sources are oily fish like mackerel, sardines, anchovies, salmon and trout. Zinc is another essential fertility nutrient – men need it for sperm health and immune function, and women need it to regulate hormone processes. Zinc is abundant in fish, particularly shellfish and oysters.
12. Switch to decaf
Drinking excess caffeine can increase production of the stress hormone adrenaline, and Godkin says high levels of adrenaline can interfere with the intrauterine environment, egg quality and male sperm production. It also depletes the body of many essential nutrients required for conception, including vitamin C, B and magnesium. If trying to conceive, try to avoid or reduce coffee consumption or switch to decaffeinated coffee, and eliminate caffeinated sugary drinks from your diet.