If you have been trying to conceive for a while, you may have started some late-night Google searching to see how you can improve your fertility to speed things along. I'm going to presume that you have already taken steps to remove or reduce caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and energy drinks, so here are some lifestyle changes that are accessible. Ultimately, you are the best judge of your body, cherry-pick the tips that resonate with you or are easy to integrate into your routine.
Good quality sleep for around 8 hours is the best medicine for all the systems in your body as it gives your organs the chance to do a deep clean. The late-night scrolling will trick your brain into thinking it is daylight which will rob you of good quality sleep. So, where possible, put your phone down an hour before bedtime, set up a wind-down routine, maybe take a warm bath or read a book. Giving your organs the best chance of detoxing while you sleep will help improve your fertility.
Your egg and sperm are influenced by your diet. Your gut health influences your hormone health. Diversity is key to support your gut microbiome (the bacteria, parasites and yeasts that live in our intestines and help keep us healthy). A woman will need a full supply of resources to grow another human being. She will need to grow bones, a nervous system, eyeballs and fingernails, so now is not the time to go on a restrictive diet. Think about adding things to your plate, in the form of fruits, nuts, vegetables, beans, legumes, quality protein and quality fats. Once you have added in the foods with the higher nutritional value you can start to remove the poor quality overly processed foods. Keep things simple and aim for whole foods 80% of the time. Or check the ingredients list, and if there are words on there that you don't recognise then don't eat it. It is better to enjoy your food than to beat yourself up for eating something you thought you shouldn't have. If you feel like you don't know where to start, or would like to supplement your diet with vitamins, then a nutritionist will give you very specific support for your needs.
When you have sugar, sweeteners or refined carbohydrates (rice, potatoes, crisps), it causes a dump of sugar to be dropped into your bloodstream. The pancreas then releases the hormone insulin to take the sugar (glucose) into the cells for when you need a burst of energy.
That slump that you feel after a heavy meal, or that irritability you feel when you haven't eaten for a couple of hours (hypo-gly-bitchy), is caused by large swings in your blood sugar levels. This slump in energy makes us reach for another sweet pick-me-up which starts the process all over again.
Our hormones don't work in isolation, when there is an excess or deficiency of one hormone, it causes a cascade of events with their associate hormones. The peaks and troughs of sugar in your bloodstream can affect your reproductive hormones and stress hormones, which may affect your ovulation and sperm quality and therefore fertility.
Some tips on how to keep your blood sugar stable:
Exercise has an effect on many systems, including your mental health and your fertility. When I say exercise I mean movement. Find something that you love doing, like salsa, yoga or paddleboarding. Don't try to burn calories, or change your shape, or punish yourself for eating a slice of cake by over-exercising at the gym. You only have so much energy, if you spend it all on a punishing exercise regime there will be none left for conception, 9 months of pregnancy, 3 months of the fourth trimester and the years of the post-natal period.
Plastic and other toxins found in our cleaning products or body products are a real concern for fertility as they are an endocrine disruptor - which means they mess with your hormones. Avoid plastic and go for eco-friendly non-toxic products where possible. That includes period products as most contain questionable chemicals, go for the organic varieties if you can. But you can also clean up your environment by not watching the news - especially just before bed, and limiting your social media feed to accounts that make you feel good about yourself. After a while, trying to conceive may bring a level of despair and your own thoughts may become toxic. Be mindful of your inner dialogue and if you wouldn't say those mean things to your best friend then don't say them to yourself.
Some stress is actually good for us, it helps us get things done and builds resilience. Everyone's threshold of 'too much stress' will be different. But if you listen to your body you will know when things have got out of hand. You can't always remove your stressors (and the roller coaster or not falling pregnant can become one of them), but you can take steps to lower your stress hormones. Physical activity, a 20-second hug, a 6-second kiss, laughter, creative expression or deep breathing are all accessible ways to reduce your stress hormones which will help to increase your fertility.
If you have an anxious mind then sitting quietly to focus on your breath may not be for you. Reading, doing a jigsaw or laughing with a friend are all forms of rest. You want your nervous system to feel like you are in a safe environment to reproduce, and rest is one way to send that message. And it sends a signal to your reproductive system that you have the time and energy for pregnancy and to nourish a baby.
No emotion was ever successfully swept under the carpet. If you can process how not falling pregnant is really making you feel then that will be one less stress for your body to deal with. And trying to conceive can bring all of the emotions - including those that you may not want to say out loud. It is common and normal to feel jealousy, resentment, guilt or anger. All of your emotions are valid. But if they are burning away inside you then that can become a burden. Journal, talk to a trusted friend or find a therapist if trying to conceive has taken over every waking thought and turning you into someone you don't recognise.
The main thing that will help you conceive is lots of sex - ideally orgasmic sex so that the cervix can help draw the sperm up into the uterus. What you need for lots of sex is enough energy and a connection to your partner, and to speed things along it will help to know when the woman is ovulating. Men are fertile every day of the year, and the sperm can live inside the woman for 5 days. The egg lasts 24 hours, so you need strong, live sperm swimming around and ready for the challenge of meeting the egg. Ultimately, the fertile window lasts around 6 days, so the timing of sex is crucial. But don't forget to keep a connection to your partner throughout the month. Sex doesn't just have to be about baby-making and can become a chore if you are only having sex during the fertile window. Remember that this is a love baby born out of an intimate connection between the two of you - have naked time just for fun now and again.
Keep warm if your a woman and cool if you're a man.
In traditional medicine, it is thought that cold affects the uterus causing an inhospitable environment. One way to build warmth in your womb is to keep your feet and lower back warm. Listen to grandma and wear those big knickers and fluffy socks. But, those testicles are on the outside of the body because they are supposed to be cooler. So avoid excessively hot baths, saunas or hot tubs.
For a woman, knowing her body and the signs of ovulation will help pinpoint the optimal times to make out. Body awareness is different for everyone, so the key is to connect with your own rhythms.
The signs of ovulation are:
It is very easy to fall down a fertility rabbit hole and finding yourself in a place where you are constantly charting or researching. The 'trying' part of trying to conceive can become so serious as you are aiming to be so good in all aspects of your life. Focusing on creating, playing, finding joy, practising gratitude for what you already have, and making love instead of having baby-making sex will take the focus away from 'egg meets sperm' into your whole life being more fertile.
Remember, that around 84% of heterosexual couples (depending on age) will fall pregnant within one year of trying, and 90% (again, age-dependent) will fall pregnant within two years. If you are starting to worry, then checking the sperm is a non-invasive indicator of the man's health. And for a woman, getting her iron, thyroid and vitamin D status checked are all basic ways of finding out more information. And if you find that you have tried everything and it just isn't happening there is lots of support out there that doesn't have to involve IVF. Book an appointment to see which areas of your health you can improve to boost your chances of conceiving.
I have been supporting couples (mostly women because they tend to want to try everything possible to boost their chances of pregnancy) since 1999. If you don't know where to start, or are tentatively trying again after a miscarriage, or are looking for acupuncture to support you through your IVF process then give me a call to see how fertility acupuncture can help you, or book an acupuncture session and we can start working together to promote your fertility and nourish your overall well-being.