Planning a baby sounds like a lot of fun and no chore. After all, making babies comes as naturally to all living beings as breathing, eating, and sleeping. But while having sex with your partner is all nice and a lot of spice, conception may sometimes not be as quick as an orgasm.
Couples, especially women, sometimes go through copious amounts of stress in their effort to go the family way. In the current climate of increasing infertility, women become skeptical and stressed if they don’t conceive in a couple of months after having unprotected sex with their partner. Here’s an advice: hold you horses and wait for a year.
One of your ovaries releases an egg every month in a process called ovulation. It then travels to the fallopian tube where it fuses with the waiting sperm. This process is known as fertilization. It’s important to track your ovulation because you are fertile for only five days leading up to the day of ovulation and a day after. This is because while the sperm can live for a maximum of five days inside your body, your egg is available for fertilization only for 12 to 24 hours. So your fertile window is six days, with the day before ovulation showing the highest chance of conception.
Most ovulation calendars or calculators on the Internet will tell you that ovulation happens on the 14th day of a 28-day menstrual cycle, counting the first day of your last period as Day 1, or 14 days before your next period, irrespective of the cycle length. But this is rarely the case. More than 70 percent women are in their fertile window before day 10 or after day 17 of their menstrual cycle.
Whether you have a regular cycle or not, your foolproof bet is to look out for the following signs of ovulation in not your fertile window but what the American Pregnancy Association calls your fertile phase, i.e. Day 7 to Day 20:
- Raw egg white–like clear, slippery, and runny fluid in your vagina that can stretch about 5 inches without breaking
- A high amount of luteinizing hormone (LH) in the urine that rises each day for three days max, as detected with an ovulation predictor kit
- A drop in temperature on the day of high LH and a sharp increase by .4 to 1 degree Fahrenheit within two days, measured by a basal thermometer
- Increased sexual urges and fantasies
- A centrally aligned soft cervix, which is difficult to reach, with a slight opening in the middle
- Breast tenderness coinciding with egg white-like cervical mucus
- Brownish or pinkish blood spots, or very mild flow, and dull pain on one side of the abdomen
It’s difficult to understand which day is the last day of the egg white-like mucus unless you have found a pattern by observing these signs for a few months so that you can somewhat predict your dates. To be on the safe side:
- Get down to business as soon as you notice the egg white-like mucus and a rise in LH. You are in your fertile window. Have sex every day to increase your chances. The best day is the day before your ovulate. You can stop having sex after you notice the temperature rise, because the odds of conceiving drops to almost zero percent on the day after ovulation.
- If the signs are not very clear to you, take no risk and have sex every alternate day from Day 7 to Day 20. Throw in Day 6 and Day 21 if you want to be extra-cautious.
There is little scientific evidence about what position exactly gets you pregnant fast. In fact, as long as the sperm is deposited inside your vagina, things should work. But anecdotal notes from couples with healthy babies give thumbs up to certain positions like
- The good old “vanilla” position or missionary that is considered the safest and most efficient for the job
- Rear entry or doggy position that is believed to work as it allows the penis to reach the cervix and allows for the ejaculation to be closer to the cervix
Of course you don’t have to ditch your favorite positions and try only these, especially since there’s no documented research on these positions. But hey, it sure doesn’t hurt to try and see if there’s merit to these old wives’ tales.
As for the other much-believed theory that women should keep lying down after intercourse to help the sperm stay put, again, has no real research data, but staying this way and snuggling into your partner’s arms or doing some pillow talk post a vigorous round of intercourse never hurt anyone, right?
There are certain medicines that can affect the chances of conceiving and their adverse effect is not limited to women. As a woman, if you are having any of the following medicines, you need to check with your doctor before trying to conceive.
- Anti-inflammatory drugs: Easily available drugs like ibuprofen or aspirin fall in this category.
- Chemotherapy: Certain medicines used for chemotherapy to treat cancer can result in permanent ovarian failure.
- Neuroleptic medicines: These are antipsychotic medicines that can mess with your periods and lead to infertility.
- Spironolactone: This is used to alleviate fluid retention. The effect of the medicine is reversible and you should be able to get pregnant a couple of months after stopping the medication.
If your partner is taking the following medicines:
- Testosterone: Replacement testosterone (also called supplemental testosterone) affects natural testosterone production that, in turn, inhibits, sperm production.
- Anabolic steroids: The anabolic steroids used to build muscle mass and/or decrease body fat affect fertility the same way testosterone does. So if your partner is a body builder, he should pause his body building efforts for a bit.
- Medication for prostate enlargement: Certain medications like finasteride, dutasteride, and propecia, used to treat prostate enlargement and hair loss, can affect fertility. But the effect is mild and will reverse once the medication is stopped. The alpha blockers, or drugs that treat hypertension and problems with urination because of prostate enlargement, such as silodosin, tamsulosin, Alfuzosin, Hytrin, and Cardura too can come in the way of your family planning.
- Erectile dysfunction medication: Viagra, Levitra, and Cialis, used to treat erectile dysfunction can delay getting you pregnant.
- Antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs: Medicines prescribed to treat depression and anxiety could prevent the proper movement of sperm through the reproductive tract or could harm the sperm.
- Fungal infection drug: Ketoconazole, a drug used to treat fungal infections, if taken as a pill and not as an ointment, could affect testosterone and sperm production.
There are other medications, too that could affect or delay pregnancy. Check with your doctor if you are on medication.
Late nights coupled with binge drinking sessions are no friends of baby making. Studies have linked alcohol intake to decreased chances of conception in women. A study on 430 Danish couples in the age group of 20–35 years trying to conceive for the first time found that in the 6 cycles of follow up, 64 percent women (179) with a weekly alcohol intake of fewer than 5 drinks and only 55 percent (75) women with a higher intake could conceive.
The researchers came to the conclusion that the more a woman drinks alcohol, the less her probability of conceiving, even when she is having sex during the fertile window of the month.
Even if you have a weekly alcohol intake of five or fewer drinks, you are sort of sabotaging your baby-making efforts. And however hard it is, keep the wine glasses and the shot glasses away from yourself and your partner.
Yes, your partner too. He can continue to enjoy a couple of drinks per week but not more if he doesn’t want to compromise on semen quality. Heavy drinking increases the amount of free testosterone in blood, which can lead to problems in semen volume and sperm density. Excessive consumption can even lead to reduced sex drive and sexual performance.
But don’t make up for all your lost alcohol with endless cups of coffee either. The caffeine in coffee, tea, soft drinks, and chocolate may prolong the time to pregnancy, according to the Fertility Society of Australia. Limit your caffeine intake to 1–2 cups of coffee a day.
Smoking, which is bad for health at all times, is especially bad for conception, and both you and your partner should quit smoking when hoping for a visit from the stork.
You are welcome to try the exotic aphrodisiacs like oysters and Chinese ginseng but not at the cost of mainstream healthy foods that contain the right carbs, protein, good fats, and the essential vitamins and minerals. Eat lots of veggies and fruits to aid your reproductive system to function well. A comprehensive examination of diet and fertility in an eight-year study of more than 18,000 women found these 8 things that improve fertility in women:
1. Unsaturated vegetable oils found in nuts and seeds like walnuts, almonds, olive oil, and avocado oil to help improve the body’s sensitivity to insulin and heal inflammation, both factors being important for fertility
2. Oily fish like salmon and sardines—just make sure you are buying from a good place as stale fish leads to health complications
3. Vegetable proteins such as beans, peas, and nuts
4. Carbs like whole grains, vegetables, and whole fruits that are slowly digested
5. Whole milk and full-fat yogurt, not skimmed milk
6. Multivitamins to get some extra folic acid, about 400 micrograms a day
7. Plant irons like whole grain cereals, pumpkin, spinach, tomatoes, and beetroot
8. Water in sufficient quantity
Avoid high-sugar, high-calorie processed foods that have trans-fats, which clog arteries, harm heart health, and also threaten fertility.
That apart, maintain normal weight and a BMI of 20–24. Being overweight can interrupt menstrual cycles and affect ovulation. And for that, stay physically active and try to get enough exercise. A brisk walk in the fresh air is always good for your system and also helps you stay stress- free.
Fertility is a lot about female health, but it’s not just a woman’s thing. Men need to have a healthy diet as well to increase chances of conception. Some of the nutrients that improve semen production and quality in men are:
- Zinc, found in beef, pumpkins, and spinach, increases the sperm count and motility
- Vitamin C, found in leafy greens and citrus fruits, prevents sperm from clumping together
- Vitamin E in combination with selenium, found in almonds and chia seeds, respectively, enhance sperm quality
- Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish oils and chia seeds, enhance sperm viability
Your partner should avoid soybean as studies have indicated that a compound called genistein, found in all soy-based foods like soy milk, tofu, and edamame, slows down or even destroys human sperm.
Last but not the least, share your medical history with your gynecologist, informing him/her about any medications you may be taking for high blood pressure, diabetes, PCOS, thyroid, or any other health problems; previous pregnancies and/or miscarriage (if any); and your dietary intake and lifestyle habits. Being on the same page with your gynaecologist is as imperative for your conception as eating healthy and tracking ovulation.
Now that you know all the guidelines for hassle-free conception and have checked all the boxes, wait for the “good news.” Your journey to parenthood is about to begin. All the best for the roller-coaster ride.