If you’re thinking about trying to conceive, it is a good idea for both you and your partner to begin looking after your health before you start. Chinese medicine emphasises the importance of balancing the body in preparation for conception and pregnancy.
Many lifestyle factors can affect your chances of getting pregnant and the time it takes to conceive. This section contains some of the things you can do to help your fertility and increase the chances of a successful pregnancy.
STRESS – it is almost impossible to lead a stress-free existence and stress can affect both women and men. Not conceiving can of course become a cause of stress. Stress can negatively affect the menstrual cycle and sperm production and can also affect our sleep and energy levels which are important factors in fertility. Try and find some time in the week to relax; swimming, walking, yoga and meditation are all good ways to unwind.
DIET – try and eat a balanced diet, low on caffeine and alcohol and high on fresh, natural (non-processed) foods. Wherever possible, eat organically grown free-range unsprayed meat, fish, eggs, vegetables and fruit and as little processed food as possible.
SLEEP – if you are taking any kind of prescribed sleeping tablets or tranquillisers, it is a good idea to talk to your GP about coming off them gradually and finding an alternative as sleeping medication can affect fetal development. Herbs such as valerian and passiflora are natural sedatives and can be used effectively in combination. Try adding calming aromatherapy oils such as bergamot, lavender and camomile to your night time bath or sprinkling on your pillow at night.
CAFFEINE – more than 1 cup of coffee per day is considered a moderate to high caffeine intake and can increase by up to 50% the time it takes to get pregnant. In research, a caffeine intake of three or more cups a day by women or their partners doubled the rate of miscarriage. Caffeine also has a negative impact on sperm motility.
ALCOHOL – has a negative effect on male fertility as it interferes with the secretion of testosterone and increases the percentage of abnormal sperm . Alcohol puts stress on the liver, which Chinese medicine considers vital for a smooth menstrual cycle. There is also a known link between alcohol consumption and miscarriage.
EXERCISE – Moderate exercise every day if possible, is very important to maintain a healthy body. 20-30 minutes of exercise can help burn off excess body fat and normalise hormone levels. But over-exercising can adversely affect fertility and cause irregular ovulation and an irregular menstrual cycle. Exercise doesn’t have to be a heavy gym workout; walking, swimming, cycling and yoga are all excellent for the body.
ENVIRONMENTAL TOXINS – try to avoid pesticides and chemicals such as hair dyes and chemical household cleaners.
RECREATIONAL DRUGS – whilst trying to conceive it is best to avoid marijuana and other recreational drugs which have a negative effect on both male and female fertility.
SMOKING – affects both male and female fertility. In males who smoke, sperm count has been measured as being on average 17% lower than in males who don’t. Smoking can also affect the health quality of the sperm. For females, smoking can increase the time it takes to conceive as well as raise the risk of spontaneous miscarriages. Reducing /stopping smoking can produce positive results very quickly; women are likely to get pregnant faster and more easily, and sperm count can increase by up to 80%.
BODY WEIGHT – being underweight or overweight can cause problems with ovulation and whilst underweight and overweight women can get pregnant, pregnancy is most likely to occur in women with a Body Mass Index (BMI) between 20 and 27. If you want to work out your BMI, go to bbc.co.uk – Health which explains how you calculate it.
VITAMIN & MINERAL SUPPLEMENTS – although it is good to try and get your nutrients through your food, some supplements to boost your fertility may be advisable. Below we list some that you may want to consider, but it may be worth consulting a nutritionist to discuss your specific needs. Taking a daily multi-vitamin and mineral supplement designed for pregnancy, e.g. Fertility Plus available for women and men, will ensure you have the essentials.
Zinc deficiency is the most widely studied nutrient in terms of fertility. For women zinc maintains the menstrual cycle, helps produce good quality eggs as well as the growth and development of the foetus. For men, zinc is vital for the proper development of sperm. 30 mg of zinc per day is recommended for men and women. Other vitamins that are helpful for fertility are B Complex, Vitamin C, Vitamin E and Selenium.
SEX – Don’t get too stressed about when to have sex. Rather than just focusing on the ovulatory period, try to have sex 4-5 days prior to ovulation, (sperm can live from 3-5 days inside the woman’s body). During the ovulatory period it is best to have sex every other day, rather than every day. And have sex at other times too; women have been known to get pregnant at very different times in their menstrual cycles.
SUMMING UP – try and maintain a balanced life style, eat well, sleep well and take time out for yourselves.