You've made the big decision that you want to start a family, so what can you do to help your chances of falling pregnant?
You can increase your chances if both you and your partner are in good health. This means looking at all aspects of your lifestyle, from the food you eat and how often you exercise, to your overall stress levels and general health.
Getting your body in the best possible shape now will not only improve your chances of conceiving, it will also help set you up for a healthy pregnancy.
Body mass index (BMI) is a way of calculating whether you are a healthy weight for your height.
A BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 is generally considered healthy. A BMI less than 18.5 is considered underweight, a BMI of between 25 and 29.9 is overweight and a BMI of 30 or above is classed as obese.
If you know your weight and height, you can use an online calculator to work out your BMI at home.
Being underweight or overweight can affect your periods, making them irregular or even making them stop. This can in turn affect your chances of becoming pregnant. Being overweight also increases your risk of developing health problems, such as high blood pressure or gestational diabetes (diabetes which develops during pregnancy and usually disappears after giving birth).
You can maintain a healthy weight by eating a healthy and balanced diet, and exercising regularly. See your Doctor for advice if you're concerned that your weight might be affecting your health or your fertility.
A healthy diet is important for both you and your partner when trying to conceive, as well as during pregnancy.
Make sure you eat a varied, balanced diet:
- Eat at least five portions of vegetables and fruits a day
- Base your meals on high-fibre starchy food, such as rice, potatoes or pasta
- Have some pulses, beans, eggs, meat, fish, or other sources of protein
- Have some dairy products or dairy alternatives
- Cut down on processed foods high in sugar and saturated fat
- Eat less salt
- Drink plenty of fluids (at least six to eight glasses a day)
It’s important to also take a supplement containing 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day, from when you start trying to get pregnant until you’re 12 weeks pregnant. Taking a daily folic acid supplement helps support the development of a healthy baby before and during the early weeks of pregnancy. Folic acid reduces the risks of neural tube defects, such as spina bifida.*
Alcohol and smoking
Avoid drinking alcohol if you’re pregnant or trying for a baby. The government guidelines recommend not drinking alcohol at all to minimise risks to your baby. Alcohol can cause problems even before getting pregnant, as it can affect fertility in both men and women. So this is another reason for you and your partner to cut down on drinking, if you’re trying for a baby.
If you smoke, it's best to give up smoking completely as it can reduce fertility in women and harm your baby. There's also a link between smoking and poor quality sperm in men. If you need help stopping, ask your pharmacist or Doctor for support and advice.
Regular exercise helps keep you fit and well. It also improves your circulation, gives you energy and makes you feel more positive by releasing endorphins, the brain's natural feel-good chemicals.
Aim to do at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise a week, such as brisk walking or water aerobics. Alternatively aim for 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, such as an aerobics class or fast swimming. You can also do a mixture of moderate exercise and vigorous exercise. As well as aerobic activity, you should also aim to incorporate some strength exercises (such as Pilates) into your routine, at least twice a week. It's important to find a type of exercise you enjoy to help you to stick to it.
Make time to relax
Most people experience everyday stress from time to time, but feeling constantly under pressure can affect your relationship with your partner, which may lead to a loss in sex drive.
Find something that helps you unwind. This could be relaxing in a warm bath, listening to soothing music, reading a book or simply going out for a walk.
The best time to conceive
Many couples get downhearted when they don't fall pregnant within the first few months of trying but it's quite normal for it to take between six months to a year to conceive.
You're most likely to get pregnant if you have sex within a day or so of ovulation. This usually happens about 14 days after the first day of your period, if your cycle is around 28 days long.
An egg lives for about 12-24 hours after it's released. For you to get pregnant, a sperm must fertilise the egg within this time. Sperm can live for up to seven days inside the body so it is possible to become pregnant if you have sex in the days leading up to ovulation.
As it's difficult to know exactly when you're ovulating, good advice is to aim to have sex every two to three days throughout the month to maximise your chances of success.
You don’t need to time sex only around ovulation, but if you’d like an indication of when you’re ovulating you may want to consider using an ovulation testing kit. They are available from your pharmacy and can help pinpoint your most fertile days. These work by testing your urine for a sharp increase in luteinising hormone (LH) hormone which generally happens a day or two before ovulation.
Before your pregnancy
If you have a long-term medical condition, like asthma or diabetes, you may need additional support during pregnancy and it’s important to discuss this with your doctor before conception. Similarly, if you take prescribed medicines and are thinking of getting pregnant, talk to your doctor, as some medicines are not safe to take during pregnancy. Don’t stop taking your medicines without speaking to your doctor.
If you’re unsure whether all your vaccinations are up to date, check with your Doctor. Immunity against certain viruses, such as rubella (German measles), is important for your baby's health during pregnancy.
If you're struggling to get pregnant
It's a good idea to see your Doctor if you're not pregnant after trying for a year. They will check for common causes of fertility problems such as problems with ovulation and a low sperm count and suggest the next steps.
If you're over 36, or aware you may already have fertility problems, you should see your doctor sooner.
Separating fact from fiction
When it comes to the best way to get pregnant, it's important to know what's true and what isn't. Here are some of the most common myths:
Certain sex positions make it easier to conceive
While it's understandable to think that having sex in a certain way might help the sperm reach its destination easier, there is no evidence that any particular sex position improves the odds of pregnancy.
You need to have sex after you ovulate
Actually the opposite is true. Your best chance of conception is a day or so before ovulation.
Holding your legs in the air or doing a headstand after intercourse increases your chances
While it seems logical that being in this position would help the sperm move towards the cervix, there is no solid evidence to support this claim.
- If you have a medical condition or are taking prescribed medicines, talk to your doctor before you get pregnant
- Work on improving your lifestyle, this means following a healthy and balanced diet, exercising regularly and making time for relaxation
- See your doctor if you haven't fallen pregnant after a year of trying
*Supplemental folic acid intake increases maternal folate status. Low maternal folate status is a risk factor in the development of neural tube defects in the developing foetus.
The beneficial effect is obtained with a supplemental folic acid daily intake of 400 μg for at least one month before and up to three months after conception.