There’s a lot about your fertility that isn’t in your control, but there are also some things that are. What you eat, how often you move your body, how you deal with stress: these are all things that can play a role in your conception journey.
So the question is, what lifestyle changes can you make that will positively impact your natural fertility and prepare your body (and mind) for this new stage in your life?
Read on and discover 8 tips to keep in mind throughout your fertility journey.
1. Maintain a healthy weight
A healthy weight looks different for every person's body but it's important to note that, when it comes to falling pregnant, being underweight or overweight can impact your fertility.
And this is not just about the number you see on the scale.
It’s about your BMI — your body mass index — which considers your weight-to-height ratio to determine if you’re in the underweight, healthy range, or overweight category.
To determine your BMI, you need to input your current height and weight into an online BMI calculator, and in a matter of seconds, you've got your results. The tricky part is understanding exactly what those results mean, but we can help you decipher them.
What BMI is considered healthy for falling pregnant?
Short answer: between 18.5 and 24.9.
The longer explanation…
If your BMI is low (under 18.5) or high (over 25), the lack of fat cells or excess fat cells throws your sex hormones out of balance. These imbalances make it harder for your body to ovulate, which in turn, makes it harder to time sex for pregnancy.
But there are some other complications you need to be aware of if your BMI is higher than 25:
If your thyroid is over or underactive, this can affect your fertility. This is because thyroid hormones play an important part in regulating ovulation, preventing miscarriage, and helping your baby’s developing brain and nervous system .
Being overweight makes it difficult for the cells to absorb glucose from your bloodstream. When this happens, you experience higher blood sugar levels, which can be harmful to you and your baby, increasing the risks of miscarriage and diabetes-related complications .
A rise in blood sugar levels can lead to something called gestational diabetes. It can also spike your baby’s blood sugar levels, leading to weight gain for you and your baby and increased chances of premature birth because your body thinks it’s ready.
Gestational diabetes is temporary and usually isn't an issue after pregnancy. However, experiencing it can increase the chances of developing type 2 diabetes in the future.
2. Move your body
That feeling we get after we’ve finished a workout is pretty satisfying and the health benefits are undeniable, but we’ll be the first to admit that the real challenge is actually making it happen.
So, if you've been looking for an additional reason to get moving, here it is: getting your sweat on actually improves your fertility.
In fact, studies have shown that exercising every week tends to boost fertility in all women .
This is especially true if your BMI is high (over 25) or you have PCOS, even if it doesn’t result in weight loss.
However, when you’re trying to get pregnant, excessive and vigorous exercise for longer than 7 hours per week (think competitive sports or gymnastics) can place stress on the body that suppresses ovulation, making it either irregular, meaning it becomes awfully hard to time baby-making sex, or non-existent, meaning you can’t get pregnant naturally.
In other words, don't push yourself too hard.
3. Opt for fertility-boosting foods
Keto, paleo, vegan — everyone has their own opinions on what constitutes a maintained balanced, wholesome diet.
However, when it comes to diets and fertility, the Mediterraneans seemed to be onto something and studies have shown that adopting the Mediterranean diet can indeed positively impact fertility levels .
We’re talking unlimited avocado here!
Well, maybe not unlimited, but it is a pretty accommodating diet that encourages you to eat lots of fruits, vegetables, legumes, chicken, and fish, with a lower consumption of red meat.
On top of changing your diet, when you’re trying to conceive it is a great idea to learn what nutrients and vitamins can help to promote a healthy pregnancy.
We’ll break these down for you.
You’ll find folate (vitamin B9) in foods like dark leafy greens, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, eggs, and liver. But, why is it so important? Well, folate plays an important role in both the baby's brain development and helps support a healthy pregnancy.
Your body uses iron to make hemoglobin, a protein that carries oxygen from your lungs to other parts of your body, including a developing embryo.
When you get pregnant, your body produces more blood to carry nutrients to your baby. This increase is most significant in the first 12 weeks and you need more iron to support it, which you can get from iron-rich foods like spinach, lentils, and chicken.
Omega-3 Fatty Acid
Omega-3 is found naturally in fatty fish like salmon and mackerel and it refers to a category of lipids (fatty acids) that support the baby’s cognitive development.
This becomes especially important during the later stages of pregnancy, as the baby’s brain is rapidly developing.
Calcium and vitamin D
Calcium is the mineral used to build your bones and teeth, and your baby’s too. It comes as a duo with vitamin D because you can take as much calcium as you want, but your body won’t be able to absorb it properly without vitamin D.
Dark leafy greens are good for calcium, and fatty fish like salmon are good sources of vitamin D.
Iodine helps to ensure healthy brain development and growth of your baby’s organs. It’s typically found in dairy products, seafood, seaweed, eggs, bread, and iodised salt.
4. Embrace your inner zen
No one likes to be told to take a chill pill, because it’s usually when we actually feel like we’ve got something to worry about. But we need to tell you, stress can negatively affect fertility.
Truth is, your ovaries feel more than you think. They know when you’re stressed and they don’t handle it well.
The irony of the situation is that navigating your fertility — whether that means trying to get pregnant for the first time, coping with reproductive conditions, or going through IVF — is inherently stressful.
So, it’s natural to feel anxious and overwhelmed. However, the more we understand that stress and fertility are not a good mix, the more we can try and manage that.
How stress sabotages your body
When you’re feeling anxious, your nervous system releases stress hormones, specifically cortisol, which begins to manifest and take its toll on your body.
You’ll notice your heart rate increasing, shallow breathing, and uncomfortable stomach butterflies. This all means that your body is preparing for a fight-or-flight response.
This response is triggered when an extremely stressful situation arises, causing the systems in your body that aren’t necessary for survival to shut down, including your reproductive system.
This is also why your period can be late when you’re experiencing high levels of stress for an extended period of time.
So, what can you do?
Stress and anxiety during this time of your life are completely normal. Big changes are ahead and things may feel uncertain, so be kind to yourself.
Consider, as well, taking up a daily mindfulness meditation practice. In fact, take 3 deep breaths right now. Go on.
Breathe in (count to 3) and then out (count to 3). That right there, is literally you practicing mindfulness meditation. How good does it feel?
You’re not expected to go all out on a 10-day silent retreat. But even just 5 minutes a day on a guided meditation app like Headspace or Waking Up by Sam Harris can help you have more control of your stress.
Of course, an app might not solve everything. If you’re still finding it really tough to manage, then it might be time to look for additional support or ask for professional help.
There’s a really ugly side to anxiety and stress. It can prevent you from doing things you would normally love to do, make you avoid situations because of fear, impact your relationships, and affect your physical well-being.
Wanting support — whether it’s from your close friends, family, or professional help — is as human as pregnancy is.
So please, always ask and don’t let stress and anxiety become destructive.
5. Quit smoking
We’ve been warned of the dangers of smoking and told about the deadly links between smoking and cancer. But have you considered how your daily durry could be negatively impacting your fertility?
Studies have shown that women who smoke are more than 50% less likely to conceive naturally, compared to non-smokers .
That's huge. And the risk for fertility issues increases with the number of cigarettes that are smoked daily.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t just affect the women who smoke by choice.
While to a lesser extent, if you’re regularly exposed to secondhand smoke, this can still lead to decreased fertility.
How smoking affects your egg stash
Cigarette smoke is an addictive chemical cocktail cloud of nicotine, cyanide, and carbon monoxide. All of which can take aim at your eggs — whether you’re inhaling it through your cigarette or from second-hand smoke. And once your eggs deplete, they can’t regenerate or be replaced.
Smoking also damages the genetic material in eggs, causing them to be abnormal.
When eggs are abnormal, they are less likely to become fertilised with sperm or implant in the uterus, both of which you need to achieve a natural pregnancy.
If you do become pregnant, smoking is more likely to take its toll on these pregnancies — with studies showing that women who smoke have higher rates of miscarriage, stillbirths, premature labour, ectopic pregnancies, and children with birth defects .
Studies have also shown that menopause occurs 1-4 years earlier in women who smoke, compared with non-smokers .
Can’t IVF bypass that?
Fertility treatments like IVF (in vitro fertilisation) seem like the magic-winning fertility formula. Unfortunately, that’s not the case, as IVF relies on you having at least 1 healthy egg.
Smoking makes this process even harder, and studies have shown that the success rates for IVF decreased by around 40% compared to non-smokers .
On average, they found that almost twice as many IVF cycles were needed for smokers as for non-smokers to become pregnant. That’s not only an emotional rollercoaster, but an expensive one too.
It’s time to quit the sticks
We know it’s not as easy as it sounds, but surely what the studies show is much more confronting than the idea of quitting.
There’s actually no silver lining here and the studies are clear.
The more you smoke, the lower your chances of falling pregnant or having a pregnancy without complications. And, the more irreversible damage it does to the supply and quality of your eggs.
If you want to have children in the future, here’s your motivation to quit. You’ve got this.
6. Minimise alcohol consumption
Now this topic is bound to stir the pot a little. But first, let’s start with the good news.
Studies suggest that you can have a drink or 2 per day while you’re not trying to conceive without harming your odds of success .
And yes, it comes with good reason and logic.
The thing is, if you do get pregnant but don’t realise it and continue to drink, some studies have shown that the results can be harmful to you and your baby, and the risk increases the more you drink.
It’s especially dangerous when binge drinking comes into the equation. It puts you at a higher risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, and a range of physical, cognitive, and developmental problems in the child.
But, what about just a glass or 2? This is where things get tricky and the science is not very clear.
What we found is that there are very few quality studies that have researched the effects of pregnancy and child outcomes of drinking in moderation.
And of those studies, the findings are mixed:
- Some studies showed little or no difference in the child’s development and behaviour for women who drank up to 5 drinks per day . Yet, other studies have found that the child’s mental and physical development was affected when the women had 3 or more drinks per day .
- Some studies conclude no strong evidence of a relationship between light drinking and miscarriage . Yet, other studies have found that even light drinking (2 or more drinks a week) was associated with a significantly increased risk of miscarriage in the first trimester .
It’s hard to know what to believe, but the mixed results of these studies make it pretty hard to draw conclusions.
Despite there being minimal evidence of harm from low levels of drinking, it’s not possible to conclude that light drinking carries no risks of harm to the baby or mother at all.
So, it’s safest to say that alcohol in any stage of pregnancy (yes, that includes the third trimester) is a no-go.
7. Limit coffee consumption
Can’t get through the day without your caffeine boost? We get it.
Studies show that fertility doesn’t seem to be affected by caffeine intake below 200-300mg a day, but what does this translate to in the Aussie cafe language?
Limiting your caffeine consumption to 1 or 2 small coffees a day (6-8 ounces) is recommended. Or, just 1 regular coffee (12 ounces) and really savour it.
However, if you’re getting your caffeine fix from other sources as well, like energy drinks and super strong English Breakfast tea, you might want to think about lowering the amount of coffee you drink or vice versa.
8. Use protection and get tested
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are common, and many people have them without knowing they do.
Chlamydia — the most common STI in Australia — and gonorrhea are the 2 STIs that, if left untreated, can lead to infertility .
These STIs are sneaky, and 3 in 4 women with chlamydia don’t even know that they have it because they have no symptoms . So what actually happens?
Untreated STIs can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which causes scarring on the fallopian tubes and other female reproductive organs . When this happens, sperm finds it hard to reach an egg.
Using a condom is the easiest way to avoid pelvic inflammatory disease. If you choose not to use condoms, just make sure you get regular STI tests.
You can easily get tested for chlamydia or gonorrhea when you visit your GP. You either pee in a cup or you can get your GP to take a swab test when you’re in for a routine pap smear.
If it shows up positive, don’t worry, treating it is as easy as taking some antibiotics for a week.
Get your lifestyle in check
If you're ready to look at ways to positively impact your fertility health, try the following:
- Check your BMI
- Figure out an achievable exercise routine, based on your BMI results
- Look into a suitable prenatal vitamin
- Download a meditation app or reach out to someone who can help you manage your anxiety and stress
- Keep enjoying your vinos if you’re not trying to conceive just yet
- Get up to date on your STI tests
- Stomp on your packet of smokes
We'll be cheering for you on the sidelines.
And finally, remember that it takes 2 to tango, and there's a lot to think about when it comes to checking up on male fertility too. Read our guide and learn all about sperm quality and quantity.
Photo credit: Getty Images