When it comes to trying for a baby, lifestyle factors are more important than many of us think, says Lauren Taylor.
It can sometimes seem fertility is mostly to do with age – and perhaps a good dose of luck.
But Dr Geetha Venkat, director of Harley Street Fertility Clinic, says many people trying for children don’t realise how important lifestyle factors are when it comes to fostering healthy sperm and eggs.
Maintain a healthy weight
“If someone is overweight, the chance of success is lower,” advises Dr Venkat. “For IVF, the chance is lower in women who are obese, because of poor quality embryos, compared to women who are a normal weight. There’s also a higher risk of miscarriage in overweight women.”
As well as eating lots of fruit and vegetables, she recommends keeping to a high-protein, high-fibre diet, drinking plenty of water, avoiding processed food and exercising. “Eat natural or organic foods, so you don’t have the chemicals – because all these chemicals can affect the quality of the eggs in women and sperm in men.
“Strenuous exercise, particularly in short bursts, makes you sweat and when we sweat, we release toxins from the body,” she says.
But it shouldn’t just be women making these changes, she adds: “Maybe because the woman is going to carry the baby, she may attach more importance to lifestyle changes, but it’s helpful for both sexes to follow a healthy routine.”
Cut down on alcohol and caffeine
Quitting smoking is an obvious change to make in the lead up to conceiving – Dr Venkat says it’s imperative – but she also suggests cutting down on, or cutting out, alcohol. “If someone drinks regularly, it adds toxins into the system. It affects the sperm and it’s not good for the eggs either,” she says.
You’re also advised to go easy on the caffeine. “If you can give it up, that’s helpful, but take no more than three small cups a day. The maximum dose you’re allowed is 300mg of caffeine if you want to have a good chance of getting pregnant.”
Reduce your stress levels
Trying for a baby and not falling pregnant can be stressful, but it’s important to have mechanisms to cope with it, she says.
“Acupuncture helps IVF success rates. If it has any direct effect, I don’t know, but it does reduce stress and people do better with treatment because of that.”
Plan three months ahead
It takes longer than we might think to prepare our bodies for conception.
“You can’t just stop alcohol or caffeine a day before you want to try – the egg formation and sperm production takes two to three months,” Dr Venkat says. “Lead a healthy lifestyle before you start trying for a baby. By preparing the body, the success rate is much better.”
She also says to come off the pill at least three months beforehand. “This gives time for the ovaries to recover from the effect of the pill and get into the normal monthly rhythm of ovulation and period.”
Take the right supplements
As well as the recommended 400mcg of folic acid for women (for the baby’s healthy development, rather than any help to become pregnant), Dr Venkat suggests taking vitamins that contain B9 or B12, but some find omega 3 and coenzyme Q10 are also helpful: “They help the cells to have more energy and perform better.”
For men, she says zinc and selenium are good for sperm function.
Once a day is enough
Apparently, there is such a thing as too much sex if you’re trying to get pregnant. “We say three to four times a week and every day for the three days around ovulation,” she says.
Advising there is no need to overdo it, she adds: “Some of my patients ask if they should do it five or six times! But you don’t have to overdo it, there’s an optimum level of once a day on those three days – after that, you’re only going to increase your chances by so much.”
- Press Association