When having a baby is your goal, it can be distressing to find that the journey to getting pregnant takes longer than planned. If you have been trying to conceive for over a year (or six months if you’re over 35 years of age), you should visit your healthcare provider for guidance. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), 9% of men and 11% of women have fertility issues that interfere with conceiving.
Whether just planning for a baby or already trying to conceive, there are some steps you (and your partner) can take to help support your fertility naturally.
Step 1: Take a deep breath (or two)
The impact of stress and anxiety on the ability to conceive has long been debated. The simple act of trying to get pregnant can raise stress levels, but what is the role of pre-existing stress in a couple’s efforts to have a baby? While some research found connections between stress biomarkers and time to pregnancy, more extensive studies are needed to build guidance in this area. Regardless, high stress levels can affect the body in many ways, and there is no doubt that relieving stress is a positive health decision.
Finding ways to manage stress is a significant first step towards a healthier you. The National Infertility Association offers strategies for promoting relaxation, including meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, and guided imagery. Massage, yoga, prayer, and journaling are other ways to quiet the mind and support a healthy blood pressure.
Step 2: Get blood flowing throughout the body
The use of acupuncture to improve circulation and energy flow to the reproductive organs has shown to be successful in supporting fertility in men and women. As part of Traditional Chinese Medicine, it has been used for many years to address fertility and other health issues.
By inserting tiny needles into specific points in the body, acupuncture works to improve the balance of chi in the body. For women hoping to conceive, it may help support healthy ovarian and follicular function. Acupuncture can be used on its own or in addition to medication or other reproductive-assisted technology interventions. The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine offers a find a provider directory; however, it is important to check with your insurance company about coverage.
Step 3: Eat for a healthy weight
Weight isn’t the only predictor of fertility, but research suggests that maintaining a healthy weight can help support healthy ovarian function, regular menstrual cycles, and overall reproductive health.
A healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and unsaturated fats can help you reach your fertility goals. Keep in mind that diets high in added sugars and saturated fats have been shown to have a negative impact on fertility. Lifestyle changes don’t happen overnight – it’s important to work on developing sustainable habits. Try to choose a new fruit or vegetable each time you go to the grocery store, and gradually work on adding more plant-based foods to your diet.
Step 4: Be active whenever you can
Besides its impact on weight management, regular physical activity promotes heart and brain health, and stress reduction. Moderate physical activity can support fertility efforts naturally. A recent small study showed that lack of physical activity, combined with excess fat mass, reduced fertility in both men and women.
However, there has been some debate about whether too much vigorous exercise can have a negative impact on fertility. Currently, there is not enough high-quality evidence to support this; however, there is a clinical trial underway (Physical Activity and Fertility Care Study (PACE)) from the University of California, San Francisco, looking at this very topic.
What does this mean for you?
Keeping your body moving for at least 150 minutes a week in activities such as brisk walking, biking, swimming, aerobics, etc., and standing more than you sit throughout the day can help you support your fertility. It is important to discuss your exercise habits and plans with your healthcare provider. If you are trying to lose weight, your healthcare provider may have different recommendations. Athletes, runners, and those who participate in more vigorous activities should also keep their healthcare provider in the loop with their training regimen while trying to conceive.
Fertility and its connection to lifestyle behaviors is a growing field of research. While some areas need more data to build consistent recommendations, there is no doubt that eating nutritious foods, taking a high-quality multivitamin, being active, and keeping your mind and body strong through stress reduction, can only help the body prepare for conception.