When having a baby is your goal, it can be distressing to find that the journey to getting pregnant takes longer than planned. Infertility is diagnosed when a couple has been trying to conceive for over a year (after six months if a woman is over 35 years of age). 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 improve fertility naturally.
Step 1: Take a deep breath (or two)
The impact of stress and anxiety on the ability to conceive has been long 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 smaller studies, published in 2014 and 2018, found connections between stress biomarkers (including measuring levels of salivary alpha-amylase) and time to pregnancy (TTP), more extensive studies are needed to build guidance in this area. Regardless, high-stress levels harm the body in many ways, from raising blood pressure and causing inflammation, to problems sleeping, and poor eating patterns. 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 the use of meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, and guided imagery. Massage, yoga, prayer, and journaling are other ways to quiet the mind and lower 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 been shown to be successful in improving 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.
Through the insertion of tiny needles into specific points in the body, acupuncture works to improve the balance of chi in the body. In doing so, it helps the body release endorphins, promotes healing through increased blood flow, helps organs work better, and reduces inflammation. 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
Obesity in men and women is a risk factor for infertility, both by impeding natural conception and lowering the body’s response to fertility treatment. Excess weight alters hormone levels that can make it harder to become pregnant. These hormone changes can lead to insulin resistance , which is a risk factor for developing gestational and/or type 2 diabetes. Women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) are at greater risk of obesity, insulin resistance, and infertility.
Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight through a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and unsaturated fats can boost fertility. Diets high in added sugars and saturated fats have been shown to have a negative impact on fertility. The Fertility Diet, a 2007 book out of the Harvard School of Public Health/Harvard School of Medicine, looked at data from over 18,000 women in the Nurses’ Health Study and found evidence for a diet connection for promoting fertility. In addition to recommending the food groups listed above, the diet emphasizes increasing intake of iron and folic acid and reducing the consumption of caffeine and alcohol.
Step 4: Be active whenever you can
Besides its impact on weight management, regular physical activity promotes heart and brain health, as well as stress reduction. Moderate physical activity can support fertility efforts naturally, and a recent small study showed that lack of physical activity (being sedentary) combined with excess fat mass reduced fertility in both men and women.
There has been some debate, however, 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)) out of the University of California, San Francisco, that is 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 boost fertility. It is important to discuss your exercise habits and plans with your health care provider. If you are trying to lose weight, your health care provider may want you to engage in more than 150 minutes a week of physical activity. Athletes, runners, and those who participate in more vigorous activities should work with their health care provider, as well, to monitor their health status and share any concerns for getting pregnant.
Improving fertility through lifestyle change is a growing area of research. While there are some areas that need more data to build consistent recommendations, there is no doubt that choosing behaviors that include eating nutritious foods, taking a multivitamin, being active, and keeping your mind and body strong through stress reduction, can only help the body prepare for conception.For more information, follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @Theralogix! Don’t miss an article! Sign up for our newsletter and we’ll let you know when our next article comes out.