Are you ready to get pregnant and wish to boost your fertility and thus conceive as soon as possible? If so, you have come to the right place! In this article, we will discuss evidence-based, natural methods for increasing your chances of getting pregnant in both men and women and review the facts, the dos, and don’ts of boosting fertility.
Know the Facts and Your Body
Learn About Your Cycle and the Fertile Window
First things first. Now that you have decided to get pregnant and have a baby, you must know what to expect and how conception works in the first place.
To get pregnant, a woman’s egg must meet the sperm. For that to occur, you must have sexual intercourse during your fertile window. The key is to have sperm cells in the fallopian tubes when the egg is released, which may result in the fertilization of the egg. Sperm can survive in the female reproductive tract for up to four or five days.
The ‘fertile window’ is the day an egg is released from the ovary (this process is called ovulation) and five days beforehand. If you are relatively healthy, you should have a fertile window for a few days each month. When exactly you have your fertile window depends on the length of the menstrual cycle, which varies among women.
Here’s how your cycle works: The first day of your menstrual period is considered day 1 of the cycle. Women with a 28-day cycle tend to ovulate on day 14 of the cycle. However, a regular cycle can last anywhere from 26 to 32 days, which means that your fertile window and ovulation may occur anywhere between days 8 and 19 after your period. In case you have irregular periods (they come less than 26 days or more than 32 days apart), you won’t be able to calculate your fertile window precisely.
Nevertheless, there are other ways to determine your ovulation:
- Observe your daily vaginal discharge. According to Staci Pollack, MD, cervical mucus increases and becomes very thin, stretchy, and clear before ovulation.
- Track your basal body temperature (resting body temperature). Experiencing a rise of 0.6 degrees or more for over 10 days is a sign that you’ve ovulated. But your most fertile time is 2-3 days before that rise in body temperature.
- Use an online ovulation calculator. There are multiple ovulation calculators available online, which calculate your predicted fertile window and ovulation based on the first day of your last period and the length of your average cycle.
- Buy an ovulation predictor kit from your local drugstore. It is designed to test the urine for hormone levels that spike a few days before ovulation.
Your Chances of Conceiving
Chances are that when you were a teenager your parents and health teachers made it sound like you can get pregnant any time you have sex. But in reality, things are a bit more complicated. It’s important to know the facts and thus manage your expectations.
Even if you ovulate and are relatively healthy, there is only a 25 to 30 percent chance of conceiving in any given cycle. As such, getting pregnant may take time. According to Amelia McLennan, MD, about 50 percent of couples will get pregnant within 6 months of trying, and approximately 70 to 85 percent will get pregnant within 1 year. As you can see, getting pregnant may take time and the last thing you want to do is to stress about it, as stress has been shown to have a negative impact on fertility.
According to studies, 10 to 15 percent of couples may experience fertility issues. After the age of 35, fertility slowly starts to decrease both in women and in men. After a woman hits menopause, she isn’t able to conceive anymore. Fertility can also be affected by certain health conditions, such as PCOS, endometriosis, Chlamydia, and some other chronic illnesses.
People who are under 35 years old should see a doctor after a year of trying to conceive, while people over 35 should only wait for 6 months before seeing a doctor.
Modern medicine offers a variety of medical therapies for both men and women to treat up to 90% of fertility cases. The treatments include medication, surgery, and assisted reproductive technology (ART), including in vitro fertilization.
Scientifically Proven Ways to Boost Fertility
Diet has been shown to have a major impact on fertility. Evidence suggests that some foods boost fertility and that others should be avoided.
Following an overall healthy, balanced, and nutritious diet has a major impact on reproductive health. In fact, evidence shows that what you eat (and how you live) today may influence sperm and egg quality 90 days from now.
Add Antioxidant-Rich Foods
Studies have shown that folate, zinc, and other antioxidants may help boost fertility in both men and women. Antioxidants are known to deactivate free radicals, which can, according to a study, damage both egg and sperm cells.
A 2012 study has shown that adding 75g of antioxidant-rich walnuts a day to a young man’s diet results in improved sperm quality.
Another study on couples undergoing in-vitro fertilization has shown that taking an antioxidant supplement may increase the chance of conception by 23%.
Most plant-based foods are high in antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, folate, beta-carotene, and lutein. Antioxidant-packed foods include:
- Whole grains
Some types of fiber have been shown to bind to excess estrogen and thus remove it from the body as a waste product.
A study has shown that consuming 10 grams more cereal fiber a day was linked with a 44% reduced risk of ovulatory infertility among women older than 32 years.
However, another study of 250 women aged 18 to 44 suggests that eating 20-35 grams of fiber per day, which is the recommended dose, was associated with an almost 10 times higher risk of abnormal ovulation cycles. As such, the evidence on fiber is mixed and inconclusive.
Fiber-rich foods include:
- Whole Grains
Add Plant-Based Protein
Choosing plant-based protein (such as beans, nuts, and seeds) instead of animal-based protein (like meat, eggs, and fish) is another proven way to boost fertility, especially in women.
According to a study, a higher meat-based protein intake can be linked to a 32% higher chance of developing ovulatory infertility. On the other hand, evidence suggests that consuming more vegetable protein may protect against infertility. In fact, studies show that replacing 5% calories from animal protein with vegetable protein may reduce the risk of ovulatory infertility by more than 50%. As such, to boost your fertility, consider replacing some of the meat protein with plant-based protein, which can be found in vegetables, beans, lentils, and nuts.
Opt for High-Fat Dairy
According to a study, eating lots of low-dairy foods may increase the risk of infertility. Consuming high-fat dairy, on the other hand, may reduce the risk of infertility.
In a study, experts decided to take a look at women who consumed high-fat dairy more than once a day or less than once a week. They found that the women who ate high-fat dairy more than once a day were 27% less likely to be infertile. Therefore, replacing a serving of low-fat dairy a day with a serving of high-fat dairy may help improve fertility.
Nevertheless, any kind of dairy may worsen the symptoms of some of the illnesses that cause infertility, therefore, in some cases, it may be better to eat dairy in moderation.
Add Iron and Zinc-Rich Foods
Another way to reduce your risk of ovulatory infertility is by taking iron supplements or non-heme iron-rich foods.
Taking iron supplements, as evidence suggests, may reduce your risk of ovulatory infertility by 40%. Non-heme iron, which comes from plant-based foods also seems to be associated with a decreased risk of infertility. Heme iron, which comes from animal sources, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have any effect on fertility whatsoever.
As non-heme iron is more difficult to absorb, make sure to take it with foods or drinks rich in vitamin C, which may increase absorption. Sources of non-heme iron include beans, lentils, spinach, potatoes with skin, dark chocolate, nuts, seeds, and fortified cereals.
Note: If your iron levels are high, to begin with, taking iron supplements may not boost fertility or be beneficial in any way.
Zinc is a mineral that helps support immunity and it has also been shown to help the production of healthy eggs and sperm. Zinc can be found in fish, seafood, whole grains, asparagus, spinach, and watercress.
Have a Large Breakfast
Having a substantial breakfast each morning may help increase fertility in women.
A 2013 study has found that eating a bigger breakfast may help improve the hormonal effects of PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome), which is known to cause infertility. The study found that women with a normal BMI (body mass index) and PCOS who eat most of their daily calories at breakfast experience reduced insulin levels by 8% and testosterone levels by 50%. High levels of either testosterone or insulin may contribute to infertility. The study has also shown that women who eat larger breakfasts ovulate 30% more than the ones that have smaller breakfasts and larger dinners.
Note: Increasing the size of your breakfast without decreasing the size of your dinner may result in weight gain, which may have a negative impact on fertility.
Eat Less (Refined) Carbs
Cutting down on carbs, especially refined carbs, is recommended for women with PCOS.
A prospective study found that increasing carb intake also increases the risk of infertility. The study has also shown that women who followed a lower-carb diet had a 78% lower risk of ovulatory infertility than the ones that ate more carbs.
Another study with obese women with PCOS found that following a low-carb diet reduced insulin and testosterone levels, both of which may contribute to infertility.
As mentioned before, refined carbs seem to be particularly problematic. Refined carbs found in sugary foods and drinks and processed grains, such as white bread, pasta, and rice, have a high glycemic index (GI) and as they are absorbed quickly, they cause spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels. In addition, foods with a high GI are linked to an increased link of ovulatory infertility.
Drink Less Alcohol
Alcohol consumption seems to have a negative impact on fertility.
According to a large observational study, women who drink more than 8 alcoholic beverages a week may take a longer time to get pregnant. Another study has shown that heavy alcohol consumption is also linked to more infertility examinations.
Nevertheless, when it comes to moderate alcohol consumption, the evidence is mixed and inconclusive. Some studies found no association between alcohol consumption and fertility, while other studies concluded that even moderate alcohol consumption (5 or fewer alcoholic beverages a week) may result in reduced fertility.
As such, avoiding alcohol as much as possible may improve your chances of getting pregnant.
Reduce Your Caffeine Intake
Excessive amounts of caffeine have been shown to have a negative impact on female fertility.
According to a study, women who consume over 500 mg of caffeine may take up to 9.5 months longer to conceive.
Another study has shown that women who consume lots of caffeine before pregnancy may also be more at risk of having a miscarriage.
Nevertheless, certain studies were unable to confirm any link between caffeine intake and fertility.
Avoid Trans Fats
Trans fats, which can be found in hydrogenated vegetable oils, margarine, fried foods, processed products, and baked goods, have been shown to have a negative impact on insulin sensitivity and are linked to an increased (by up to 31%) risk of ovulatory infertility.
A 2007 study has shown that following a diet high in trans fats and low in unsaturated fats may be linked to infertility. Switching carbs for trans fats has been found to increase this risk by a whopping 73%.
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Chia seeds
- Fatty fish
- Dark chocolate
Avoid Unfermented Soy Products
According to some studies, phytoestrogens, which can be found in soy, can cause hormonal changes and thus cause infertility.
Certain animal studies have shown that consuming unfermented soy products may cause lower sperm quality in male rats and reduced fertility in female rats. However, the effects of soy on humans have not been properly studied yet.
Fermented soy, on the other hand, is generally considered safe to eat.
Relax and Destress
When you are stressed, your body experiences certain hormonal changes, which have been shown to decrease your chances of getting pregnant.
Several studies have also found that working long hours and experiencing stress at work may increase the time it takes for you to get pregnant.
Moreover, approximately 30% of women who attend fertility clinics seem to be affected by stress, anxiety, and depression. Luckily, receiving support and counseling may decrease your stress and anxiety levels and boost your chances of getting pregnant.
Stress has been shown to decrease fertility in women and reduce sperm quality in men.
To relax and destress, you can also try the following techniques:
- Breathing exercises
- Yoga or tai chi
- Resting and sleeping well
Regular physical activity is a staple of a healthy lifestyle and it also seems to boost fertility.
A study has shown that a sedentary lifestyle may result in a higher risk of infertility. The study concluded that each hour of exercise per week reduces the risk of infertility by 5%.
Obese women who struggle with fertility seem to benefit greatly from both moderate and intense physical activity, as well as weight loss.
When it comes to exercise, moderation is key. According to research, excessive high-intensity exercise may actually result in energy imbalance and decreased fertility in some women. Moreover, a large observational study found that women who exercise intensely every day are 3.2 times more likely to experience fertility issues, compared to inactive women. As such, make sure to aim for moderate exercise.
For example, brisk walking for at least 2.5 hours a week or 30 minutes, 5 days a week is a great moderate exercise option.
Aim for a Healthy Weight
When it comes to fertility, the weight seems to be one of the most important factors. Evidence shows that being either overweight or underweight may decrease your chances of becoming pregnant.
According to a large observational study, in the US, 12% of ovulatory infertility is caused by being underweight and 25% is caused by being overweight. It seems that the amount of fat in the body has an impact on menstrual function and women who are either over- or underweight seem to have longer menstrual cycles, which may make it more difficult to conceive. Therefore, you should try to achieve a healthy weight and thus increase your odds of becoming pregnant.
A systematic review of 11 studies has shown that smoking may cause menopause to occur at an earlier age. In addition, it affects estrogen levels and ovulation. As such, saying ‘no’ to tobacco may lead to increased fertility in women.
Another study has found that smoking tobacco might also have a negative impact on semen quality and reduce reproductive health and fertility in men. Therefore, both women and men should quit smoking in order to boost their fertility.
Taking multivitamins may play a significant role in fertility, especially if you are not getting all of the necessary nutrients from your diet. According to a study, approximately 20% of ovulatory infertility could potentially be avoided if women consumed 3 or more multivitamins a week. In addition, women who take multivitamins regularly may have a 41% lower risk of infertility.
Women who are trying to conceive would particularly benefit from a multivitamin containing folate, which should be taken daily for about three months before getting pregnant. Doing so may increase fertility considerably. Folic acid can also be found in leafy greens, broccoli, fortified breakfast cereals, and citrus fruits.
Maca is the root of a Peruvian plant, which may help balance hormones and thus boost fertility. However, so far, only animal studies were able to confirm it. The results from human studies are mixed. Some studies report increased sperm quality, while others report no effect.
Bee pollen is known to boost immunity and nutrition. A study has also shown that bee pollen may also boost male fertility and improve sperm quality.
A 2003 study of women with endometriosis has shown that taking bee propolis twice a day resulted in a 40% greater chance of becoming pregnant after 9 months.
Royal jelly (another bee product) is rich in many healthy nutrients, including amino acids, lipids, sugars, vitamins, fatty acids, iron, and calcium. Some animal studies have also shown that it may also boost fertility in rats.
As we have mentioned before, in order to get pregnant, you must have sex during the ‘fertile window’. According to Amelia McLennan, MD, it’s best to have sex every other day from a few days prior to ovulation until a few days after. Having sex more often can’t hurt either, even though some studies suggest that it may lower a man’s sperm count.
Now that we’ve established when and how often you should have sex, let’s take a closer look at how to have sex. When it comes to ‘how’ there are lots of myths. The simple truth is that it doesn’t really matter what position you choose. Nonetheless, certain gravity-defying positions, such as sitting or standing during intercourse, might discourage sperm from traveling upstream.
After the intercourse, it is advised to lie in bed for 10 to 15 minutes, as in this time the sperm will surely get in the cervix. However, you do not need to raise your legs while lying down – this is just a common misconception with no evidence to prove it.
In addition, if you are using a lubricant, you should make sure that the product doesn’t affect sperm motility and viability. Avoid Astroglide, K-Y jelly, saliva, and olive oil and opt for Pre-Seed, mineral oil, or canola oil instead, as these products won’t interfere with the sperm.
Other Dos and Don’ts That May Impact Fertility
- Before trying to get pregnant, it is advisable to get a preconception checkup. Your doctor will be able to check your vitamin levels and advise you on vitamin supplements containing folic acid, which may boost fertility and help protect against certain birth defects. Before you start trying, you should also get any underlying health issues under control.
- Watch your testicle temperature. According to Michael Eisenberg, MD, the director of the Male Reproductive Medicine and Surgery program at Stanford, the testicles are always a few degrees cooler than the rest of the body, simply because that’s a better temperature for sperm production. As such, anything that might warm them up, such as hot tubs and saunas, can potentially be harmful. Exposure to wet heat has been shown to lower the sperm count and it may take your body 2 to 3 months to make new sperm. Laptops are another potentially harmful heat source. As even the smallest change in temperature may affect sperm production, it’s best to keep the laptop on a table or anywhere away from the testicles.
- Some experts claim that wearing tight-fitting clothing, especially underwear, can negatively affect sperm count.
- Certain studies show that keeping a cell phone close to the testicles may reduce sperm quality.
- Mind your medications. Make sure the meds you may be taking do not affect your fertility and/or don’t cause harm to your future baby. Medications that contain testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone may all cause fertility issues. Birth control pills prevent pregnancy while you are taking them, however, once you stop taking them (regardless of how many years you have been using the pills), your body should be ready to conceive immediately. Birth control pills do not decrease your fertility in the least after you stop taking them.
- Stay hydrated. Drinking sufficient amounts of water helps the body flush out the waste and increases fertile quality cervical fluid.
- Talk to your doctor about taking any kind of crash diet, as it may affect your ovulation and fertility.
Having sex rarely results in pregnancy on the first try. In fact, it may take many months to get pregnant. Luckily, there are certain natural remedies and lifestyle changes that may speed the process along. Following a healthy diet, exercising, relaxing, taking supplements, and having sex regularly are key.
Most importantly, stay patient and relaxed. Worrying and stressing out about getting pregnant is the last thing you want to do. Put on some music, focus on the love you share with your partner, and keep the baby-making fun!