Female Health When Trying For A Baby
A healthy lifestyle has been proven to increase the chances of becoming pregnant naturally, and is also important for the health of your baby. Healthy lifestyle choices can also optimise your chances of becoming pregnant while receiving fertility treatment. Both you and your partner can make lifestyle changes to maximise your chances of becoming pregnant, as well as promoting the health of your baby.
What lifestyle changes can I make?
Changes to your weight, what you eat, how much you exercise, smoking habits and alcohol intake can all be made to increase your chances of becoming pregnant. These factors are known to impact on the fertility of both men and women.
How does weight influence my fertility?
If you are trying to conceive, it is important to be a sensible weight. The best available evidence indicates that being underweight or overweight can impact the fertility of both men and women. In women, excess weight can affect the healthy development of eggs by the ovary and can also affect the implantation of a fertilised egg in the womb. A healthy weight is also needed for the normal production of hormones (oestrogen and testosterone) in both males and females. You can also increase your chances of becoming pregnant naturally, and improve the chances of a pregnancy while receiving fertility treatment, by maintaining a healthy weight.
If you are trying to conceive, we recommend that you calculate your Body Mass Index (BMI). This can be calculated by dividing your weight in kilograms (kg) by your height in metres squared (your height in metres multiplied by itself). While trying to conceive, both you and your partner should have a Body Mass Index (BMI) of between 20 and 24.9. A BMI of above 25 is considered overweight and above 29 is considered obese.
If you have a BMI of more than 29, weight loss of 5% to 10% can significantly increase your success of pregnancy. If you are underweight (BMI of less than 18.5), you are likely to experience irregular periods. Gaining weight can kick-start your ovaries to work properly again and increase your chances of pregnancy. To achieve a healthy weight, it is important to eat a balanced diet and exercise regularly.
What should I eat when trying for a baby?
A healthy, balanced diet is essential when trying to become pregnant. If you are overweight, a healthy diet is essential to achieve weight loss and increase your chances of pregnancy. A healthy diet also reduces your risk of complications during pregnancy, such as the development of diabetes and high blood pressure. What you eat before and during pregnancy can also influence the long-term health of your baby. A poor diet can result in low-birth weight and development of heart disease and non-insulin dependent diabetes in adult life. A balanced diet in men is needed to keep sperm production at an ideal level, and so increase chances of pregnancy. Here are some tips for healthy eating:
- Eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
- Use low-fat options (e.g. low-fat milk, low-fat butter).
- Reduce intake of fizzy drinks, fast foods and confectionary (cakes, biscuits and sweets).
- Choose whole-grain alternatives to carbohydrates such as bread, rice and pasta.
You are also advised to monitor your caffeine intake (coffee, fizzy drinks). Research has shown links between high caffeine levels and an increase in the time it takes to become pregnant, as well as links to increased risk of miscarriage. It is recommended for both you and your partner to limit your caffeine intake to a maximum of two cups of coffee per day.
It is also advised for women to supplement diet with vitamins and minerals. We recommend women to take folic acid (400ug) while trying to become pregnant, and also during the first three months of pregnancy. This will reduce the risks of birth defects in your developing baby. Be careful with your intake of Vitamin A as high intake of this vitamin can cause birth defects. Avoid Vitamin A supplements and limit your intake of liver and liver products, such as liver pate and cod liver oil supplements.
For women with Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) a healthy diet is especially important.
How much should I exercise when trying for a baby?
Regular exercise is needed for a healthy body and mind when trying to conceive. This is particularly important if you have an increased BMI and are trying to achieve a healthy weight. Adults are recommended to take part in 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise at least 5 times per week.
Moderate intensity exercise includes activities such as brisk walking, cycling, tennis and gardening.
Trying for a baby can be a stressful time in your life, regular exercise can help relieve some of this stress by promoting your body to release endorphins (‘happy hormones’).
Be aware of the dangers of over-exercising. Too much exercise can lead to excessive weight loss and irregular periods.
Can I smoke when trying for a baby?
Smoking affects the fertility of both men and women. If you or your partner are cigarette smokers, you are strongly advised to quit smoking. Research indicates that the rate of infertility is higher, and the time it takes to become pregnant is longer, in smokers than in non-smokers. Smokers are 54% more likely to take 12 months or longer and smoking is directly responsible for 13% of all infertility.
In men, cigarette smoke is thought to affect the quality of sperm. In women, smoking has been linked to damage to the ovaries, changes in hormone levels needed for pregnancy, and earlier onset of the menopause. If you do become pregnant, smoking is linked with increased risk of miscarriage and low birth weight of the baby.
Can I drink alcohol when trying for a baby?
You may also want to reconsider your alcohol intake while trying to become pregnant. It is still unclear exactly how alcohol influences fertility, but alcohol has been linked with reduced ovulation and impaired development of a fertilised egg in women. In men, heavy alcohol intake has been linked with decreased testosterone production and quality of sperm