Most people, at some stage in their life, develop a desire to become a parent.
Today, many couples are leaving having a baby until they are in their thirties, forties or even later. This can be due to a number of reasons, such as not having met the right partner, work commitments, studying, or just not feeling ready. So, how can you improve your chances of getting pregnant, even if you are you trying to conceive later on in life?
There are five easy ways that can improve your chances of getting pregnant — and these apply to both men and women.
Before trying to conceive, I suggest that you go to your doctor and ask to get a few blood tests done as these can help to identify any issues that may make becoming pregnant difficult .
For both men and women, I recommend asking for the following tests:
|HORMONE PANEL – including Testosterone, LH, FSH, SHBG, Osetrogen||HORMONE PANEL- DAY 3 FSH levels and Day 21 Progesterone Levels|
|Thryroid Function||Thyroid function|
|SPERM TEST||Iron studies|
These tests give us a wealth of information about how your body is working. We want you to be the healthiest version of yourself that you can be, so that we can create the healthiest possible baby.
So, what are five ways in which you can improve your fertility?
Age is a very important factor when it comes to fertility. As we age, our fertility declines — this is true for both men and women, with sperm beginning to decline at around 45 years of age for men. As a women ages, her egg quality begins to decline after the age of 30.
Women younger than 35 and men younger than 40 have a better chance of having a child then people who are older. This is true for both natural pregnancies and those conceiving through reproductive assisted fertility — IVF.
To increase our chances of pregnancy, it has been recommend by the Australian government that we consider planning for a baby earlier in life. While a good theory in general, this may not always be possible. If you have the choice, trying for a baby sooner rather than later may improve you chance of a pregnancy.
Women younger than 30 generally have a 20% chance of getting pregnant naturally each month. As we age, this number declines and women over 40 have about a 5% chance of conceiving each month. (1)
It takes longer to conceive for those women whose partners are over 40.(1)
If both partners are over 40, it may take longer to conceive naturally. (1)
IVF (assisted reproduction) may assist couples who have infertility issues — these may be due to low sperm count, previous illnesses, endometriosis, scarring of the uterus or fallopian tubes, blockages in the fallopian tubes, or couples who have had cancer and then frozen eggs or sperm.
IVF can assist couples who are older as well, but it cannot make up for the natural decline in sperm and egg quality — or guarantee a pregnancy outcome.
If a couple has been trying for 12 months or more, without success, it is now recommended that you talk to your doctor about your fertility and what your options may be.
If a woman is 35 and over, after six months of trying to conceive, it is recommended that you consult your doctor about your options. Please also have your partner checked as well, as male infertility is increasing.
This is one of the main reasons that I ask all couples when they first come to see me to get the blood tests performed — as well as the SPERM test — as then we have a lot of information to begin with and can assess what your options may be.
2. TIMING OF SEX
When do we need to have sex to enable a pregnancy?
We need to have sex on days when a woman is fertile, thus increasing the chances of a pregnancy. To do this we also need to carry out BBT (Basal Body Temperature) charting as this gives us the timing of ovulation, when best to have sex and tells us how long a woman’s cycle is, and if they are ovulating.
The best time to have sex is five days before ovulation and on the day of ovulation.
This is known as “the fertile window”. During this phase, a woman is likely to have a mucus discharge or feel wet — both are clear indications that she is in her fertile window. After sex, sperm can survive for up to five days (1). Eggs can only be fertilized within 24 hours of ovulation. Ovulation is where an egg follicle is released from the ovary and into the fallopian tube. Ideally, we want the sperm to be travelling up the fallopian tube to meet the egg and be ready and waiting for the egg for fertilization to occur.
A woman’s most fertile period is three days prior to and including the day of ovulation.
So how do you work out the most fertile time?
In general, a woman’s cycle begins on the first day of her period, (or the first full day of bleeding) and finishes the day before her next period begins. In general, from a Chinese Medicine point of view, a period should be 28 days (plus or minus 7 days). Not every woman’s cycle is 28 days every cycle. Thus, BBT charting and period tracking can assist with knowing our fertile days.
Ovulation, in general, occurs approximately 14 days before the beginning of her next period, although this is a huge generalization.
Therefore, the fertile window days depends on the length of the woman’s cycle. If her period is 28 days, generally ovulation is around day 14, so her most fertile days will be days 11-14. If a woman has a 35-day cycle, her most fertile days will be days 18-21. If you have a shorter cycle — say 25 days, then the most fertile days will be days 8-11.
We suggest using a BBT chart and Fertility friend, which is a free app where you can record your temperature and have your chart cycled for you. Your practitioner can then read the chart and point out what is going on in the cycle and where you have ovulated. If this is too hard, having sex every second day during the fertile window is your best chance of getting pregnant.
To learn more about your menstrual cycle please click the link below:
The apps to use on the phone for BBT charting are:
— Fertility Friend
— Period tracker
These are both free, but have paid versions as well. The free app is still highly effective and all you require.
MEN – THE SPERM TEST.
A sperm test which is less than three months oldis required to help us assist you with your fertility. Why do we need a sperm test to be done?
A sperm test provides us with all the information that we need to assess the health of not just the sperm, but also a man’s health.
Assessment of a sperm test includes:
- Volume of semen
- Motility of Sperm
- Forward motility of sperm
- Morphology of sperm.
3. BEING AS HEALTHY AS POSSIBLE
For both men and women, being a healthy weight increases your chances of getting pregnant. Being underweight or overweight can affect how hormones are being produced and functioning. Therefore, we recommend being a healthy weight. So, you may have to gain some weight, or lose some weight.
Generally, we say a loss of about 5kg can improve your changes of getting pregnant significantly. Also, a weight gain of 3-5kg for some women will increase their chances of conception. For women who are a bit underweight we also recommend cutting down on the amount of high intensity physical exercise that you may be doing, and switching to more gentle exercise, such as Pilates, yoga, walking or swimming.
Obesity and being underweight can affect a woman’s menstrual cycle and the man’s sperm, so it is better to be a healthy weight and have a healthy lifestyle. Exercise is important as well. We are not suggesting that you need to hit the gym, just 30 minutes a day is beneficial to our health and our weight. This can be walking the dog, doing a yoga class, swimming, or just changing your daily activities, such as walking up the stairs instead of taking the lift. It is important for our bodies to move as this allows for blood flow and oxygen to get to our brain and muscles. It improves our mood as well. If you are feeling fatigued then focus on gentle movement and break it up — 3×10 minutes a day of walking is still 30 minutes a day of exercise. If you are beginning an exercise program, please consult your healthcare practitioner prior to commencement.
We advise that all couples trying to conceive to eat a healthy diet. This means eating smart. Reduce the amount of processed foods you consume and eat fresh meat, fruit and vegetables. Eat according to the seasons. Cook your meals, plan your meals. Eat REAL food.
We also recommend drinking 2-3 litres of filtered water a day. This assists with flushing out toxins from our bodies.
You will need to avoid the following:
- Caffeine — we do suggest one good coffee a week.
- Recreational drugs
- Chemicals found in the home. Go through your cupboards and remove all toxic chemicals.
- For men — do not put your mobile phone in your pocket — it can affect sperm.
A good clean diet is required, you can have treats, but we want to make sure that you are eating real food which nourishes your body.
For women, a prenatal vitamin supplement is required and one that contains folinic acid –not folate.
Your practitioner will recommend a good quality prenatal vitamin to take.
If you have a look at the above image, stress creates havoc in our bodies. It interferes with hormone production, sleep, digestion, energy, concentration, libido and causes muscle tension in the body.
Stress has a negative effect on the body. It keeps us in the flight or fright response, and we use adrenaline to fuel us with energy. While we are in this state our body sends our reproductive organs the signal that it is unsafe to reproduce and basically shuts down our reproductive organs.
Therefore, it is critical that we reduce our stress levels.
Reducing stress is imperative to improving your chances of conception. This may mean that you need to make lifestyle changes.
You may need to look at your job and the stress it causes. Do you like your job, is it affecting you emotionally? Does your job or part of your lifestyle severely impact your stress levels? Does it keep you awake at night? Are you worrying excessively?
Is stress affecting your sleep? By reducing our levels of stress, the body reduces the amount of cortisol that it produces. As a result, the body gets the green light and our reproductive system is “switched” back on.
Some simple techniques to reduce stress.
Remove anything that is not necessary in your life that causes you stress.
Meditate. This doesn’t mean you need to attend a meditation class, you can download many free apps onto your phone. Have a look at Google playstore where you can find many mediation apps. I like 1 minute mediations, it is only a minute long, but it is all about resetting the body.
Breathe. Many of us are so rushed and stressed these days that we do not focus on our breath or notice that we are only breathing into our lungs. Take some time to really focus on your breathing.
A great breathing technique is to close your eyes, place your hands on your belly button. Take a deep breath and breathe in through your nose for a count of six. Then breathe out for a count of four through your mouth. Proceed to do this for at least a count of six breaths. How do you feel? Do you notice that you are calmer, your shoulders have relaxed, your stomach may be making gurgling noises and that you just feel more contained and present in your body?
If that is a little bit hard, go to YouTube and download some guided mediations.
Other ways to reduce stress are going for a walk, doing some gardening or a hobby that makes you happy — dancing, singing, cooking, painting.
Sit down and just relax for five minutes with a cup of herbal tea — chamomile is great for calming down the body. Switch off your phone or place it on silent and sit in the sun. Read a book — not on your phone, your IPad or your kindle — but an actual book. Go to the beach, sit in the sand and let your toes run through the sand, stand in the water and focus on your breathing.
Catch up with a friend and have a good chat, laugh. Find something that makes your heart sing and gives you joy. By doing this, we are also nourishing ourselves and our soul.
To assist with a deeper quality of sleep and aid muscle tension, soak your feet in Epsom Salts for 20-30 minutes prior to bedtime. Add in ½-3/4 of a cup of Epsom salts – you can buy these at Coles or Woolworths or a chemist. If you feel like it, you can also add in some essential oils such as lavender, rose, jasmine or bergamot.
I hope that you have found the information in this article useful.
Written by Dr Julia Bartrop (Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture).
Julia has been practicing Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine for six years. She graduated from RMIT in 2013 with 1st class honours.
Julia has a passion for treating women’s health issues — anxiety, stress, depression, digestive issues, fatigue, gynaecological issues, fertility (natural and IVF assisted), pregnancy and post natal care.