Ten tips for modern conception that you may not have considered...
So we all know that there is really only one way to conceive (don't think I need to spell it out!). However, even if you are supremely healthy, it's not always as straightforward as you may think.
In fact, on average there is only a 25% chance each month. That is under perfect conditions. Add in a whole host of issues that modern life now throws our way (see below), and it can be a bit more tricky.
So - sometimes we need a bit of extra help!
Here are the TOP TEN WAYS to increase your chances in our very modern world:
ONE: all about expectations: Undoubtedly this is the instant generation. We have become used to wanting something, clicking a button and getting it. The reality is that conception - even if all conditions are perfect - is not easy or instant. Frustrating! So, first and foremost set your expectations as I promise, it will tangibly help your conception journey (more on the science as to why this is important below). The reality is that even for healthy couples only 20% conceive in the first month of trying - that’s low. That being said 70% will manage by six months and 85% will manage within a year. So, do not be disheartened or immediately think there is something ‘wrong’. It is disappointing when it doesn't happen quickly, but it is ok, and in fact more than normal. Your baseline expectation should be that it will take AT LEAST six months but could be up to a year. Anything ahead of that is a major bonus.
TWO: know your enemy: part of setting your expectations is to minimise your stress levels around what is an inherently stressful time. The irony of conception, is that you need to be relaxed about it. We all know that trying to be relaxed often achieves the exact opposite result (the irony). So, help yourself out here where you can and reduce the pressure on yourself. Stress does unfortunately wreak havoc with your hormones, specifically around your cortisol production. Not what you want. Why? It’s pretty simple when you think about it, if your body deems itself ‘under threat’ (which happens from chronic stress/too much cortisol in your blood) then it diverts energy away from non-core (reproductive) centres to fight or flight centres. Click here to read much more on what/how etc - but first and foremost simply accepting that it will take time can be a very powerful tool helping you relax about the whole thing. I know for me at least, once I accepted this it took away a lot of the pressure and impatience I was feeling.
THREE: this leads on to other disruptors of hormones. For an ‘easy’ and healthy conception, you need your hormones to be balanced. Unfortunately modern life does a great job at making this harder for us. The main things to watch out for aside from mental stress is physical stressors on the body. Specifically exposure to EDCs (or endocrine disruptors). These can be in the form of pesticides, plastics, cosmetics and personal care items, processed foods, caffeine/alcohol (in excess) and hormones in food (that includes non-organic meat/farmed fish and natural phytoestrogens - like Soy). Click here to learn MUCH more on what to watch out for and how you can easily avoid. These can also play havoc with our gut health which is very important for increasing your chances of a healthy baby. Click here for much more on this and why it is something to prioritise.
FOUR: exercise: friend or foe? Like Goldilocks - you dont want too much, you don't want too little. It’s all about getting it ‘just right’. My friend the gynaecologist and Harley Street obstetrician Mahantesh Karoshi tells me he has seen a marked increase in women coming to see him with issues getting pregnant linked to too much high intensity exercise. Like it or not we still live in a world which prizes the ‘size zero’ and the rise in popularity of the HIIT class has not helped our fertility. The trouble is too much exercise produces too much cortisol and inflammation - and this applies to men too. Click here for much more. Too little exercise can also cause issues around obesity, inflammation and other assorted nasties and even make stress worse. Don’t worry - it's not as complicated as it seems, it's just about being sensible and listening to your body. Move every day for at least 30 minutes (even if it's just walking), combine with some cardio, strength/resistance training and even some yoga (basically avoiding the extremes) and you’ll be just fine. Click here for more on exercise for fertility.
FIVE: sleep is your friend: the 80s really brought about the ‘sleep when you’re dead mantra’. It became almost cool not to sleep. However, what we’re appreciating more and more is that if you take that attitude then you’re likely to do long term damage. Certainly from a hormonal balance standpoint too little sleep is not good. The human body is smart and evolves - but what is interesting is that our need for sleep has not changed over millennia. There is a reason for that - we need it! Your cortisol levels (plus hunger hormones/insulin etc) are linked to your sleep - in fact cortisol has its own natural circadian rhythm. Broken, short sleep is not going to help with that. Make sleep a priority - your body and hormones will thank you for it. Most people need at least 7-8 hours a night. You don't have time? Make time. It’s all about priorities.
SIX: you are what you eat: the food that we eat these days really does a great job at causing us issues. Conception is one of them. Too much refined sugar (which is everywhere these days - especially in processed food) wreaks havoc with our hormones. Not to mention, it causes us to put on weight. Being overweight (defined by your BMI) is a sure fire way to make conception harder and to reduce the odds of having a healthy baby. It will also exacerbate PCOS symptoms (if you have it). Just cut out refined sugar wherever you can. There is just no need for it. Similarly processed foods/meats and non-organic animal products. Sadly these days they are often pumped full of artificial steroids/hormones and antibiotics. Go for whole, organic and unrefined foods wherever you can.
SEVEN: the hidden threats: These fad health food alternatives are a marketer's dream but a trap for conception. Say no to ‘free from’, ‘low fat’ and artificial substitutes. Often when they take ingredients out they put strange things in instead to make it taste nice or similar. You have to be smart about it as they also usually contain artificial sweeteners - horrible for your body and balance. Often these ‘milk’ substitutes (like almond/coconut) that you get at a coffee shop (very popular these days) are full of sweeteners and other nasty things. I love nut milk and personally choose to have a bit less dairy in my life - just make your own - I am a terrible chef but even I can do it. Click here for the true idiots guide on how to make your own. Golden rule: if it has more than three ingredients - say no. Click here to learn how to make eating good, whole foods yourself easy. It’s really important for your conception journey.
EIGHT: a little extra help with rebalancing. I am usually not one for supplements as I think there are a lot that don’t work and they are not for everyone. Firstly, consult your doctor if you have any medical issues and these are for conception and not for taking during pregnancy. However, there are two Adaptogens (substances that help balance your hormones naturally) that the science suggests actually work. Maca and Ashwagandha. Click on each for all you need to know. On the subject of alternatives - many people swear by Acupuncture. I will not pretend to be an expert in the science behind how this works, but from my personal experience I have found it beneficial. It is all about who you use however. The best way is word of mouth - find a reputable practitioner and listen to your own body and instincts when it comes to choosing the right person.
NINE: Fertility - not just a girl thing: I dont know why, but often we see fertility (or lack of) as a primarily female issue. It takes two to tango and in actual fact - half the time it is from the man’s side. In fact, many of the issues impacting female reproduction also hurt male reproduction with sperm counts down around 50% over the last 40 years! Click here to read much more as to what seems to be going on - and more importantly some top tips for how you can keep your ‘swimmers’ in top shape. Boys - conception applies to you too!
TEN: become an expert of your own body: This may seem more obvious… but….
We know that the average cycle length is 28 days. If that's you then great. However, we also know that ‘average’ doesn't mean everyone. We also know that there is more hormonal imbalance than ever before throwing things off.
The first step is to work out exactly how long your cycle is. If you’re coming off the contraceptive pill it may take some time for it to settle. Big deviations from this could signal an underlying issue like PCOS, Endometriosis or hormonal imbalance (click on each to learn more) which are becoming increasingly common. You need to know about these if you’re trying. Awareness is 90% of the battle.
KEY FACT: Knowing when you ovulate is super helpful as within a month as there are only around six days when it is actually technically possible for you to get pregnant (your fertile window is just before and during ovulation) and the egg will only be viable for 12-24 hours, and let's be honest, you want to ‘use your bullets wisely’ !
How to really understand your own cycle: Here are a couple of methods you may want to consider:
Ovulation sticks: not cheap but do give a good indication
Apps: definitely cheaper and easy to use, better for a more regular cycle
Basal body temperature: requires a bit more patience but very accurate
Cervical mucus (yes….) and its free!
Quick note about each:
Ovulation sticks: these are pretty easy to use but not super cheap. Essentially you pee on a stick ahead of what is likely to be your fertile window (the days leading up to ovulation). Their job is to detect an increase in luteinising hormone (what is commonly referred to as LH) which is what happens one or two days before ovulation.
Top tip: obviously read the instructions very carefully but try and test the same time each day (so you can see the difference) and try and reduce liquid intake for about four hours before the test as to not dilute the result. First thing in the morning when you get up is a good time to do it. Get your fluids in after though!
Apps: there are now lots of very clever phone apps you can use to track your cycle which helpful in establishing your cycle. Some are more detailed than others (detailing and recording fertility signs and others record your Basal body temperature or a combination of both). The good news is that it will certainly help you get to know your cycle, it is pretty straight forward and its not expensive. This is where technology and modern life can in fact be your friend.
Basal Body Temperature: What is this and why is it useful?
A bit more cost effective and accurate, but takes a bit of patience. So your Basal Body Temperature is your lowest body temperature in a 24hr period. The key thing here to know is that it spikes around 12-24hrs AFTER ovulation (remember you need to get going just before this happens). But, it is of course a really good way of assessing IF and WHEN you are ovulating. Knowledge is power after all.... and if you’re concerned its not happening then its a good idea to talk to a medical professional.
All you need for this is a Basal thermometer (these are more sensitive and that is what you need to detect these changes accurately). The only downside here is that you’ll need to measure it everyday for a few months to see the pattern and enable you to get a gauge as to when ovulation takes place. A bit more time consuming but certainly if you get it right it is very accurate and useful if your cycle is a bit more variable.
A quick couple of pointers as to how to do this:
- take your temperature as soon as you wake up (before anything else)
- Record it on the chart
- Take it at as close to the same time as you can
Just a reminder as well; fertility is highest in the two days BEFORE you ovulate and the day itself (see ovulation sticks for more on this), but your Basal body temperature changes 12-24hrs AFTER ovulation rising by between 0.5 and 1 degree and this should last until your next period.
Once you’ve charted these patterns for a few months you will be able to get a pretty accurate gauge of your cycle and when you ovulate.
Cervical Mucus: get ready This is another signal the body sends us and worth listening to.... even better, its free!
Here is what you should watch out for:
- First few days post your period: day 1-3 (approx) relatively dry (not fertile)
- Days 4-6 (approx) the ‘sticky’ phase: white and cloudy ‘globules’ (not fertile)
- Days 7-9 (approx) the ‘creamy’ phase: creamy, cloudy and thick (getting there...)
- Days 10-14 (approx) the good stuff! Clear, like egg white - this is what you want!
FINALLY: All this being said; having regular unprotected sex is of course important when you’re trying to conceive so don't just focus on when you’re ovulating as once again too much pressure is the enemy of wanting to do it! Having sex 3-4 times a week is good for sperm so don’t get TOO bogged down in timing it only around your fertile window. Also, although there isn’t much hard scientific fact behind this - one final little tip - after the deed, just lie down for twenty minutes or so after. If nothing else gives you a bit of relaxation time and certainly won't hurt!
This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. The information on this website has been developed following years of personal research and from referenced and sourced medical research. Before making any changes we strongly recommend you consult a healthcare professional before you begin.