10 Things to Avoid When Trying to Conceive
Trying to conceive is one big waiting game—you never can predict whether this is the month that pregnancy test will turn positive. Thankfully, there are a few things you can do to boost your odds of getting pregnant each month. For instance, you can track your cycle, take prenatal vitamins, eat healthy and even, just for good measure, take a cue or two from a few old wives’ tales. But sometimes what you don’t do is just as important. Here’s what to avoid when you’re trying to get pregnant.
Besides increasing your risk of lung, colon and pancreatic cancer (and hurting your health in general), smoking can jeopardize your chances of conceiving. Women who smoke accelerate the aging process of their ovarian follicles, which in turn can lead to early menopause and an increased risk of infertility. So avoid cigarettes at all costs. Men, too, should kick the habit. While the effects of smoking aren’t as clear-cut in men, research suggests that the habit may compromise the structure and function of sperm, and the extent of the damage may be associated with the number of cigarettes smoked. The good news for guys, though, is that sperm production is dynamic—they produce sperm constantly. If your partner stops smoking today, the damage caused by smoking may be reversed in three months, when a new supply of sperm matures and reaches the ejaculate.
You don’t have to completely cut out your morning pick-me-up, but you may want to consider cutting down on the number of cups you consume per day. Findings vary, but to be safe, stick to two cups or fewer each day. A 2016 paper from the American Society for Reproductive Medicine indicates that drinking more than five cups of coffee a day is associated with decreased fertility, and that once you do become pregnant, drinking more than 200 mg of caffeine a day (the equivalent of about two cups of coffee) may actually increase your risk of miscarriage. Keep in mind that different types of coffee contain different amounts of caffeine; a cup of Starbucks coffee usually contains more caffeine than other brands. And tea, hot chocolate, energy drinks and certain sodas have caffeine too.
Skip the all-you-can-drink bar crawls and that wine-bottle-for-two when planning to get pregnant. While it’s unclear exactly how alcohol affects fertility, research suggests that consuming more than two drinks a day may decrease fertility rates and increase the time it takes for a couple to conceive. So when you’re trying for a baby, drink only occasionally. And avoid it altogether when you do become pregnant—no amount is considered safe once you have a baby in the womb.
The American Heart Association recommends adults get 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week for overall health and well-being. If you’re not hitting that target, step up your routine. Research suggests that women who engage in moderate exercise (where you’re breathing hard but can still talk) are able to conceive a bit more quickly than those who don’t and those who exercise too much. Start slowly and increase the pace and intensity gradually. Park your car farther from the store to get more steps in, and take the stairs instead of the elevator. Find a sport or other physical activity that excites you and that you actually want to do. You’ll have a better chance of sticking to it if you don’t feel forced into it.
While exercise has been shown to potentially shorten the amount of time it takes to conceive, it’s also best to avoid over-exercising. The study that linked moderate exercise with taking less time to conceive also found that vigorous, high-intensity workouts correlated with taking a longer time to conceive. One possible explanation is that extreme exercise can, in part, lead to severe weight loss and hormonal shifts, which in turn can cause irregular or missed periods.
We can’t conclusively say that certain foods, diets or supplements will make you more fertile. But there’s good evidence that women with infertility related to irregular periods may benefit from minimizing their intake of sugar and processed foods, and increasing their intake of fruits, vegetables, healthy fats and plant-based proteins. Research also suggests that low fruit and high fast-food consumption is correlated with taking a longer time to get pregnant. A balanced diet will not only help you keep your weight in check, but it will also help regulate insulin levels—both of which will help step up your pregnancy chances.
It’s impossible to eliminate all stress from our daily life, and studies on stress appear to be mixed anyway. But recent research suggests the higher the perceived stress, the harder the time women had conceiving. Feeling stressed, particularly for a prolonged period of time, can bring along hormonal shifts that can impact ovulation and fertility. If you’re having trouble managing your stress, speak to your doctor about ways to cope, and explore complementary treatments, such as yoga, meditation and acupuncture, all of which may help reduce that stress and potentially enhance your chance for conception.
Fish (particularly the cold-water kind, such as salmon and sardines) are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which foster fetal brain development. But fish can also contain mercury—high amounts of which can harm a baby’s developing brain and short-circuit your chances of staying pregnant once you get pregnant. Avoid fish with high levels of the toxin, such as swordfish, tilefish, king mackerel and shark. And check out this advisory from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists on the healthiest seafood choices for women who are pregnant or who may become pregnant.
Using lubrication when trying to conceive is okay, but make sure you’re using a lubricant that’s fertility-friendly. Some brands contain ingredients that can affect sperm motility in vitro (though some research suggests they may not ultimately affect your chances of conceiving). To be safe, stick to fertility-friendly lubricants such as Pre-Seed or Conceive Plus, which are pH-balanced to mimic your body’s natural lubrication without impacting your partner’s sperm.
Bisphenol-A—found in many household products—is an endocrine-disrupting chemical, which means it can interfere with your body’s hormone function, including the hormones related to your reproductive system. Research suggests that infertile women have higher levels of BPA in their blood than fertile women; it also suggests that higher levels of BPA may reduce success of fertility treatments. The reason may have something to do with a disruption in the menstrual cycle, alterations in the reproductive anatomy and hormonal changes. Scientists are still trying to understand how BPA might affect fertility, but if you’re trying to conceive, it’s best to avoid it: Opt for fresh or frozen foods instead of packaged foods; choose foods stored in a glass jar as opposed to a can; store leftovers in glass instead of plastic containers (and #7 plastics especially) and use glass or stainless steel water bottles instead of plastic ones.
Updated February 2020
Temeka Zore, MD, is a reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist and board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist currently practicing in Los Angeles at Reproductive Medicine Associates of Southern California. She enjoys taking care of a wide range of reproductive and fertility issues but has a special passion for fertility preservation and educating and empowering women regarding their reproductive health. Follow her on Instagram @temekazoremd.
Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.
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