LIFE

Ways To Fall Pregnant: How To Improve Your Chances

Top tip: get your partner checked too.

17/07/2017 8:33 AM AEST | Updated 03/09/2017 4:12 PM AEST

For many people, trying for a baby is an exciting time -- future plans are in the works, and you're figuring out how you could surprise your loved ones with the news.

But for some, trying to fall pregnant can become an exhausting and emotional time if your attempts to conceive just aren't working out.

What can make this period more stressful, however, is that a lot of the time, we don't know why we're not falling pregnant, nor do we know what we can do to boost our chances of conception.

Common problems and common causes

Francesca Naish, Founder and Director of Natural Fertility Management told HuffPost Australia that common causes can be women's health issues such as PCOS and endometriosis, men's fertility problems, or lifestyle.

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Along with polycystic ovarian syndrome and endometriosis, irregular menstrual cycles can also cause problems when trying to have a baby.

"If the cycle is very irregular, and you ovulate too late in your cycle and ovulation is delayed -- the eggs may not be as fertile as they otherwise would, so irregular cycles means ovulation may be too late for a conception to occur," Naish said.

Naish said that some fertility problems come also come down to our lifestyle.

"One of the major problems that we have for fertility for all women and all men is that we live in a world that's full of chemicals, heavy metals, radiation and toxins that may effect our eggs, our sperm, our embryo development and our hormones," Naish said.

"Modern life is not very helpful for fertility for either a male or a female."

Naish also explains too much exposure to radiation, commonly from our mobile phones and electronic devices, has the potential to damage our reproductive organs.

Parental abnormalities can also impact your chance of bringing a bundle of joy into the world. According to Devora Lieberman, fertility expert and specialist for Genea, a problem with a woman's ovulation only occurs 20-25 percent of the time.

"We estimate about 10 percent of the time there may be a problem with endometriosis and more rare factors including chromosome abnormality in a parent, then there can be structural problems like fibroids or polyps," Lieberman said.

"Unfortunately, we have no tests to tell us what eggs look like -- Are they fertilising? What do embryos look like? All of that happens at a microscopic level in the fallopian tube and we have no way of assessing that."

Unhealthy habits

Lieberman recommends taking note of your unhealthy habits to recognise what might be contributing to your lack of fertility.

"Bad habits are something to look out for -- cigarette smoking is probably the worst thing a woman can do for her ovaries and her eggs as it can advance ovarian age by up to 10 years so it's not okay to say I'll smoke in my 20's then when I'm ready to have a baby in my 30's I'll stop, because the damage may have already been done," Lieberman said.

"Cigarette smoke is also very toxic to sperm."

While it's true you can diet and exercise your way out of fertility, monitoring food intake is another habit worth considering.

"Obesity can dramatically reduce the chance of getting pregnant and staying pregnant and for women, being underweight can make it more difficult to get pregnant too," Lieberman said.

"If you are reasonably healthy, being more healthy won't make you more fertile, but maintaining a balanced diet and not eating processed food is a good start."

The male's role

It's commonly thought that problems with fertility and conception tend to be the woman's fault -- sure, a woman's vagina may not be a sperm-friendly environment at all times, but as Naish explains something we all tend to forget about is the role men play in the conception equation -- they're half the process and effectively, can be half the problem.

"Fertility is not just a female issue -- half of what is donated to the development of an embryo comes from the man so if the man isn't healthy or has a low sperm count on sperm analysis, that can contribute," Naish said.

"You really have to look at both partners when you're looking at a fertility issue."

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Lieberman agrees problems with male fertility often aren't spoken about.

"About 40 percent of the time we'll find a problem on the male side and men are often surprised to find their sperm count isn't what they expected it to be," Lieberman said.

"Some men also suffer extreme performance anxiety when they're told 'We have to do it now, tonight's the night', that can be quite challenging."

Age does play a factor

We've all heard age plays a significant role in our ability to fall pregnant, but how many of us actually know at what age our ability to conceive begins to decline? (FYI: the 'over 40 only' category is a myth.)

According to Lieberman, not only do some people not appreciate how much fertility can decline as your get older, sometimes people overestimate their monthly chance of success.

"The majority of embryos we make aren't normal and won't implant, let alone become a baby, so at 25, even if there are no fertility issues, a woman's monthly chance of getting pregnant is about 25 percent," Lieberman said.

"That monthly chance of success will decline as a women ages -- so at 35 that monthly chance is about 15-20 percent, but 38 its 10-15 percent. By 42-years-old, half of women won't be able to get pregnant at all."

Naish agrees that while fertility problems spike for women as they age, men also pose health risks that could cause problems for their unborn child.

"Men are fertile for longer but that doesn't mean they don't begin to have health problems that will affect their offspring," Naish said.

"A man of 40 has the same risk of having a schizophrenic child as a woman of 40 does of having a down syndrome child."

Does contraception play a role?

You've been on the pill for five years. You decide you'd like to have a baby. You come off the pill to regulate your hormones again but this means waiting a good three to six months before you'll have a chance of conceiving, right?

Well no, not exactly. While contraceptive methods such as the oral pill or the IUD can affect nutrients in the body that will support a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby at birth, normal ovulation should resume straight away.

"In fact," said Lieberman, "most women are actually more fertile in their first month or two off the pill."

However, one method of contraception does have a long-lasting effect on fertility. The Depo Provera injection can result in an 18-month time lag to resume ovulation.

Ways to improve our chances of conception

1. Address your overall health: Naish suggests purchasing organic produce where you can, and purifying your water to get rid of toxins, while Lieberman recommends eating a balanced diet and avoiding processed foods.

2. Try charting your cycle: "It's worth keeping track of ovulation and your cycle -- a woman will ovulate on day 14 of her cycle so in a 28 day cycle, it's day 14, in a 30 day cycle, it's day 16," Lieberman said. Apps like Clue, or ovulation prediction kits are another good way to keep an eye on your cycle.

3. Have sex at the right time: Lieberman suggests having intercourse every second day from day nine to 16 to increase your chances and to not abstain in between -- abstinence isn't good for sperm.

4. Monitor your body signs: Naish explains that taking a look at your cervical mucus and body temperature during the morning at stages during your cycle will help you conceive at the right time.

"Your cervical mucus will change through the cycle from being thick, which the sperm cannot penetrate, to become more fluid, then more slimy and stretchy and this mucus assists the sperm to travel through the vagina," Naish said.

"In terms of body temperature, when you ovulate, your temperature will rise because progesterone is heat producing. Your temperature will usually be in the low 36's during the first half of your cycle and this will rise during your cycle according to levels of progesterone that you produce."

Just as a farmer wouldn't breed from his unhealthy cattle, we need to prepare for conception and take note of our pre-conception healthcare three to four months before we plan to conceive.

5. Try taking nutritional supplements: "Ovaries are very rich in Vitamin C so we need that for our ovaries to operate properly, and we need fish oils to help hormone balance and development of the baby's brain and nervous system," Naish said.

However it's important to remember that supplements aren't fertility drugs -- vitamins and minerals will ensure a healthy pregnancy and a healthy child rather than guaranteeing fertility.

6. Don't get stressed: Stress is caused by lifestyle factors that begin to affect your everyday personal life. While a little bit of stress and worry is good to keep us motivated and meeting goals, too much stress can cause irregularities in our menstrual cycle that can impact our conception window. It can also begin to affect our sex lives.

7. Give it time: According to Lieberman, sometimes it's just a matter of time before you will fall pregnant and the key here is keep your head held high.

"I think the hardest thing couples face is a sense of a loss of control, that they have all their lives to fall pregnant yet they've thought that every single act of unprotected sex will end in pregnancy and then they're trying to get pregnant and it's not happening," Lieberman said.

When should we seek help?

Fertility isn't just about pregnancy, it's also important to keep in kind the health of pregnancy and the health of your unborn child.

Naish recommends seeking pre-conception advice regardless of whether you have a history of fertility or menstrual problems.

"Just as a farmer wouldn't breed from his unhealthy cattle, we need to prepare for conception and take note of our pre-conception healthcare three to four months before we plan to conceive," Naish said.

If you've already started trying for a baby, Lieberman recommends six months is an ideal time to consult a medical professional.

"It is worth having a conversation with a doctor to make sure there are no obvious barriers to getting pregnant so things like getting a health history, sperm analysis, ultrasounds," Lieberman said.

"Get info and reassurance and talk to someone who knows what they're talking about."

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