There are many factors that can affect the speed and ease with which you are able to start a family. One of the first things to do is to accept that, even for couples with no health barriers or other struggles, it’s nearly impossible to control the exact timing.
Stress can be a significant barrier to conception, and many couples find that giving themselves permission not to be in a rush to get on with it helps immensely. When you reach the point where you’re ready to conceive, have a holiday, spend time together for fun, focus on other goals, and let it come naturally. Many families find adopting a child actually triggers a pregnancy, although that obviously is only an available solution if you’re independently motivated to adopt.
However, while letting go of your need for control can be helpful in many cases, there are some concrete, practical things that you may want to try and rule out as barriers.
Both health and lifestyle factors can strongly impact men and women’s fertility. Exercise regularly to regulate hormones and to reach a healthy weight and fitness level, but keep in mind that excessive exercise can actually lower fertility so approach it with moderation. Eat a healthy, balanced diet low in salt and sugar. Avoid tuna and mackerel fish (mercury) and liver (Vitamin A). Stay hydrated and get enough sleep (another stress-reducer). Cut back on or preferably discontinue use of recreational substances including cigarettes, marijuana, other drugs, and alcohol. These can harm a baby in the early stages of pregnancy before you’re aware of conceiving and can also reduce fertility.
Keep an eye out for chemical exposure at home or at work that you’ve perhaps become accustomed to and are no longer aware of. Some people focus on switching to organic, whole foods and ask for a transfer or different assignments at work for a time. A doctor should be consulted about any existing medications or treatments you’ve had in the past and their possible impact on fertility. Some personal products such as sexual lubricants and vaginal care and cleansing products are actually counterproductive and should be avoided while you’re hoping to start a pregnancy.
Other, seemingly normal activities can have negative effects on fertility. Men should avoid hot tubs, saunas, or whirlpools, as heat can damage sperm motility, health, and DNA. Women should cut back on their caffeine intake.
Having regular sex with your partner is also a valid action plan – not least because it increases your odds of conceiving. Sexual intercourse also helps improve the health and motility of sperm and is thought to condition both members’ bodies to optimize for conception. It should also contribute to reduced stress levels. For best results, consider booking some of that holiday time you’ve accrued and spend some quality time as a couple without the frustrations and whirlwind of daily life.
Of course, it’s also important to see the appropriate medical practitioner to rule out any medical barriers to conception. Women should consult an OB/GYN, while men can start with a physical with their regular care provider and enquire about a referral to a men’s health specialist if needed. Dr Haroutyoun Margossian is women’s health specialist and treats many conditions in her gynaecological practice. Endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome are not uncommon in women, and age-related challenges can crop up in both men and women, so understanding any underlying medical conditions can help you choose the most effective way forward.
In terms of medical intervention, there are an ever-increasing number of solutions for challenges with fertility, conception, and pregnancy. Medication-based treatments are available to boost fertility, and surgery may be a solution in some cases. Your gynaecologist may refer you to a fertility clinic if you want to explore options such as In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF), which is physician-assisted conception with your own or donor eggs or sperm, surrogate pregnancies, and other, more involved, solutions.
Whether you’re trying a natural, lifestyle-supported approach to conception, or opting for physician-supported interventions, it’s important to remember that whole-body wellness plays a part. Reduce stress, make healthy choices, and try to let go of the need to achieve anything on a set timeline. See your regular physician to rule out any obvious health concerns or medication conflicts, and optionally, get a referral to a men’s or women’s reproductive health specialist for further investigation. Fertility clinics offer specific, targeted treatments to help you overcome physical barriers, but it’s also a good idea to take your time and be patient with yourself. If you’ve ruled out physical, medical barriers to fertility and conception, the best approach may just be to focus on enjoying time with your partner and enjoying life.