When you're trying to carry, no two journeys to motherhood are the same. For some, it can take mere weeks to conceive, while others may find that months or years go by before a test comes back positive, and for some, the reality can be that it doesn’t happen at all. It’s not always easy—in fact, sometimes, it's pretty challenging—and while we’d always advocate speaking to your GP about your own particular circumstances, there are a few things you can do to better your chances along the way. We asked Raj Mathur, gynaecologist and expert speaker at the Fertility Show Manchester, for his advice on how to get pregnant. Here’s everything he says you should try when you’re trying.
Rule one of getting pregnant is simple: You need to have more sex. “Some couples will fall pregnant within weeks,” says Mathur. “Others may take months or years.” It goes without saying that regular sex throughout the month is going to raise your chances, but if you’re looking for your most fertile window, you need to pinpoint when you ovulate.
“You are most fertile during ovulation, which usually occurs about 14 days after your period, but if your cycle is longer or shorter than 28 days, your fertile period will be later or earlier accordingly,” explains Mathur. “The best time to have intercourse to have the highest chance of conception is just before or on the day ovulation occurs.”
If you find it hard to keep track of when you’re ovulating, try a free, personalised app like Ovia. It looks at your sleeping habits, diet, periods and moods to predict when you’ll be most fertile. It even comes with the lofty claim that it can get users pregnant up to three times faster than average, as its algorithm is powered by “the largest data set that's ever been collected on this population.”
And don’t worry if you’ve just come off the pill. While rumour is rife that it takes many months to get out of your system, Mathur insists that this is not the case. “Coming off the pill is designed to be easy, and your body will return to its natural cycle within weeks,” he says. “Most doctors estimate that normal ovulation will occur naturally within a month. Some women find that their usual cycles begin again very quickly after stopping, but for others, it can take longer.”
WHAT TO EAT
While there is little scientific evidence of how food can affect fertility, Mathur says a Mediterranean diet (think fresh vegetables with fish and olive oil) is believed to help. However, the real success is said to be in supplements, namely folic acid and vitamin D, which can both be found in Proceive, a fertility-boosting supplement. Because it combines an expansive list of conception nutrients, it supports the development of the egg, womb and hormones to theoretically increase your chances of pregnancy.
As for foods you should avoid, Mathur tells us “soft cheeses, camembert, brie, and processed meats” are thought to lower fertility, as is caffeine (found in coffee, tea, fizzy drinks and chocolate). He adds, “If you are trying to fall pregnant, it is a good idea to limit or eradicate your alcohol intake. Regularly drinking excessive alcohol can adversely affect fertility and increase your risk of miscarriage.
“It can be hard to tell exactly when you fall pregnant, and excessive alcohol can harm a developing baby. Reducing your alcohol intake, as part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle, will also better your chances of conceiving naturally later on.”
You may not think your lifestyle has an impact on fertility, but Mathur reveals that it can be one of the largest barriers to overcome. “Stress levels, caffeine and alcohol are all factors which can influence your fertility,” he says, “and cutting down on all of these will help to boost it.”
Smoking is also a no-no. “When you smoke, more than 7000 chemicals spread through your body, which hinder ovulation, damage eggs and sperm motility. Ask your GP for a referral to a Smoking Cessation Service ahead of trying for a baby.”
IF IT’S NOT HAPPENING…
Sometimes, Mathur says, you need to take the mind-body connection into account. “There is some truth in the ‘relax and it'll happen’ phrase,” he explains. “The more stress you add to your body, the higher chance it will affect your cycle and your ability to conceive. Try gentle exercise such as going for a swim or a walk, or use relaxation methods like yoga or meditation.”
He also advises that you have a check-up. “There is no harm in seeking a fertility MOT to see whether you think you might have a problem getting pregnant. It may be worth getting it checked out before you start trying.
“For instance, if you've always had irregular periods, or you have a particularly short or long cycle—for example, shorter than 25 days or longer than 31—ask your GP if your hormone balance can be checked.”
WHAT TO ASK YOUR GP
If you tell your GP you’re struggling to get pregnant, they’ll know what steps to take next. However, you can be prepared for your appointment with three questions Mathur recommends you ask the following:
1. Are there any routine tests that I could try before seeking further help?
2. Have I been trying for a long enough time to seek help from a fertility specialist?
3. Could I have an underlying condition which is affecting my fertility?
READ THIS BEFORE YOU TRY IVF
“IVF doesn’t always work first time,” says Mathur. “But people should be reassured that techniques have developed over the last 40 years, and there are more information, knowledge and treatment options available than ever before.”
That said, he recommends accessing support from family, friends and professional counselling services, as IVF can be a long and, at times, exhausting process. For those seeking treatment, Mathur adds, “If you’ve gone through several rounds of IVF with no luck, it may be time to check your vitamin D levels. Women low in vitamin D are nearly half as likely to conceive through IVF as women with more normal levels.
“While the majority of your body’s vitamin D comes from sun exposure, a balanced Mediterranean diet rich in fatty fish like salmon and tuna can also help improve your levels.”