Trying to conceive is one big waiting game—you never know if this will be the month that pregnancy test turns positive. But thankfully there are a few ways to help boost your odds of getting pregnant.
Forget giving birth and having a kid — just simply trying to get pregnant is an overwhelming experience to navigate for some women. Whether baby-making just now is in your brain or whether you’ve been working at it for months, getting pregnant can feel like the wild, wild west. And all of the noise, stories, and crazy rumors circulating the web are certainly not helpful. Here are 9 things you should know if you are trying to become a mom.
1. Every woman is different
Don’t foolishly assume that your own pregnancy journey would mirror your friends’. Don’t assume that you will get pregnant at the same time they will. It is super important to remember this because it may not happen right away. If you have a friend who got pregnant the day she started trying. Wait, no, scratch that, you have 10 friends for whom this happened. “OMG, I’m so fertile!” they laugh, half-thrilled, half-terrified. Don’t assume that you too will get pregnant on Attempt No. 1. It may happen after 10 months of trying or one month.
2. No smoking no alcohol
Bet you already know this, but just in case: If you’re trying to get pregnant, your first move should be to nix the cigarettes and cut back on alcohol. For starters, smoking can deplete your number of eggs.
Research shows that 12.3 percent of female smokers have a reduced number of eggs present in the ovaries, compared to 4.83 percent of nonsmokers of the same age. What’s more, smoking may also make it harder to get pregnant. According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, “the literature strongly supports an association between cigarette smoking and infertility.”
And while the jury’s still out regarding alcohol’s impact on fertility, research has shown that booze can cause birth defects in pregnancy—so it’s best to cut back once you’ve decided to start trying to get pregnant.
3. 35 isn’t the magic number
Nearly every woman of child-bearing age is familiar with the number 35, the age at which we’re told our fertility basically falls off a huge cliff. The reality is that fertility declines at a steady, downward slope starting in our early 30s, but the slope becomes a lot steeper around age 38.
The reason for the focus on age 35 may have to do with your risk of having a baby with a chromosomal abnormality, like Down syndrome, which becomes higher at this age.
And while age is the biggest contributor to infertility, your odds of getting pregnant with a healthy baby are best before you hit your late 30s, the same rules don’t apply to everyone, it depends on your supply of eggs.
4. Your body may take a while to adjust after you go off birth control
Some woman resumes normal menstrual cycles immediately after going off their birth control. But some of us have a different experience. Often after stopping a hormonal birth control, it takes the body months to have a regular cycle. According to WebMD, this is normal. But if you’re worried about it, check in with your doctor for peace of mind.
5. Read the label on your lube
Standard lubricants can be full of ingredients that fight sperm, making it difficult to fall pregnant. It’s important to pick a sperm-friendly lubricant so look for ones that promote PH balance and osmolality and avoid those with glycerine.
6. Being ‘infertile’ doesn’t mean you won’t have a baby
The term “infertile” is harsh, and it can really sting. But it helps to know what the term really means. A couple is labeled as such if they don’t get pregnant after a year of regular sex, but experts say it’s crucial to remember that it’s just a definition—it doesn’t mean you won’t be able to conceive ever.
With treatment, many couples (though not all) find a way to become biological parents, if that’s the goal.
You may need a drug to help with ovarian stimulation, which can overcome issues like a low egg reserve or inadequate hormone levels. Or you may need assistive reproductive technology, like intrauterine insemination (IUI), where doctors take the best sperm from a partner and inseminate the woman artificially.
Or you may need in vitro fertilization (IVF), where an egg is fertilized by sperm outside a woman’s body and the embryos are transferred into her uterus. If none of those things work, your doctor may suggest an egg or embryo donor.
7. Rid your home of hidden toxins
Many toxins, known as endocrine disruptors, can alter the body’s normal hormonal activities and can make it difficult for women to conceive and men to produce healthy semen. These include parabens found in cosmetics and pharmaceuticals, BPA found in plastic food and drink containers, phthalates found in soaps, detergents and shampoos as well as heavy metals like mercury and lead.
8. Excessive weight fluctuation is a no-no
Do you think you might be extremely overweight or underweight? Calculate your body mass index (BMI) using this tool now. Having a low BMI (18.5 or less) or a very high BMI (over 30) could cause you to have irregular or missed periods, and being extremely underweight could make you stop ovulating altogether.
Obesity can increase the risk of pregnancy complications such as gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, birth defects and the need for a c-section. So it’s important to be at a healthy weight when you’re trying to conceive.
If you fall into either of these categories, talk to your doctor about how to get to a healthy weight. You’ll want to eat right, getting plenty of nutrients, exercise and drink plenty of water. Often, even a small weight gain or loss is enough to get your body ready to make a baby, as long as it’s done healthily.
9. Eat seafood, carefully
Some fish are higher in mercury than others—most notably marlin, orange roughy, tilefish, swordfish, shark, king mackerel and bigeye tuna. High levels of mercury in the blood have been linked to fertility issues in both men and women.
Plus, mercury can stay in your system for a year or more and can harm a fetus’s developing brain and nervous system, so avoiding it will increase your chances of a healthy pregnancy.
Love seafood? There’s plenty that’s considered low-mercury, including anchovies, catfish, clams, cod, crab, crawfish, flounder, haddock, herring, oysters, salmon, sardines, scallops, shrimp, sole, squid, tilapia, trout, whitefish and more.
Lastly, listen to your doctor (duh). But listen to yourself too. Only you know the patterns of your body and life. Getting pregnant can be a fun and frustrating process, and everyone has an opinion, advice, or a sure thing. Friends, doctors, parents, coworkers, Starbucks baristas, and spouses may have a lot to say about you, your body, and try to conceive, but trust your own gut too. And your uterus.