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Trying To Conceive? These Lifestyle Choices Can Improve Your Odds

The decision to start a family is an exciting one, but it may be accompanied by a daunting anxiety over whether or not you’re doing everything in your power to ensure you actually get pregnant—especially in the timeframe in which you’d like. This concern can quickly throw you into a world of conflicting advice and overwhelming information, particularly regarding lifestyle choices. Which might leave you wondering: Should you overhaul your entire routine in the name of fertility? 

The reality: As with most things in life, moderation is key. While certain lifestyle tweaks can undoubtedly support reproductive function and a healthy pregnancy, the journey to conception shouldn’t become a restrictive and stressful experience. “Some people seem to make horrible lifestyle choices and get pregnant without trying, while others make all the proper healthy decisions and still have trouble,” explains Allison K. Rodgers, M.D., a reproductive endocrinologist and fertility specialist at Fertility Centers of Illinois. “Lifestyle choices are important for fertility and general health, but not the only thing that control and influence a person’s chances of conceiving.”

That said, living a healthy lifestyle is always beneficial for your overall wellness—and that does affect fertility. Here, fertility experts share evidence-based practices that can nudge your chances in the right direction—no complete lifestyle overhaul required.

  • ABOUT OUR EXPERTS: Allison K. Rodgers, M.D., is a reproductive endocrinologist and fertility specialist at Fertility Centers of Illinois. Becca Romero, M.S., C.N.S., L.D.N., is a nutritionist specializing in fertility. Kiera Lane, N.M.D., MSAc, L.Ac., Dipl. Ac., is a naturopathic medicine doctor and the director of Arizona Natural Medicine.

Diet and Nutrition

A balanced diet rich in essential nutrients benefits hormonal health, which helps ensure that your body can carry out important functions for conception, such as ovulation. Becca Romero, M.S., C.N.S., L.D.N., a nutritionist specializing in fertility, recommends focusing on an unprocessed whole foods-based diet, which emphasizes consuming foods in their natural state. Think whole fruits and veggies, whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, and oats, and protein sources like fish, chicken, and beans. 

Read More: 3 Ways Restrictive Diets Mess With Women’s Hormones

What she doesn’t recommend? Restrictive diets that cut out major food groups, as they may lead to nutrient deficiencies or undernourishment. “There are certainly foods and drinks, however, that do not have any benefits for fertility, such as sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages, alcohol, and ultra-processed foods, including foods containing artificial sweeteners, food dyes, and other artificial ingredients,” Romero says. 

While the research is limited, one paper published in the journal Human Reproduction reviewed multiple studies on the link between alcohol and female fertility and found that even moderate alcohol consumption can disrupt menstrual cycles and ovulation, potentially impacting fertility.  

Meanwhile, another study published in Human Reproduction Open linked higher consumption of ultra-processed foods with lower total sperm count, concentration, and motility. 

Rodgers seconds Romero’s advice, adding that she also recommends her patients consume no more than 300 milligrams of caffeine (about two cups of coffee) per day and limit alcohol to three alcohol equivalents (one glass of wine, one can of beer, or one shot of liquor) for men and two for women per week.

Otherwise, make sure to get your fill of nutrients like folate, calcium, and iron, all of which are vital for reproductive health and a healthy pregnancy, suggests Rodgers. Folate is particularly important because of its role in preventing birth defects, so ensure you’re getting enough via supplements and foods like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and leafy greens. In general, Rodgers recommends both partners start supplementing (folic acid is the form traditionally used here, though various forms of folate are gaining popularity) at least three months before the desired conception.

Weight Management

Maintaining a healthy weight helps regulate hormonal balance, which is crucial for ovulation in women and sperm production in men, explains Romero. “Excess body fat can lead to hormonal imbalances that disrupt the menstrual cycle and reduce fertility,” she says. PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome), type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome are just a few of these conditions that can be exacerbated by excess weight. “Additionally, women who are overweight or underweight are more likely to experience irregular menstrual cycles or anovulation (lack of ovulation), which can make it more difficult to conceive.” 

Read More: How To Maintain A Healthy Weight Without Tracking Calories

A healthy weight is also crucial for men who are trying to conceive, as research has shown that obesity might negatively affect sperm quality, including factors like sperm count, motility, and morphology. Weight loss can improve these parameters and enhance fertility, notes Rodgers.

Exercise and Physical Activity

You know exercise does your overall health and wellness good, so it’s no surprise that it can be a wonderful addition to your ‘TTC’ regimen. Naturopath Kiera Lane, N.M.D., MSAc, L.Ac., Dipl. Ac., director of Arizona Natural Medicine, recommends moderate-intensity exercise for her fertility patients to improve overall health and hormonal function without causing excessive physical stress. Think brisk walking, swimming, yoga, or cycling for about 30 minutes most days of the week. “This level of exercise supports healthy weight management, reduces stress, and promotes optimal reproductive function,” she says. 

Rodgers agrees, noting that women should avoid high-intensity workouts, excessive exercise, or extreme endurance events while TTC, as these activities can disrupt hormonal balance and negatively impact fertility. “If the body is under too much stress (physical or emotional) the pituitary gland in the brain stops producing hormones that tell the ovaries to mature eggs and ovulation stops cycling,” she warns. 

Stress Management

Stress and the TTC journey often go hand in hand, especially if you’ve been trying for some time. While some studies show a relationship between chronic stress levels and disrupted ovulation and cycle regularity, fertility-focused naturopathic doctor Rachel Corradetti-Sargeant, N.D., notes that it’s a little bit of a ‘chicken or the egg’ situation. “It’s hard to tell which came first—the stress or the infertility causing stress,” she says. “Regardless, stress management is certainly an important part of a fertility journey.” 

While mild stress shouldn’t have too much of an impact, chronic stress can lead to elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can disrupt the delicate hormonal balance involved in ovulation and menstruation, explains Rogers. “Stress can also constrict blood vessels, potentially reducing blood flow to the reproductive organs, which can hinder the environment needed for healthy egg development and implantation,” she adds.

She recommends those trying to conceive regularly implement stress management techniques, such as massage, yoga, and acupuncture. It’s worth noting that while none of these stress management have been shown to increase pregnancy rates, they do increase the ability of patients to tolerate TTC and fertility care.

If you’re looking for a supplement to help with stress management, Rodgers recommends exploring melatonin, which may help regulate cortisol, promote relaxation, and potentially improve sleep quality. Some research even supports the potential for melatonin to support egg quality, as well. 

Environmental Toxins

Environmental toxins are harmful substances present in our air, water, food, and consumer products—and while research on them continues to develop, there’s reason to believe exposure could impact fertility. For example, certain toxins, called endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), can mimic or interfere with natural hormones, disrupting ovulation, menstrual cycles, and egg quality, suggests Rodgers. 

Read More: Balance Your Hormones Naturally With These Supplements

“A major toxin that comes to mind is PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) also known as ‘forever chemicals,’ which can contribute to reduced fertility in both men and women by affecting sperm quality, hormone levels, and ovarian function, notes Romero. “PFAS compounds can persist in the environment and accumulate in the body, posing long-term risks to reproductive health.” Since these chemicals are commonly found in everyday products such as non-stick cookware, waterproof clothing, cleaning products, personal care products, and more, reducing your exposure is not easy. 

To limit exposure to PFAS and other EDCs, Romero recommends choosing organic produce whenever possible, limiting processed foods, drinking filtered water, opting for cleaning and personal care products made from natural ingredients, and choosing BPA-free containers whenever possible. 

When should you see a doctor? 

Lifestyle changes aren’t the only important components of fertility. If you’re under 35 and have been trying to conceive for 12 months or more, are over 35 and have been trying to conceive for 6 months or more, or have had multiple miscarriages, it is time to reach out to a care provider to get some assistance, notes Corradetti.

“There are many situations in which lifestyle changes alone won’t fix everything. For example, in cases of medical conditions like hyperprolactinemia or hypothyroidism, medications are often needed,” she says. “Varicoceles and polyps may require surgical interventions and genetic conditions and issues like POI may require more advanced fertility interventions.” That is why thorough investigation and management through both medical and holistic approaches are often advisable when dealing with infertility. 

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