Life can be incredibly frustrating and equally heartbreaking for a couple who is struggling to conceive. Among weeding through feelings of anxiety and insecurity, couples often experience a loss each month a pregnancy test doesn’t show a positive sign.
But there is hope, and most couples have a high chance of conceiving.
“Nine times out of 10, it’s very easily treated with either diet and lifestyle adjustments or minor fertility medications to help promote ovulation,” said Dr. Shawn E. Gurtcheff, a physician specializing in Reproductive Endocrinology Fertility at Utah Fertility Center.
In the first couple months of trying, Dr. Gurtcheff and other doctors suggest couples consider the factors that affect fertility and try to boost their chances of conception on their own.
Weight and diet
What both men and women eat and how much they weigh can affect their fertility, experts say. “People who consume high doses of caffeine have lowered fertility,” Dr. Gurtcheff said. “Additionally, alcohol, in more than moderate doses, can negatively affect fertility.” Weight can also affect a woman’s menstrual cycle and a man’s sperm.
“Several studies have suggested that women who are overweight or underweight [struggle with] fertility,” Dr. Gurtcheff said. “Trying to maintain a healthy weight is very important.”
Extreme athletes, such as long distance runners, sometimes struggle with infertility because of their low body weight. When a woman stops having a monthly period because of excess exercise, it’s often referred to as exercise-induced amenorrhea.
In these cases, Dr. Saunders said, it’s smart for women to rethink their fitness routines for a few months. “Sometimes gaining just 10 pounds can help someone’s fertility,” he said.
In large studies, over-the-counter, water-based lubricants like KY Jelly and Astroglide have not been associated with lower fertility among couples who are fertile, according to Dr. Gurtcheff. But those lubricants have not been heavily tested in infertile couples, and in the lab, they have shown to be detrimental.
“We typically recommend for couples who are trying to get pregnant to avoid those types of lubricants,” she said. “There is a commercially available product called Pre-Seed that’s a water-based lubricant and has been tested in infertile couples and has not been shown to be detrimental.”
Studies have suggested that a couple’s highest fertility comes with daily intercourse, Dr. Gurtcheff said.
“Intercourse at least every other day is pretty much just as good,” she said. “If every day is stressful, I usually tell people every other day is fine.”
But no matter how much intercourse a couple has, they won’t be successful if they don’t have sex around the time a woman is ovulating.
If a woman has a regular, predictable cycle, she’ll usually ovulate between day 10 and 20 of her cycle, Dr. Gurtcheff said.
“It can be as simple as having regular intercourse during that week and a half,” she said.
But having intercourse before ovulation is usually even more beneficial than waiting until ovulation, Dr. Saunders said. That’s because sperm can live in a woman’s body for about five days while an egg only lives for 12 to 24 hours.
“A lot of people think they need to wait until they ovulate to have intercourse but that’s actually the wrong thing to do,” Dr. Saunders said. “I actually tell people to start having intercourse right after they have their period on day eight or nine. You can have intercourse on day nine, ovulate on day 14 and the sperm that’s been there since day nine can actually fertilize the egg. Those little sperm can live for a long time.”
There are multiple ways to track a woman’s ovulatory phase, including monitoring cervical mucus, basal temperature tracking and over-the-counter ovulation kits.
Position generally doesn’t affect conception, Dr. Saunders said, but he acknowledges that it could if couples only have intercourse in gravity-defying positions, such as sitting or standing.
“For the most part I’d say it doesn’t matter,” he said.
The American Fork obstetrician does however recommend that after intercourse a woman lay on her back with a pillow under her buttocks to help keep the semen close to her cervix.
It’s not necessary but it could help, he said.
Stress levels and mind set
Relaxation, which is easier said than done, may help a couple boost their chances of conception. “There is some evidence that shows stress really does play a role in conceiving,” Dr. Saunders said.
There are methods that can help the vast majority of people conceive, both Dr. Saunders and Dr. Gurtcheff said. “It’s not a matter of are you going to be able to have a baby -- it’s what are we going to have to do to get you there,” Dr. Gurtcheff said.