So many women spend their teens and early 20s actively preventing pregnancy, whether they’re using an IUD or other form of birth control. It can be a jolting psychological switch when women do decide to start trying to get pregnant, only to realize it can take more effort and time than they expect.Dr. Jeffrey Williams, obstetrician and gynecologist with Novant Health Triad OB/GYN, finds that his patients often expect to get pregnant right away once they start trying. But, he said, “It’s important to keep in mind that your chance of getting pregnant each month, depending on your age, is only about 25 percent. It’s normal to not conceive on your first try. About 80 percent of couples will conceive by six months, and 85 percent of couples will conceive by 12 months.”
The average age of first-time mothers in the U.S. is actually 26. And beyond the simple fact that it could take many tries to conceive, there can be other obstacles, of course. “Some habits such as smoking, excessive alcohol or drug use, increased stress, or elevated body weight can affect fertility, and we address these issues if needed,” Williams said.
Regardless, unless a woman is dealing with irregularities in her cycle, she typically wouldn’t be tested for or diagnosed with infertility until 12 months of unprotected intercourse have passed, he said.
So, if you’re within that first year of trying to get pregnant, here are eight things to keep in mind.
Trying to conceive now or in the future?
1. Start taking a prenatal supplement.
“Start taking the prenatal vitamin now and don’t stop it until you are menopausal,” Williams said. “All women of child-bearing age should be on a prenatal vitamin regardless of birth control use, since no method is 100 percent effective. They should be on 400 mcg (micrograms) of folic acid supplementation every day. Prenatal vitamins provide folic acid and iron as well as the recommended vitamins and minerals that a woman needs.”
Talk with your physician prior to starting other supplements, he said.
2. Eating a nutrient-dense diet can’t hurt – especially the Mediterranean diet.
“I wouldn’t discourage a patient from attempting to eat more healthfully,” Williams said. “There is growing support for the Mediterranean diet and its positive effects on fertility.”
Williams also supports the reduction or avoidance of processed foods, especially processed sugars.
3. It’s ideal to support a healthy weight.
That works two ways. On one end, a woman may not be consuming enough calories, which can adversely affect her reproductive system, her bone density and more, Williams said. Meanwhile, “Women with a BMI of 30 or more may benefit from weight loss as the chances of spontaneous conception seem to increase with weight reduction.”
4. The benefits of increasing exercise depend on your body type.
“There’s data to suggest that vigorous exercise in overweight women may benefit fertility,” Williams said. “But at lower BMIs, vigorous exercise could potentially adversely affect fertility. Your physician will be able to give specific direction based off your body and goals.”
5. Figure out a good method for tracking ovulation.
“I highly recommend the Creighton Model FertilityCare System, Williams said. “It not only provides the patient with the ability to know when she is fertile, which allows her to target days of intercourse if conception is desired, but it also allows her to know when she is not fertile. Therefore, it provides her a highly effective, natural means to (try to) avoid pregnancy in the future as well. The Creighton Model FertilityCare System collects information on her bleeding patterns, cervical mucus quantity and quality, and post-ovulation phase patterns.”
Ask your doctor how to access sessions with a trained FertilityCare practitioner if you’re interested in the system.
6. Should you give up alcohol? Focus on moderation instead.
“Some studies show that moderate to heavy alcohol consumption by the male or female partner can affect time to conception,” Williams said. “One alcoholic beverage a day is unlikely to affect fertility.”
7. Worry less about non-stick cookware and switching to all-natural cleaning products.
Sure, it seems like you’d be limiting your exposure to possible toxins by eliminating these. But, Williams said, “It’s difficult to determine the true effects of many environmental exposures on human fertility because there are often multiple co-exposures, amongst other issues.”
8. While you’re at it, you don’t need to give up drinks and foods stored in BPA-lined cans, either.
BPA is an industrial chemical often found in plastic food containers and metal water bottles and has attracted a lot of attention in recent years over its potential impact on fetal development and children.
“Because of its ubiquity, it’s generally very difficult to avoid BPA products altogether,” Williams said. “Various studies on both female and male fertility yield conflicting results with regards to BPA's effects. While it's not wrong to try to avoid these products, given the conflicting data, I wouldn’t lose sleep over it.”
That’s kind of the general theme, actually. Unless you’re concerned about medical issues with your body or menstrual cycle, there’s no need to lose sleep during the first 12 months that you’re trying to get pregnant. Give it time.