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Getting Pregnant: Easy Ways to Encourage Fertility

If you’re having trouble getting pregnant but you're not quite ready for fertility treatments, there are things you can try on your own.

Fertility Booster No. 2: Weight Control

Whether or not you eat the so-called "fertility foods," maintaining a healthy weight is another way to enhance your fertility.

Studies show that having either a very low or very high BMI (body mass index) disrupts ovulation and may also affect production of important reproductive hormones.

"One of the first things I counsel women about is the role of their weight in influencing their fertility," says Janet Choi, MD, a reproductive endocrinologist at the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City.

For many women -- particularly those who are overweight -- problems are traced to ovulatory dysfunction, often caused by PCOS. That said, a recent Dutch study of some 3,000 women found excess weight could also interfere with fertility even if a woman is ovulating normally.

Reporting in the journal Human Reproduction, researchers documented a 4% decrease in conception odds for every point in BMI above 30. For women whose BMI was higher than 35, there was up to a 43% overall decrease in the ability to conceive.

The good news: Losing those extra pounds may preclude the need for pricey fertility treatments.

In fact, the British Fertility Society in 2007 issued new guidelines urging members to defer fertility treatments in very obese women (BMI over 35) until they gave weight loss a try.

At the same time, being too thin can also keep you from conceiving. "Women who are extremely lean often have a problem getting pregnant because they are not able to sustain a regular menstrual cycle -- for these women, it is more beneficial to gain weight," Chavarro says.

Fertility Booster No. 3: Reduce Stress

Although links between stress and infertility have been long debated, evidence continues to mount that the two are intertwined.

In studies conducted by Alice Domar, PhD, at Harvard's Mind-Body Institute, women who underwent stress reduction therapy saw dramatic increases in their ability to get pregnant. In fact, even women who were already undergoing fertility treatments had more successful outcomes when stress was kept under control.

More recently, research conducted at Magee Women's Hospital in Pittsburgh by Sarah Burga, MD, linked stress to a condition known as functional hypothalamic amenorrhea (FHA). Affecting some 5% of women in their reproductive years, it causes irregular or absent menstrual cycles.

Choi says, "I don't advocate quitting your job just to get rid of stress, but if you can try to get better day-to-day management of your anxieties, I believe it can work in conjunction with other methods to encourage fertility."

What can you do to reduce fertility-related stresses? Experts say anything that makes you feel relaxed can help -- be it listening to music, doing yoga, getting regular massages, writing in a journal, reading, gardening -- even chatting on the phone with friends.

You can also think outside the box for some unique ways to reduce stress. One recent study published in the journal Psychological Science found the simple act of holding hands with your spouse can drop stress levels dramatically. Or you might try renting a stack of romantic comedy videos.

If you're tempted to handle your stress by smoking or drinking alcohol, experts say don't. Numerous studies have shown that smoking contributes to both male and female infertility and can even impair the outcome of fertility treatments. Excessive alcohol consumption can impair ovulation in women and sperm production in men.

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