For some couples, getting pregnant is quick and easy. For others, things are not as easy.
Sometimes, problems are linked to such specific physiological issues as blocked fallopian tubes in the woman or low to no sperm count in the man -- problems that can be addressed by a fertility specialist and subsequent treatments like in vitro fertilization (IVF) or insemination.
For many others, however, reasons behind their infertility are much harder to define.
"Often, problems are subclinical -- meaning we know something is wrong, it's just not showing up on the radar," says Staci Pollack, MD, a reproductive endocrinologist at the Montefiore Medical Center's Institute of Reproductive Medicine and Health.
Pollack says standard fertility treatments can usually help, but in some cases, so can a host of other, less costly techniques -- some of which couples can try on their own.
The key to success: Knowing when to try -- and when it's time for more serious medical treatment. The good news: Doctors say both options can be clearly mapped out with the help of a medical fertility workup. Designed to rule out specific causes that require medical care, test results can also help you decide if any of these low-tech treatments are worth a try.
And what if you aren't anticipating a problem but just want to give your fertility a boost? Some of these low-tech methods can work for you as well. Just keep in mind that the American Society for Reproductive Medicine says if you don't get pregnant after 12 months of regular unprotected intercourse -- or six months if you are a woman over 35 -- it's time to seek help from a fertility specialist.
Fertility Booster No. 1: Eat Healthfully
Among the most common causes of unexplained infertility in women is "ovulatory dysfunction" -- an umbrella term encompassing problems with ovulation.
Though a number of factors can be responsible, many doctors now believe diet is one of the keys. In a study of some 17,000 women conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health, researchers were able to define a group of "fertility foods" able to improve conception odds.
Which dietary tenets were significant for increasing fertility?
- Eating more monounsaturated fats (like olive oil) and less trans fats (like the kind found in many baked goods or fast foods).
- Increasing intake of vegetable protein (like soy), while reducing animal protein (like red meat).
- Eating more high fiber, low-glycemic foods -- like whole grains, vegetables, and some fruits, while reducing the intake of refined carbohydrates and sugars.
- Consuming moderate amounts of high-fat dairy products -- like ice cream, whole milk, and cheese.
Jorge Chavarro, MD, a study researcher, believes diet made a difference because the majority of women experiencing ovulatory dysfunction were also suffering from undiagnosed or subclinical PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome), a condition related to insulin resistance that also affects ovulation.
"It responds well to diet, so that could be one of the reasons these foods were so helpful," says Chavarro, who translated his medical study findings into a book called The Fertility Diet.
Pollack believes it's worth giving the diet a try but says, "You should not depend on it alone -- make it just one part of your overall efforts to conceive."