8 Ways to Boost Your Fertility

Simple things -- diet, timing of sex, even your lubricant -- may help you conceive faster.

From the WebMD Archives

If you're like most couples who are trying to conceive, you want to get pregnant sooner rather than later.

Having intercourse as close as possible to ovulation definitely helps. But fertility experts say there are other ways couples can boost their fertility. A few simple measures may make the next month the month you'll squeal: "We're pregnant!"

1. Her Fertility Booster: Weight Control

Being underweight or overweight can delay the time it takes a woman to conceive.

William Gibbons, director of the division of reproductive endocrinology and infertility at Baylor College of Medicine, says weight before getting pregnant is often an overlooked factor in fertility. Keeping a healthy weight can help with conception.

In onestudy, researchers evaluated the body mass index (BMI) of 2,112 pregnant women. Women in the study who had a pre-pregnancy BMI of 25-39 – considered overweight or obese -- had a twofold increase in the time it took to get pregnant. A BMI less than 19 (18.5 to 24.9 is considered normal) is even worse, the researchers found. Time to conception was increased fourfold in women with a BMI below 19.

Gibbons tells women to stay at a healthy weight when trying to conceive.

2. His Fertility Booster: Protect Those Sperm

According to Dale McClure, president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, the idea that changing to boxers instead of briefs will boost fertility by keeping genital temperatures down is basically an old wives' tale. Earlier studies seemed to point to boxers as the better choice, McClure says. But more recent studies haven't shown a major difference.

What about exposing the testicles to other sources of heat? The American Society for Reproductive Medicine says controlling temperature doesn't play much of role in boosting fertility. Some doctors, though, recommend staying away from certain sources. For instance, sitting in a hot tub day after day should be avoided, McClure says, even if a man has no known fertility problems. In at least one study, repeated exposure to high water temperatures through hot tubs or hot baths was shown to affect men's fertility.

Still, no research has clearly shown a link between exposure to other sources of heat and a man's fertility. One study did show that scrotal temperatures went up in laptop users who held the computer on their laps and warned that long-term exposures to high temperatures could harm sperm. Another study found that exposure to radiation from cell phones could adversely affect sperm that had been collected from participants. Researchers in that study speculated that keeping a cell phone in a pants pocket could affect the health of a man's sperm.

While neither study was sufficient to prove that exposure to sources of heat could harm sperm enough to affect fertility, McClure still says a man who wants to be a father probably shouldn't keep his laptop on his lap for extended periods of time. But even considering the above findings, McClure says he is "more concerned about hot tubbing."

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3. Her Fertility Booster: Watch the Beverages

Drinking too much coffee or too much alcohol can impair a woman's fertility.

Experts say that drinking more than five cups of coffee a day -- the equivalent of about 500 milligrams of caffeine -- is associated with lower fertility. But don't give up your daily cup of coffee just yet. Moderate caffeine consumption, Gibbons says, seems to be OK. Having one or two cups a day is fine. His advice for women who are coffee or soda drinkers: "Stay under 200 to 250 milligrams of caffeine a day."

Studies on alcohol intake and women's fertility have produced mixed findings. But Swedish researchers have found that women who drank two alcoholic beverages a day decreased their fertility by nearly 60%. Once again, moderation is key. Although higher levels of alcohol -- two drinks or more a day -- should be avoided when trying to get pregnant, there is no evidence to show that moderate alcohol consumption adversely affects fertility.

You will, though, want to cut out alcohol completely once you are pregnant. Drinking while pregnant increases the risk of serious birth defects.

4. Couple's Fertility Booster: Stop Smoking

Smoking cigarettes can impair both a woman's and a man's fertility. Smoking affects how receptive the uterus is to the egg. And in men, smoking can reduce sperm production and damage DNA. Experts also strongly suggest quitting smoking before you’re pregnant. Smoking while pregnant boosts the risk of miscarriage.

5. Couple's Fertility Booster: The Fertile Window

Taking advantage of what doctors call the "fertile window" can boost your chances of pregnancy. The fertile window is the six-days that end on the day of ovulation. Pregnancy is most likely to occur with intercourse within the three days before ovulation.

Richard Paulson, chief of the division of reproductive endocrinology and infertility at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine, says that couples often wait until the day of ovulation or later to have intercourse. But if you really want to get pregnant, “Err on the early side,” he says.

Paulson also advises keeping close track of ovulation -- either by the calendar method, figuring ovulation occurs about 14 days before the menstrual period is due, or by using an ovulation predictor kit, widely sold online and in drugstores.

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6. Couple's Fertility Booster: Have Frequent Sex

Delaying lovemaking -- or as some couples say, ''saving up'' -- isn't going to boost the chances of pregnancy, McClure says.

"After about a week, the [sperm] count goes up a bit, but the motility decreases," he says. Not having sex for more than five days may affect sperm counts adversely. But intervals as short as two days don't harm sperm density.

Although daily intercourse produced the highest pregnancy rate in one study, it may pose too much stress for some couples. The same study showed that having sex every other day produced nearly as good a pregnancy rate.

7. Couples Fertility Booster: Choose Lubricants Wisely

With more frequent intercourse, couples may turn more to vaginal lubricants. That's OK, doctors say, if the lubes are picked wisely. Some lubricants can actually decrease fertility. When you're trying to get pregnant, be sure to avoid products that have spermicidal agents.

So what is a good lubricant to use? "Canola oil," Gibbons says.

"Even peanut oil is good," McClure says. But impromptu household lubes may not be good. "I had a patient yesterday with a great sperm count and no motility [swimming ability]," McClure says. When he asked a few more questions, he got to the root of the problem. "He was using soap for a lubricant," and soap was killing the sperm.

You also want to avoid commercially available water-based lubricants. Water-based lubricants, such as Astroglide, KY Jelly, and Touch, may inhibit sperm motility by 60% to 100%.

8. Couple's Fertility Booster: Avoid Pesticides and Other Harmful Exposures

Exposures to pesticide, especially agricultural pesticides, may harm both men and women's fertility. And exposure to some solvents and toxins -- including those used in printing businesses and dry cleaning establishments -- can adversely affect women's fertility.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on December 20, 2011

Sources

SOURCES:

Dale McClure, MD, president, American Society for Reproductive Medicine; clinical professor of urology, University of Washington School of Medicine; director of male infertility and microsurgery, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle.

William Gibbons, MD, director, division of reproductive endocrinology and infertility and professor of obstetrics and gynecology, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston; president-elect, American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

Richard Paulson, MD, chief of the division of reproductive endocrinology and infertility, University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine, Los Angeles.

Wilcox, A. New England Journal of Medicine, Dec. 7, 1995.

Hassan, M. Fertility and Sterility, February 2004.

Eggert, J. Fertility and Sterility, February 2004.

Soares, SR. Current Opinion in Obstetrics and Gynecology, June 2008.

American Society for Reproductive Medicine: "Optimizing natural fertility," committee opinion.

Shenynkin, Y. Human Reproduction, online Dec. 9, 2004.

Agarwal A. Fertility and Sterility, online Sept. 18, 2008.

Shefi, S. International Brazilian Journal of Urology, March-April 2007.

Jung, A. Fertility and Sterility, August 2008.

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