Most people think getting pregnant is easy and that getting pregnant ‘accidentally’ is common. And it may be easy for some women but usually it can take women under 35 years old up to 12 months to get pregnant.
I knew that when we decided to start trying for a baby that I couldn’t leave it all to chance. As someone who lives a life full of plans and lists, I needed to feel like I had some control of my fertility and chances of getting pregnant. Which meant making some changes to my lifestyle to improve my chances of falling pregnant quickly, prepare my body as best I could for a healthy pregnancy, and hopefully the set our baby up for a healthy future.
Female eggs take about 3 months to mature and male sperm takes about 4 months to mature. So it’s important to be healthy at least 4 months before you start trying for a baby. I started making slight changes about 6 months before trying to conceive because I knew there would be setbacks early on and temptations to get back to old habits. But once I was about 6 weeks in, my new healthy habits became a normal part of my routine.
Let’s not forget about men too! Male infertility is more common than people realise. Healthy lifestyle changes recommended for women trying to conceive (Steps 1 – 5 below) can also improve fertility in men and the health of sperm. So I convinced my husband to get onto these steps too. It’s been motivating and helpful to be supporting each other through this plan.
Step 1: More exercise
This is an area I still need more improvement, especially because I sit most of the day in an office. I use to do no exercise and never paid much attention to trying to include exercise in my daily routine. I might’ve gone to the gym for group fitness classes twice a week but I was inconsistent. I’m now regularly doing weight training twice a week and jog once a week, for about 30 minutes per session. My fitness, endurance and never-give-up attitude has improved, hopefully good preparation for childbirth!
Step 2: Eat healthier foods
My husband and I have tried to cut down on buying lunches and snacking on processed or fast foods. I meal prep every Sundays and stick to a meal plan with more fish, vegetables and wholegrains, and less meat. We reserve eating out just for weekends as a treat and to catch up socially with friends. I also try to buy organic products and produce from whole food or green grocer stores.
Step 3: Get to a healthy BMI
I have been underweight since a teenager, I always looked sick and struggled to buy clothes that fit me well. My new year’s resolution each year was always ‘to gain weight’. Although there’s a lot of focus on overweight and obesity, being underweight can lead to infertility as well.
I use to be a picky eater, usually opting for fried foods and lots of cakes or pastries. As I’ve gotten older I’ve tried more foods, experimented with different recipes and am eating a much more varied, healthy diet. I think a healthier diet coupled with more exercise has helped me gain weight. I’m now in the healthy BMI range (about 22) and feel like I have a lot more energy.
Step 4: Cut down on chemicals at home
There are so many endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) that we’re exposed to everyday. First I switched my plastic food containers to glass and use a paper towel instead of the plastic lid or cling wrap when heating containers in the microwave.
Then I slowly switched my makeup and skincare as my products were finishing. It took me some time to research brands and ingredients to find brands with no fragrance, talc, parabens and phthalates. I’m still experimenting but I really like the BareMinerals and Medik8 ranges.
I’m also trying to keep my eye out when I’m grocery shopping for tinned and canned foods with no BPA and household cleaning products that are free of EDCs. Most brands in whole food stores don’t have EDCs, but there are also some options in supermarket chains if you take the time to look carefully.
Step 5: Reduce stress
I don’t get stressed that often, but trying to conceive has made me anxious. I’m most concerned about my age (I’m almost 33) and hope that we haven’t left it too late to start a family. There were various reasons why we waited until our 30s to start a family and there’s nothing we can do to change our age. I know some women who had their first child after they were 35 so try to remind myself that it can and will happen for me too.
It probably helps that I don’t use social media because at our age, social media feeds are full of pregnancy announcements, birth announcements and kids’ birthdays.
I try to reduce stress and anxiety by journaling (I use an app called Day One) and doing meditation exercises on YouTube.
Step 6: Start taking folic acid and iodine
Folic acid and iodine are important from the moment women get pregnant so it’s important that there are recommended amounts in the body months before getting pregnant. Folic acid promotes normal development of the spine and spinal cord which helps prevent birth defects such as spina bifida, where the baby’s spine doesn’t develop properly. Iodine is important for a baby’s brain and physical growth and development.
It’s difficult to get the recommended amounts of folic acid and iodine from foods alone. I started taking a daily supplement containing folic acid and iodine (Blackmores I-Folic) a few months ago. And instead of regular salt, I have been cooking with iodised salt for many years because my dad has hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid that causes low iodine levels).
Step 7: Track cycles and ovulation
My cycles were never really regular, most likely because I was underweight. But this past year and I think since I’ve become healthier, my cycles have regularly been about 30 days apart. I have been using the period tracking apps Clue and Dot at the same time. They must be based on different algorithms because they come up with slightly different fertile windows. I haven’t made up my mind yet about which one I prefer so I’ll use both for now.
I’ve just started using a urine ovulation test kit (First Response). I start testing from about day 15 or 16. The days that I get a positive test is also showing up on Clue and Dot as my fertile windows. With the Clue app, I put in details about the results of ovulation test kits as extra information, but this feature isn’t on the Dot app.