For some couples, getting pregnant happens easily. For others it can take time and may even require medical help. If you're planning to throw out the contraceptives soon, our guide is full of ideas on how to get pregnant easily. If you've been trying to get pregnant for a while and are starting to worry that nothing has happened, don't panic. One in six couples experiences fertility problems so yours is a very common problem. We look at tips you and your partner can do and advise when to seek help for getting pregnant.
Have sex regularly
One of the most obvious ways to get pregnant is to have regular sex, but it's often overlooked in a relationship.
Geeta Nargund, medical director of the Diana Princess of Wales Centre for Reproductive Medicine at St George's Hospital in London says, Often, when I ask patients how long they've been trying to have a baby, they'll say for the past six years. But when you get down to it, they haven't been trying for six years because they haven't been having regular sex. Professional couples often work in different places and have busy lives so don't find time to have sex at the right time of the month. You should try to have sex at the time of ovulation which is around day 14 of your menstrual cycle.'
She doesn't think that sexual positions have any impact on fertilisation. But Toni Weschler, an American public health specialist who has explored the subject of fertility, recommends that you avoid straddling your partner as this means semen will leak out, and that you place a small pillow under your hips after intercourse. This means your cervix rests in the pool of semen for around 20 minutes and allows the sperm time to swim up through the cervix. If you have a tipped uterus, try having sex from behind, on your hands and knees. By having intercourse in this position, a woman with a tipped uterus allows the sperm better access to her cervix, according to Weschler.
Get your body ready for a baby
There's a general consensus among fertility experts that you should try to get to your optimum weight when trying to get pregnant (speak to your GP to find out what this is) as being over or underweight can affect the regularity of your periods and inhibit ovulation. If you carry too much weight around the stomach it can affect your hormone balance and impair fertility and getting pregnant.
If you aren't already taking some form of regular exercise - get into the habit now. Regular exercise such as swimming can increase your chances of becoming pregnant. Not only that but getting into shape may help your body cope with the physical demands of pregnancy.
You should stop smoking and limit your alcohol intake to increase your chances of getting pregnant. Research shows women who drink less than five units - that's five small glasses - of wine a week are twice as likely to get pregnant within six months with women who drink ten or more units.
Smoking robs the body of essential nutrients for fertility including zinc, selenium, and vitamin C. It increases levels of toxic substances like cadmium and lead in the blood. If you smoke you're more likely to have lower levels of vital fertility hormones and it will take you longer to conceive. If you need help stopping, call Quitline on 0800 002200. You need to take care with over-the counter and prescribed drugs. Avoid ibuprofen; Roaccutane, an anti-acne treatment; certain antibiotics - if you're about to be prescribed these tell your doctor that you're planning a pregnancy; antihistamines, which can interfere with cervical mucus; diuretics which can dry the cervix. Paracetamol is fine for pain relief.
Take folic acid supplements at least three months before you even try to conceive to reduce the risk of the baby developing neural tube defects, which leads to conditions such as spina bifida. It's difficult to consume the recommended level of folic acid through food alone which is why taking a single daily supplement of 400mcg folic acid is a simple way for women to protect their unborn babies.
Get his body ready, too!
Men should make sure that their testes are not too hot as this can kill sperm. They should avoid hot baths, tight-fitting underwear and jeans, and using a portable computer balanced on the lap as all these things raise scrotal temperature.
Geeta also recommends that men take a vitamin E, C and zinc supplement to enhance sperm number and quality, but she believes vitamin supplements are unnecessary for women as long as they are following a healthy balanced diet which is low in fat and has plenty of fruit and vegetables. The aim is to achieve a good balance - eat healthily and take moderate exercise.' If your partner smokes, he should stop now. Male fertility is also affected by smoking as male smokers have a lower sperm count than non-smokers.
Watch your stress levels
If you're under prolonged or severe stress your body uses energy on essential repair, maintenance and survival. Reproduction isn't deemed essential' so it takes a back seat. That's why many fertility experts believe stress can contribute to the time it takes to get pregnant. In women, stress leads to an overproduction of prolactin, a reproductive hormone, interfering with ovulation.
If you're living a hectic life, deciding to try for a baby should be a cue to slow down. You won't be able to live at such a frantic pace once you're pregnant so put changes in place now.
Too much stress is also a passion-killer. Getting pregnant will be easier, and more fun, if you enjoy sex and have time, energy and space for it in your lives.
Your man should also try and reduce his stress levels as it will help improve sperm quality. Make sure he finds time each day to unwind. Exercise will help him deal with stress.
Improve your diet
Make sure you eat plenty of protein. Daily portions of meat, poultry, fish and dairy improves egg production. It's best to avoid soya as it has mild contraceptive properties. Caffeine should also be on your banned list - more than one cup of coffee a day can increase the time it takes to get pregnant by up to 50% - so try switching to herbal teas.
You should also drink around two litres of water daily, and think about taking multi-vitamin and mineral supplements. Look for a specially formulated pre-pregnancy supplement. It should contain zinc, which is vital for maintaining a healthy menstrual cycle; and selenium which boosts fertility levels. Try to cut down on flavourings and additives, especially aspartame and monosodium glutamate. Go for fresh meat, fish and vegetables rather than processed ready-meals, and healthy snacks like fruit and nuts rather than chocolate and crisps. Your partner should also drink at least two litres of water a day as semen is largely made up of water. He should also have a healthy diet and take a vitamin and mineral supplement.
It helps if you can get some idea of how long your menstrual cycle is. An average cycle is 28 days, but it can be longer or shorter. You also need to know whether you ovulate regularly.
Most women ovulate mid-cycle, and your body gives you various subtle clues that this is happening. Your cervical and vaginal secretions change, your temperature rises slightly and your cervix looks and feels slightly different. To find out more, make an appointment to see the fertility awareness nurse at your family planning clinic.
If you're coming off the Pill, it's worth knowing you'll probably be very fertile for the first few months but then your fertility could dip for a year or more. So don't miss out on that early burst of fertility. It's also worth knowing that lubricant can prevent sperm getting through your cervix.
Where you can find support:
- - Foresight, the Association for the Preconceptual Care, also offers advice on natural ways to boost fertility. For more information contact 01483 427 839.
- - ISSUE, the UK National Fertility Association, offers advice about fertility treatment. For details call 01922 722888.
- - CHILD, the National Infertility Support Network, supports couples undergoing fertility treatment. For info call 01424 732361.
- For more information on male fertiity, sex and relationships visit Men's Health