Whether you plan to start a family now or in a few years, there are things you can do that will help improve your chance of a healthy pregnancy. Starting these habits even 90 days before conception can have an impact on a patient’s overall health. The following tips will help boost fertility and give mom and baby the best possible chance of a healthy pregnancy and child.
- Make an Appointment with Your OB/GYN
If you’re considering getting pregnant in the near future, you should check your fertility and reproductive health today. Make your annual appointment with your OB/GYN for a physical exam and blood tests, which may include testing of your follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and anti-mullerian hormone (AMH). These are easy ways to check your hormone levels and physical well-being.
Since AMH is not effected by estrogen and other hormones, it can be tested at any point in the menstrual cycle and even in patients on birth control pills. AMH is a protein secreted by small follicles in the ovary that decreases gradually over a woman’s reproductive years; the level of this hormone is one of the best markers of a woman’s ovarian reserve or her fertility potential. If your OB/GYN does not routinely conduct this test, you may want to consider asking for it. Reproductive Medicine Associates of Connecticut (RMACT) hosts several complimentary events throughout the year where women can have their AMH tested. The next event is on Thursday, December 3, 2015 from 5:00 PM – 7:00 PM at our Stamford office. For more information about this event and others, please visit www.rmact.com and click on “events.”
- Track Your Monthly Cycle
Women with predictable cycles know when they are ovulating and therefore can determine the best time for intercourse. Ovulation kits can also be helpful for determining the best window of time. Irregular ovulation or missed periods may be an indication of fertility challenges.
- Get More Sleep
There are many reasons to get good quality sleep for seven to nine hours each night. First, sleep is the body’s natural healer. During sleep, the body rejuvenates, repairs, grows, and promotes optimal immune system functioning. When we deprive ourselves of sleep, the body grows increasingly stressed, damaged, and more prone to illness.
Second, irregular sleep patterns or too little sleep disrupts hormonal balance in the body. This affects reproductive hormones such as testosterone and estrogen, which regulate ovulation and fertility in general. Cortisol, also known as the “stress hormone,” is effected by inadequate sleep. Chronic elevation of cortisol leads to elevated blood sugar, insulin resistance, and weight gain. Making this situation more complicated, when Cortisol is chronically elevated, it interferes with the production of melatonin and makes it difficult to sleep.
Good sleep habits include going to bed and waking up at the same time everyday, even on weekends. Here are other ways to ensure a good night’s sleep:
- Avoid watching television or doing work or homework in bed.
- Avoid checking your cell phone throughout the night.
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine 4-6 hours before bedtime.
- Don’t take naps.
- Exercise every day, but avoid doing it 4 hours before bedtime.
- Avoid eating or drinking in the few hours right before going to bed, as these might lead to sleep disruptions.
- Manage Stress
Stress can manifest in several physical conditions, including high blood pressure, suppression of the immune system, irritability, anxiety, depression, anger management issues, and possibly even infertility. Stress management is important for each patient’s health; it has a surprising effect on pregnancies and baby’s health.
There isn’t conclusive clinical data that determines if stress is a factor in fertility. However, there is no downside to managing stress. Anecdotally, I can see the benefits in my patients when they have techniques in place to manage their stress, particularly since fertility treatments can bring additional stress into our daily lives.
For many of my patients, mind-body techniques such as yoga or meditation are helpful; exercise can also be beneficial. However, keep in mind that moderate exercise such as walking is preferred.
I also recommend doing something with your partner that you both enjoy, whether it is traveling, taking a class or simply going for a walk together. Maintaining this relationship can help alleviate stress and prepare you for the next step as a couple – becoming a family. This is also an opportunity to strengthen your communication and to discuss topics related to your dreams for a family, including how big of a family you want and when you want to start trying.
- Boost Folic Acid
Nutrition and eating habits impact every aspect of our bodies. The more we know about nutrition, holistic health and epigenetics, the more importance we place on the foods we consume.
If there is only one change that you make to your nutrition prior to conception, increase your folic acid intake. This has been clinically proven to significantly reduce the incidence of birth defects, known as neural tube defects, such as spina bifida, which occurs when the spine and back do not close during development.
At RMACT, our nutritionists recommend that patients take prenatal vitamins that include 800 mcg of folic acid. Additionally, folic acid or folate, which are forms of water-soluble B vitamins, occur naturally in foods such as leafy vegetables (such as spinach, broccoli, and lettuce), fruits (such as bananas, melons, and lemons), beans, orange juice, and tomato juice.
- Minimize Bad Habits
We all have bad habits… alcohol, cigarettes and the most common of them all, caffeine. When you are preparing for pregnancy, you should minimize alcohol and caffeine consumption and eliminate smoking all together. This is good for the intended parents’ health and it is imperative for egg and sperm health.
Women should limit their drinking to less than three servings of alcohol per week (one serving is 12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits) and lower caffeine intake to 150 mg per day (one 8 ounce cup of brewed coffee).
Men should also eliminate all smoking and decrease caffeine and alcohol (less than six servings per week to avoid damage to sperm).
Starting a family is an exciting time! Enjoy this stage of your life and good luck.
Dr. Spencer Richlin, is the Surgical Director and a Fertility Specialist in reproductive endocrinology at Reproductive Medicine Associates of Connecticut (RMACT). Richlin also holds the title, Chief of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility (REI), in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Norwalk Hospital. He is Board Certified in Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility as well as Obstetrics and Gynecology.