You can boost your fertility by making lifestyle changes and dropping unhealthy habits. Whether you’re just starting to try to conceive, or you’ve been trying for a long time, it’s worth taking the time to make changes now.
But… it’s essential you go into this with a straight head and reasonable expectations. Here’s how to make lifelong changes — not just spur of the moment ones.
First, the bad news: if you’re infertile, lifestyle change is unlikely to be your “cure.” While infertility can be caused by bad health habits, in most cases, it’s rarely the entire story.
Research has found that people who practice certain health habits are less likely to experience infertility.
However, it has not found that those diagnosed with infertility will suddenly become fertile if they take up those same lifestyle practices.
Correlation is not causation.
Take for example this (real) study: women who ate high-fat dairy products daily — like ice cream — were found to be less likely to experience ovulation-related infertility.
Does this mean that eating ice cream will make you ovulate? Or get you pregnant? No! It’s way more complicated than that.
Now, here’s some good news: research has found that taking up good health habits may boost your odds of fertility treatment success.
Also, dropping certain bad health habits — especially things like smoking or excessive drinking — may be enough, in some cases, to help you conceive on your own. (Especially if the bad health habit was your number one barrier to healthy fertility.)
How do you go about making these changes? And how do you know what changes to make?
In my opinion, a vital key to making successful health goals is not to do this only for your fertility.
Do it for your overall health.
Making changes to get pregnant may work for some. For most, it’s a recipe for disaster.
Why? Because as your fertility challenges increase or decrease, you may feel more or less motivated to continue.
If you have a depressing month — another negative pregnancy test, an upsetting fertility test result, a failed treatment — your motivation may drop.
Another reason not to tie health improvement only to fertility is that you may judge your success or failure by your pregnancy status.
Your goal should not be to get pregnant. You have little control over that (sadly.) Your goal should be to get healthy. That’s it.
For example, if you were overweight and lost 10% of your body weight, that’s a great health success! Research has found that losing 10% of your body weight can improve ovulation in obese women.
But what happens when you lose that 10%, but still don’t ovulate? Or still don’t get pregnant?
You may see your success as a failure. This may lead you to return to your previous bad health habits. That may lead you to gain back the weight…
What a mess!
Instead, make lifestyle changes because you want to be healthier.
Do it so you’ll feel better physically and emotionally.
And yes, maybe it’ll improve your fertility too — but don’t see that for the sole purpose.
Make Healthy Sane Goals
As you set goals for yourself, be reasonable. Avoid the lure of fad diets and extreme health plans.
Few people want just to eat more veggies and fruit, cut down on excess calories, and exercise.
They want to take on gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, anything-you-can-buy-in-a-normal-food-market-free diets that require one full hour of meditation each morning and a 10-mile walk after dinner each night.
I suppose this can work for some. If your doctor recommends a diet plan, you should seriously consider it.
Making sure you get the right nutrients before and while trying to conceive is important. For example, folic acid is essential (for both men and women!) who are trying to have a baby.
Some doctors recommend taking prenatal vitamins. Yes, even before you are actually “prenatal.”
With that said, more is not better when it comes to vitamins. Stay away from extra high doses, and be aware that not every fertility supplement is safe for every person.
This is a good time to point out that herbal remedies are not automatically safe (or safer) than any other drug or medication. “Natural” doesn’t mean harmless, risk-free, or even good for you.
Poisonous mushrooms are also natural, but they aren’t safe!
Some herbs interact dangerously with prescription medications, and some herbs may increase the effects of fertility drugs if you take them at the same time.
(Increasing drug effects without your doctor’s knowledge is not a good idea.)
Taking excess does of vitamins without an expert’s supervision is also a bad idea.
Common sense, combined with advice from your doctor, will help you make good choices.
If you begin to experience strange symptoms after starting a herb, supplement, or vitamin, stop taking it and speak to your doctor.
Another key to staying motivated is making sure you have support.
Your partner is perhaps one of the most important sources of support. If you make the health changes together, even better!
Your doctor is another potential source of support. Your doctor isn’t only there for when you’re sick. Doctors want to help you live healthier, too.
Speak to your doc, explain your goals, and get feedback. They may be able to refer you to experts, like dieticians, personal trainers, or physical therapists.
Also, just telling someone about your plans — especially your doctor — will motivate you to keep your health resolutions.
It’s also possible that a health problem you have has a medical basis that needs more than a lifestyle change.
For example, weight gain can be a symptom of a hormonal imbalance. You may need to treat that before you can have weight loss success.
Friends can offer another kind of support.
If you’ve decided to start exercising, for example, join a class together. Make a weekly walk or jog date.
You may also find support online either through (St Jude’s Support group) or Facebook friends who you share your new health adventures with or on forums and message boards that focus on healthy living.
Wherever you find support for yourself, it’s important to know you are never alone. There are people who can help you along, provide you with new knowledge, and be there when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
Chavarro JE, Rich-Edwards JW, Rosner B, Willett WC. “A prospective study of dairy foods intake and anovulatory infertility.” Human Reproduction. 2007 May;22(5):1340-7. Epub 2007 Feb 28.