Close to one in six U.S. couples don’t get pregnant despite a year of trying. Whether that describes you, or you simply want to get ahead of any potential fertility challenges, there are some things you can avoid to help improve your chances of conceiving. Either way, focusing on what you can control on the fertility journey is key to maintaining optimal physical and emotional health during this time.
What to Avoid When Trying to Get Pregnant
We’ll start with the obvious. Research shows that both women and men who smoke are significantly more likely to be infertile than those who don’t.
Not only does menopause occur, on average, 1 to 4 years earlier in smoking women, but there is also evidence to suggest that smoking may accelerate the rate of follicular depletion, which leads to the eventual loss of fertility and ovarian function. Smoking is also associated with an increased risk of miscarriage in both naturally conceived pregnancies and those resulting from Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART).
Men should also avoid smoking for optimal fertility. In fact, a 2003 study that investigated the semen quality of males in couples experiencing infertility found that smoking was associated with a 16.6% decrease in total motile sperm. In a more recent analysis, sperm motility decreased by 5.25% among smokers compared to non-smokers.
2. Too Much Alcohol
While you don’t have to give up your favorite cocktail if you’re trying to get pregnant, it’s definitely advisable to slow down. One Swedish study found that the risk of infertility significantly increased when women consumed more than two drinks per day. Those that did get pregnant took longer to conceive than those who consumed less alcohol. However, there is limited evidence to suggest that moderate alcohol consumption adversely affects female fertility.
In men, chronic alcohol dependence has been associated with lower sperm counts, sperm motility, sperm morphology scores, seminal fluid volume, and serum testosterone levels. And in one survey study, partners of men with heavy alcohol consumption had a longer time to pregnancy than partners of mild drinkers and non-drinkers. Overall, the higher the number of weekly units consumed, the lower the sperm quality, so it’s important to limit alcohol to moderate use while trying to conceive.
3. Excess Caffeine
A paper published by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine reports that more than five cups of coffee a day is linked to decreased fertility, and consuming more than two cups per day during pregnancy can increase the risk of miscarriage.
Keep in mind that different types of coffee, tea, soda, and energy drinks contain varying amounts of caffeine. It’s worth reading the labels, opting for decaf occasionally, and as a general rule, sticking to less than two servings per day.
Luckily for men, there is no evidence to suggest that caffeine has a negative effect on sperm parameters.
4. Chronic Stress
Cure Hydration Lemonade/Lime Hydrating Electrolyte Mix Bundle
Cure Hydration Ginger Tumeric Hydrating Electrolyte Mix
Cure Hydration Watermelon Hydrating Electrolyte Mix
Dr. Alice Domar, a health psychologist, and 36-year fertility industry veteran, says: “Your body is smart. It knows that periods of stress aren’t good times to have a baby.”
Studies on the connection between stress and infertility show mixed results. Women with infertility report elevated levels of anxiety and depression, so it is clear that infertility causes stress. What is less clear, however, is whether or not stress causes infertility.
Fortunately, the most recent research has documented the efficacy of psychological interventions in lowering distress levels and increasing clinical pregnancy rates. So, don’t forget to take care of yourself – mind, body, and spirit – during this time. It can actually improve your chances of conceiving!
5. High-Mercury Fish
When you’re trying to conceive, there are certain things you should avoid eating for optimal health and fertility.
Some fish contain high levels of mercury that can be toxic to your nervous system (as well as that of your developing baby if you’re pregnant). That’s why you’ll want to avoid mackerel, marlin, swordfish, and sushi. You can find the full FDA list here.
As alternatives, the following choices are safe during the preconception period: anchovies, canned light tuna, haddock, hake, salmon, sardines, and freshwater trout.
If you’re not excited about any of these options, you may want to consider supplements that contain omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, a 2009 study found that women who took an omega-3 supplement were almost two times more likely to get pregnant on their own versus the women who didn’t take the supplement.
6. Low-Quality Prenatal Supplements
Nutrient deficiencies and suboptimal nutrition can negatively impact fertility. That’s why prenatal supplements that contain certain micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) are critical when trying to get pregnant, especially if you’re not getting everything you need from the food you eat.
Prenatal vitamins can have a positive impact on menstruation, ovulation, egg quality and maturation, thyroid health, and more. On the other hand, some male supplements can help improve sperm parameters.
However, it’s important to note that not all prenatal vitamins are created equal, which is why it’s critical to choose high-quality prenatals that include folate, calcium, iron, vitamin D, iodine, and DHA during the pre-pregnancy period.
FH PRO for Men and Women are premium fertility supplements with more than 25 ingredients, including antioxidants and micronutrients.* Women undergoing assisted reproductive technology (ART) who took FH PRO for Women showed a significant increase in pregnancy rates compared to those who did not. **In a clinical study, FH PRO for Men showed significant improvement in sperm parameters including sperm count, progressive motility, and normal morphology.*** Visit Fairhavenhealth.com, and use the code RESCRIPTED for 15% off your purchase!
7. Sperm-Harming Lubricants
Let’s face it: timed intercourse during ovulation can make sex feel like a chore. Lubricants can certainly make sex more pleasurable, but how do you know if your lubricant is fertility-friendly?
Most everyday lubricants have a low pH and very high salt concentrations, which can be harmful to sperm. Being cleared for fertility (PEB category) is a sure way to know if a lubricant is safe to use while TTC.
One such fertility lubricant, BabyDance, undergoes rigid testing (for each batch) to ensure it won’t damage sperm, eggs, or the embryo. It is made without parabens and has a pH level of 7 that mimics that of a woman’s vaginal secretions and a man’s semen. Using BabyDance can ensure that every sperm has the best possible chance of meeting an egg. It’s a win-win!
8. Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals
Did you know the average person comes into contact with over 500 synthetic chemicals daily in their home? Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs), which can be found in many personal care products, can ravage our hormones, lead to unpleasant symptoms such as PMS and acne, and in some cases, cause infertility. Some common EDcs are BPA, Parabens, Pesticides, Phthalates, Sulfates, and more.
A few tips? Make the switch to glass Tupperware, avoid heating up food in plastic, shop organic as much as you can, and use the EWG’s Skin Deep® Cosmetics Database as a resource to help “clean up” your daily routine while trying to get pregnant.
If you’ve ever experienced the devastation of a negative pregnancy test, you know there is very little you can control during a difficult fertility journey. However, your lifestyle is something you can take the reigns on during this time. Avoiding smoking, excessive alcohol, and caffeine, and opting for a fertility-friendly diet, products, and supplements, can not only improve your fertility but can also contribute to positive mental well-being during this time. So read those labels, and treat your body well. You won’t regret it.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
**Visit FH-PRO.com for detailed clinical study information on FH PRO for Women.
***Visit FH-PRO.com for detailed clinical study information on FH PRO for Men.
Michelle Meyer is a freelance medical writer. She is busy completing an MSc in Physiology and Pharmacology and has been in the health and wellness industry for nearly two decades. Her interests include women’s health, mood disorders, and oncology.