There are so many claims out there about how to increase
your fertility. Women tend to tout whatever
it was they personally did before right before they got pregnant as "the
thing" to do. But science has a lot to say on the subject. Whether you're
trying to conceive naturally or with the help of artificial reproductive
technology, here are some areas that experts like to focus on.
Most studies agree that obesity has a negative effect on
fertility—in women and men. "Obese men [are] at greater risk of
suffering from impaired spermatogenesis, reduced circulating testosterone
levels, erectile dysfunction and poor libido," a 2014 study
found. In IVF, obese women need higher doses of meds. But being underweight is
no picnic either. In developing countries, underweight women had more pre-term
births. With IVF, underweight women's embryos developed at a slower rate.
So what's a person to do? Lose weight if you're overweight—especially if
you're obese, which, if you do get pregnant, can influence your baby's health
in utero. If you're underweight, it's more ice cream for you!
Speaking of ice cream, what does the perfect fertility diet
Should you go low-carb or gluten-free? Vegetarian or Paleo?
When it comes to diet, there are no clear-cut answers in general, and even more
so for fertility. Everyone touts superfoods, like eating more greens (duh) and
a variety of fruit and vegetables (double duh), while recommending cutting down
sugar (see above), refined carbohydrates, alcohol and caffeine. But after that,
the jury is out. Some advocate cutting down on soy, as it may decrease
fertility (goodbye, edamame).
Not all the news is bad, though. Some believe you
should switch from skim to whole milk because removing fat from milk hinders
ovulation. There are plenty of other
fertility-friendly foods, but another fun one—although not as fun as ice
cream—is pineapple. "Pineapple juice's high manganese content means it is a
good choice for boosting fertility through sperm quality," according to the
2012 study, "A Survey on Pineapple and Its Medicinal Effects." The sweet and juicy fruit contains bromelain,
whose anti-inflammatory effects, in addition to helping with rheumatoid
arthritis, may help aid implantation. Which is why women undergoing IVF eat a
piece of the core (where the chemical is the most concentrated) for five days
following an embryo transfer.
Unless you're an obsessive exercise freak (crossfit,
anyone?) who spends more time at the gym than at work, working out is generally
good for fertility. A new study on mice in the journal Nature shows that exercise
alone can prevent congenital heart defects in babies born to older (mice) moms.
Of course, what kind of exercise you should do is up for
debate. Before ovulation or IVF, usually anything goes. After, most medical
practitioners say it's OK to continue whatever exercise you are already
doing. However, during a two-week wait, it may be best to avoid high-impact
workouts, such as running and jumping. So it sounds like you don't get a
get-out-of-the gym free card during this time, since the most important thing
during the hellish wait is to keep yourself sane.
Speaking of sanity, how important is mindset to the whole
fertility endeavor? Women talk about "baby dust"—that magical good-luck vibe
spread to all who are trying to get pregnant—which science, of course, has
not much to say on the subject.
Infertility causes stress, for sure, but stress couldn't
cause infertility because then no one trying to conceive would ever get
pregnant. "Attempts by health care
providers to increase patients' sense of control, optimism (within realistic
limits) and social support should reduce stress," a 2012 study in the Fertility
and Sterility journal found.
Reducing stress and increasing optimism never hurt anyone.
And while positive thinking may not affect any particular effort during any particular
month or cycle, you'll need a lot of good cheer to continue to soldier on until
you achieve your goal—a baby!