When you're trying to get pregnant, there's an overwhelming amount of advice on what you should and shouldn't do to boost your chances of conceiving. And while the NHS guidelines are a good place to start when trying for a baby, there are lifestyle changes you can also make that could help increase your chances of getting pregnant.
Fertility and women's health expert Emma Cannon, an acupuncturist, author of Fertile and seminar speaker at The Fertility Show, shares the best way to approach diet and exercise when trying to conceive - and busts a few myths about what you should and shouldn't do while you're at it.
1. EVEN IF YOU DON'T WANT A BABY NOW, YOU SHOULD THINK ABOUT HOW YOUR LIFESTYLE IMPACTS FERTILITY
"It is never too early to take steps to optimize fertility. Many hormonal issues I see in clinic can be traced back to a person's twenties when many such problems begin."
2. THERE ISN'T 'ONE EXERCISE THAT'S GOOD FOR FERTILITY'
"I think it is more important to find an exercise that works for you. I think enjoyment is key and being able to fit it into your life. That said, I do see that there's an increase in women undertaking extreme exercise regimes which, for some, can cause long standing problems for fertility and hormone health."
3. BUT SOME TYPES OF EXERCISE ARE MORE DETRIMENTAL THAN OTHERS
"I would not want to pick a single exercise because it is very individual. But the intensity and duration of an exercise has been shown in research to impact on fertility. The most common exercises I ask women to stop or reduce tend to be the ones that over heat or over stress the body; running, Bikram yoga, spinning etc. That said, there will be people reading this for whom these exercises have been beneficial. It’s hard to generalize which is why all my programs are aimed at the individual."
4. THE BEST DIET FOR YOUR FERTILITY IS...
"A Mediterranean diet with seasonal vegetables, oily fish, some meat, and plenty of cold pressed oils."
5. AND THE WORST IS...
"I am not a fan of juicing – our digestive systems need warmth. Obviously avoid processed foods, low fat foods, high sugar diets, and junk food. Also skipping meals, not eating, overly restricting calories, being over-weight or under-weight – all of these can negatively affect your fertility."
6. LIMIT CAFFEINE AND ALCOHOL
"Research suggests that caffeine should be limited. It is very hard to actually measure how much caffeine you are drinking. High street coffee shops vary enormously in the quantity of caffeine in each coffee.
"Alcohol should be limited, but a couple of units a week should not pose a problem. Although one study showed that in older women who drank both caffeine and alcohol, the pregnancy rates were lowest of all. I think as we age, the worse the impact of some of these less healthy foods and drinks have on our body."
7. AND SUGAR TOO
"One of my Chinese medicine teachers, Professor Yu, taught me 25 years ago that 'sugar makes your ovaries cystic'. So if you do have PCOS I think you would benefit from avoiding sugar altogether, but all women would benefit from reducing their consumption."
8. BUT REMEMBER, THERE ARE NO PREGNANCY 'SUPERFOODS'
"I do not believe in super foods. However, eating a varied diet of mostly plants and high protein has shown to improve fertility. Essential fatty acids from cold pressed oils and oily fish are also vital. Fermented food such as kimchi or sauerkraut improve digestion and of course good old chicken stock. I see people post on Instagram about the 'top 10 fertility foods' and suchlike – this is nonsense, eating a banana a day never got anyone pregnant. It is about your overall approach to eating and food, and not a handful of fertility 'super foods'."
9. PAY ATTENTION TO OTHER FACTORS TOO
"Environmental factors such as exposure to phalates and BPA (types of chemicals used in the production of some types of plastics, which might then be used to make water bottles or food containers) have shown to reduce fertility. Heat can impact on sperm as can air quality. It is a good idea to attempt to reduce your 'toxic load'."
10. FERTILITY IS NOT ONLY ABOUT LIFESTYLE FACTORS
"The worst things you can do for your fertility are smoking, taking drugs, drinking – just generally being reckless with your health. But fertility is not only about lifestyle. It is one aspect of the picture and some people can do all these things and get away with it, while others can have extremely healthy lifestyles and still struggle to conceive for any number of other reasons.
"Less obvious lifestyle factors are; over working, not taking adequate rest, becoming obsessed and stressed to the point where stress becomes the major issue, and not having enough sex."
11. IF YOU'RE HAVING FERTILITY ISSUES, TRY ACUPUNCTURE
"It is by far the best way to increase your chances of success alongside assisted fertility treatment such as IVF. Acupuncture can be used in regulating cycles and hormones, as well as increasing blood flow and helping with stress.
"Acupuncture encourages endometrial blood flow, thus helping to create the lining required for an embryo to implant in the womb. It boosts the release of endorphins making the body feel safe and less stressed, and it helps balances the hypothalamus, supporting healthy hormone production.
"I think meditation can also help the patient relax which can also have a regulating effect of the cycles – but there is not the body of research and evidence supporting this as there is with acupuncture.
12. FOR WOMEN WITH PCOS AND ENDOMETRIOSIS, LIFESTYLE FACTORS ARE SUPER IMPORTANT
"Both acupuncture and dietary changes can help women with PCOS and lead to more regular cycles. And acupuncture and dietary changes can help by reducing the inflammation which is a key factor in endometriosis affecting fertility. Many of my patients find acupuncture helps enormously as part of their recovery following surgery for endometriosis."
13. FERTILITY TRACKING APPS ARE USEFUL - TO AN EXTENT
"They can be useful to pinpoint ovulation in irregular cycles but increasingly couples use them to pin point ovulation exactly, often reducing their sex life down to a couple of times a month. Less sex means less pregnancies, however carefully planned."
14. THE ONE THING I WISH ALL WOMEN KNEW ABOUT THEIR FERTILITY IS THIS:
"That it's not that easy to get pregnant. For example, in couples of around 30 years old it can often take up to year – this does not mean there is an issue or that they are infertile."
15. AND SOME THINGS CAN'T BE CHANGED BY DIET AND EXERCISE ALONE
"There are many, many aspects of infertility that are way outside of the reach of lifestyle changes. And suggesting to patients who suffer from infertility that it is because of their lifestyle is inaccurate and unhelpful. However, subfertility [reduced fertility] can often be improved by lifestyle changes and it is one area that patients do have some control over."