If you are trying to conceive, you’re probably pulling out all the stops to make it happen sooner than later, from taking your daily dose of prenatal vitamins to planning your sexcapades. You also know that consuming a healthy and nutritious diet can help in upping your chances. While veggies and fruits certainly do the trick, a new study found that a less suspecting food is gaining interest for its fertility-boosting benefits. We’re talking about seafood, which researchers from Harvard and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) discovered was associated with more frequent intercourse — an integral part of the baby-making process for most.
In the study, published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, researchers tracked the trying-to-conceive journeys of 500 couples in Michigan and Texas for one year, specifically the amount of seafood they consumed and their levels of sexual activity. They found that couples who ate more seafood had sex more often — 22 percent more often, on average. Additionally, a whopping 92 percent of the couples who consumed seafood more than two times each week were successfully pregnant by the end of the study, compared to 79 percent of couples who consumed seafood less frequently.
These findings make sense, according to Erika Munch, MD, a reproductive endocrinologist at Texas Fertility Center based in San Antonio, as couples who have intercourse more frequently are more likely to get a positive home pregnancy test sooner. But while there might be an association between these two things, it doesn’t mean one causes the other. “Sometimes there are unmeasurable factors that can be the missing link between the two — for example, people who drink coffee might be associated with an increased risk of lung cancer, but it’s not from the coffee,” she explains. “Those same people who drink coffee might also be more likely to smoke, which is the link to the lung cancer.”
While it’s important to keep your knowledge of these findings in mind, there are other proven effective ways to boost your fertility. Here, experts share the most important dos and don’ts for couples trying to conceive. But keep in mind, fertility depends on many factors, and no one's journey to conceive is the same.
Get your recommended dose of folic acid
Folic acid, or folate, is important for moms-to-be for a myriad of reasons, but namely to prevent neural tube defects in developing fetuses. “Folate can be found in several foods including green, leafy vegetables, peas, beans, avocados, eggs and milk, however, most women do not get the recommended doses in their diet,” explains Anate Brauer, MD, a reproductive endocrinologist at the Greenwich Fertility and IVF Centers and assistant professor of OB/GYN at NYU School of Medicine. For this reason, it is recommended that women of reproductive age, or who are trying to conceive, take a supplement of 0.4mg of folate daily at least one month prior to conception. “This is the dose generally found in most prenatal vitamins, however is also sold as a separate supplement,” adds Dr. Brauer. Since certain medications can interfere with folate supplementation, she urges women to check with their doctor to make sure they’re taking the right amount.
Score some vitamin D
“This fat-soluble vitamin, which can either be produced in the skin through sun exposure or be acquired through diet and supplements, has long been known for its ability to keep bones healthy and strong by facilitating absorption of calcium,” explains Dr. Brauer. “In recent years, however, vitamin D has also been found to potentially play a role in fertility and pregnancy.” She recommends munching on vitamin D-rich foods like fortified dairy products and fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel or tuna and cod liver oil. “Have your vitamin D level checked before starting any supplementation, as over-supplementing is never a good idea,” she adds.
Cut back on drinking
While you don’t have to stop drinking altogether, it’s recommended to limit your alcohol intake to a couple of glasses of wine each week while you’re trying to conceive. If you’re going through fertility treatments, such as insemination of sperm or an embryo transfer, however, Dr. Brauer generally recommends stopping alcohol consumption altogether.
Quit smoking, stat
Smoking is also a big no-no! “Not only does it lower the levels of hormones which stimulate ovulation, it can also impair the receptivity of the uterus towards the egg,” says Victoria Walker, MD, fertility specialist at Institut Marquès fertility clinic in London, UK. “If your partner is a smoker, it’s also worth bearing in mind that smoking can negatively affect a man’s fertility, impacting his sperm production and quality.”
While regular exercise is always great for physical and mental wellbeing, it’s best not to overdo it. “Some studies have suggested a link between frequent vigorous physical activity and low fertility in women,” says Dr. Walker. “When a woman is either underweight or exercises too much this stops the hypothalamus — the part of the brain that produces hormones which trigger ovulation — from releasing hormones, therefore prohibiting eggs from being released.”
Get a good night’s sleep
Sleep is important for your overall health whether or not you’re trying to conceive, but skimping out can hurt your chances, according to Dr. Walker. “When we are tired, levels of the hormone leptin fall, and research shows that there may be a link between leptin and low fertility in women,” she says. “Try to aim for seven to eight hours a night.” Hey, enjoy the uninterrupted sleep while you can!
Maintain a healthy weight
Research shows that being underweight or overweight can influence your fertility chances. “Excess body fat can lead to an overproduction of certain hormones that disrupt ovulation,��� says Dr. Walker. “Your cycles may also be less regular, meaning you ovulate less often and thus lowering chances of conception.” Similarly, being underweight can also can have an impact on fertility. “Weighing too little switches off your body’s ability to produce eggs, as it senses there isn’t enough fat to sustain a healthy pregnancy,” Dr. Walker adds. “If you follow a balanced diet, exercise regularly, and ensure your weight is healthy, you will have a better chance of conceiving.”
Have more sex
While this one sounds obvious, the frequency and amount of sex a couple has influences their chances of conceiving. “Couples who have sex a couple of times a week are more likely to conceive than those who have sex once a week,” says Dr. Walker. “This is because your partner’s sperm count and quality is negatively affected if it’s retained in the body for more than three days.”
Manage stress effectively
Stress can be a major roadblock when trying to conceive, according to a study by the National Institutes of Health and the University of Oxford. “Stress can throw off your body’s hormone production, making your menstrual cycle less reliable,” says Dr. Walker. “It can also contribute to a loss of libido, which in turn can reduce the amount of sexual intercourse a couple has, lowering your chances of conceiving.”