So you’re planning to have a baby? Before you start trying, read on to find out what you need to know to ensure that you have the best chances of getting pregnant
Some people say that it’s easy to make a baby; it’s bringing up baby that’s hard. But if you’ve been trying to conceive and not succeeded yet, this can be slippery concept to comprehend. Just getting pregnant has been difficult! So once again, here’s what you can do to help.
1. Get A Check-Up
Make sure that your body is ready for both conception, and pregnancy. “Get a general health screening to make sure there’s no undiagnosed medical condition or breast lumps,” advises Dr Anthony Siow, an obstetrician and gynaecologist at Gleneagles Hospital. “Also do blood tests to check that your haemoglobin is normal, and that you have immunity to rubella and Hepatitis B infections.”
Ideally, this check-up should be scheduled a few months before you start trying to conceive. Include a pap smear and tests for sexually-transmitted diseases too.
2. Get Him Checked Too
It takes two to make a baby so make sure that your husband is in good shape too. This is especially important if you’ve been trying for a while with no success. “If there is a problem getting pregnant after six months, get a semen analysis done. Sperm count, motility, and morphology are the three main things to test for,” says Dr Siow.
A semen analysis helps a doctor to diagnose if a man is infertile or if there are any issues with his sperm. It checks for the number of sperm, the movement of sperm (motility) and the shape and size of sperm (morphology).
3. Keep Calm & Carry On
We all know that stress can impact our health in serious ways but did you know that it can also affect our fertility? “Stress can affect hormone production from the hypothalamus and pituitary gland, the part of the brain that controls some of the hormones that cause the ovaries to release eggs each month,” explains Dr Loh Seong Feei, a senior consultant gynaecologist and medical director, Thomson Fertility Centre. A disruption in the production of this hormone can affect regular ovulation. It may even lead to a halt in ovulation which is what you definitely do not want! Furthermore, stress can also affect your mood for sex. Finally, cautions Dr Loh (in case you were thinking that it wouldn’t matter since you were on IVF) stress could also affect the implantation of embryos in the womb during an IVF cycle.
(Read also: The ART of Making Babies)
4. Know Your Cycle
Ovulation is the process whereby an egg is released from an ovary. If that egg is fertilised by a sperm and then implants itself in your uterus, you’re pregnant.
If your periods are regular, you can determine ovulation following this general rule: take the first day of your period as day one and the last day of your cycle (ie. the day before your next period) as day 28 – ovulation takes place around day 14 of your cycle. You’re fertile from around five days before you ovulate until the day of ovulation.
If you have irregular periods or cannot figure out when ovulation takes place, find out by tracking your basal body temperature and cervical mucus. You can also use over-the-counter ovulation predictor kits which test your urine or your saliva.
From here, it’s easy to work out when you should be having sexual intercourse for optimal chances of conception. Dr Loh suggests using a menstrual calendar to estimate when your fertile period is and to have sex regularly (once every two days) during that period. You can download apps to help track your fertile window too.
5. Do It Right
It’s not just important to have sex during the appropriate time, it’s also essential to do it right! The missionary position (woman below) is the best, advises Dr Siow. It’s also a good idea to lie on your back for five to 10 minutes after coitus to help prevent back flow of seminal fluid.
6. Mind Your Age
A woman’s age is a big factor in determining her chances of conceiving. This is because women are born with a finite number of eggs. With age, both the quality and quantity of eggs decline. “A woman’s fertility drops in her early 30s and this decline speeds up after the age of 35,” explains Dr Loh. “At 30, the chance of pregnancy is about 15 to 20% each month. At 40, this drops to less than 5% each month.”
Age also affects the success of artificial reproductive treatments. “IVF (In-vitro fertilisation) cannot do much to help the effects of age. Between 30 and 35 years, the pregnancy rate per IVF cycle is about 45 to 50%. This drops to less than 15% after the age of 40,” says Dr Loh. With age, the risk of Down’s Syndrome and miscarriage also increases.
(See also: Is IVF in Singapore Becoming More Affordable?)
7. Eat Right for Conception
Stock up on dark leafy greens. These are high in folate and may improve ovulation. Oily fish like salmon are rich in omega-3 fatty acids which could help increase blood flow to the reproductive organs. “Usually, I advise women who are trying to conceive to eat a healthy and balanced diet, especially foods that contain a high amount of antioxidants,” says Dr Loh. “Avoid binge drinking and smoking too. If alcohol is consumed, it should be kept to a minimum. Caffeine is acceptable, but its intake should be reduced where possible.”
8. Avoid Strenuous Exercise
It’s beneficial to look after your body but don’t overdo it. “Strenuous exercise can disrupt the hormones produced by the hypothalamus and pituitary gland,” Dr Loh explains. “Ovulation can be affected as a result. This is especially pronounced if women start their strenuous exercise regime suddenly and if the exercise regime brings about a lot of weight loss.”
9. Maintain An Ideal Weight
A woman’s weight could affect her chances of conceiving too. Being overweight or underweight could affect your fertility as they may cause issues such as hormone imbalances which could affect ovulation. Dr Siow recommends that women have a BMI of between 24 and 26 when trying to conceive.
10. Take Supplements
Your body has to be ready for both embryo implantation and pregnancy and it needs the right boost to create the ideal environment for this. Supplements like folic acid help to prevent serious birth defects of the spinal cord and the brain in your baby.
“It’s very important for women who are trying to conceive to consume a healthy and complete diet with all the essential vitamins and minerals,” says Dr Loh. “There are also certain vitamins and supplements that come to mind when we talk about increasing egg health. These include Co-enzyme Q10 (an important antioxidant that protect cells from free radical damage), Vitamin E, Selenium, Vitamin C, Zinc and Vitamin D.”
11. Plan Ahead
Things get a bit more complicated if you’ve been on the contraceptive pill. Dr Loh says that women can try to get pregnant immediately after stopping the Pill. However, a baby conceived straight after stopping birth control pills may be susceptible to side effects. Also, some women may experience ovulation problems for a period of time after stopping birth control pills, especially if their menstrual cycles have not been regular before going on the pill. Therefore, it’s best to plan ahead and give yourself some time after stopping contraception, as your body might need a window to adjust.
12. Know When To Get Help
After trying three or four times each month, 60 per cent of women will conceive after three months, 75 per cent after six months, 85 per cent after one year, and 95 per cent after two years, says Dr Siow. “It will be good to seek help if there is no pregnancy after one year,” he advises. “If a woman suffers from menstrual cramps, irregular menstrual cycles or if she is close to 35 years old, seek help after six months of trying.”
In conclusion, there are ways to help boost your fertility and help accelerate the baby-making process. However, you still need to be conscious of the age and time factors, and be ready to seek and accept help if necessary. All the best!