HealthONE - April 30, 2018

For women and couples who are trying to conceive, their main focus is usually tracking when you’re ovulating and determining the best time to have sex. However, there are other important health factors impacting fertility that anyone trying to get pregnant needs to be concerned about.

“For those trying to conceive, making sure that you are as healthy as possible is very important,” says Kimberly Larson-Ohlsen, MD, obstetrician-gynecologist with Colorado Complete Health for Women. Before attempting to get pregnant, women and their partners should commit to improving their health in the following ways:

  1. You must quit smoking. According to the American Pregnancy Association, an alarming 12 to 20 percent of mothers smoke while pregnant. Sadly, more than 1,000 newborns in the U.S. die every year because the woman smoked during pregnancy. Smoking during pregnancy is a huge health risk that can lead to a number of serious health issues for your newborn, such as low birthweight, a preterm delivery, lung conditions, asthma, learning disabilities, physical development issues and even death. Smoking can also have an impact on fertility. Women who smoke are more likely to be infertile, and some studies have revealed that men who smoke have poorer sperm quality, compared to men who do not smoke. 
  1. Cut back on drinking. Drinking heavily during pregnancy can cause many health issues. Consuming alcohol while pregnant could lead to having a miscarriage, stillbirth, and fetal alcohol syndrome. Drinking during pregnancy can also result in having a child with intellectual, behavioral or learning disabilities. “Women should definitely cut back or stop drinking during the first few weeks of pregnancy,” says Dr. Larson-Ohlsen. In the first four to six weeks of conception, women don’t always even know that they are pregnant. However, these initial weeks are crucial for a baby’s development, so it’s important to reduce your alcohol consumption while trying to conceive. 
  1. Hold off on the caffeine. If you’re trying to conceive, it’s important to watch your caffeine intake. Having some caffeine while pregnant or trying to conceive is okay, but if you drink more than one cup of coffee per day, you’ll want to start cutting back. Health experts advise that when you’re pregnant or trying to conceive, consume less than 200 milligrams of caffeine (roughly a 12-ounce cup of coffee) per day. Some studies have revealed a possible link between caffeine and fertility. One study, published in the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s Fertility and Sterility journal, looked at 344 couples and concluded that women who had more than two caffeinated drinks per day while pregnant had a 74 percent higher risk of miscarriage, compared to those who drank less caffeine. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine recommends that pregnant women or those trying to conceive should limit their total caffeine consumption to one to two beverages per day. 
  1. Maintain a healthy weight and stay active. While exercising and monitoring your weight are always important to your overall health, it’s necessary to keep these in check if you’re trying to get pregnant. Women who are pregnant should engage in some type of physical activity, but health experts say it’s not a good idea to engage in hard or strenuous workouts. The reason for this is that there could be a relationship between strenuous exercise and ovulation issues. On the flip side, lack of exercise could also impact fertility. Getting too little exercise may potentially be associated with obesity, which could possibly cause anovulation, a menstrual cycle without ovulation. According to one study, anovulation may double the time it takes to conceive.The bottom line is, the amount you should be exercising while trying to conceive varies from person to person. Talk to your doctor about what’s best for you and your partner. 
  1. Take a daily prenatal vitamin. Pregnant women should definitely take prenatal vitamins. It can also be a good idea to take them while trying to conceive. Before conception, taking a daily amount of at least 400 mcg of folic acid — the main ingredient in all prenatal vitamins — can help lower the risk of neural tube defects in babies. It’s best to start taking prenatal vitamins at least one month before trying to conceive. 
  1. Monitor chronic conditions and keep them in check. Before you try and start a family, it’s essential to make sure you’re properly managing any ongoing health conditions. If you’re trying to conceive and have one or more of these chronic conditions, consult a physician so that you can learn the best and safest treatment options prior to getting pregnant:  
  • Hypertension
  • Depression
  • Asthma
  • Lupus
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Blood clotting disorders
  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • Seizure disorders
  • Arthritis
  • Eating disorders
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Aortic stenosis  
  1. Prepare for changes in your body. “Many of the changes your body goes through while pregnant are healthy and natural, but they’re not always fun,” says Dr. Larson-Ohlsen. Feeling discomfort is a normal part of the process, but some women might experience more changes than others.You’ll never quite know exactly how your body will handle carrying a baby, so you’ll want to be mentally and physically prepared for the changes. Here are a few of the physical conditions a woman might experience while pregnant: 
  • Acid reflux or heartburn
  • Constipation
  • Sleeping problems
  • Vaginal or pelvic pressure
  • Ankle swelling
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pain with walking
  • Varicose veins
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Scarring
  • Moodiness 
  1. Make sure you’re up to date on all screenings and vaccinations. Both partners should be up to date on their health screenings and check-ups. Couples should also schedule a preconception exam with an OB/GYN, where their doctor can evaluate test results and answer any questions you might have about conception. “It’s also important to have your physician check to see if you’ve had tuberculosis, or if you’re a carrier for certain genetic conditions, like cystic fibrosis or sickle cell disease,” says Dr. Larson-Ohlsen. These conditions can contribute to pregnancy complications and could possibly keep you from getting pregnant. 
  1. Make quality time together a priority. All of these health concerns are a vital part of helping you conceive and have a safe, healthy pregnancy. But it’s also important to enjoy the experience of trying to conceive and spend quality time with your partner during the process. Use the time you have when trying to get pregnant as an opportunity to connect with your partner. Go on a vacation, resurrect date night, be spontaneous, and carve out time for just the two of you. For some couples, the road to conception might be challenging, but starting a family can be exciting and extremely rewarding. Remember to try to be patient and savor these moments with your partner.