One of the areas in which you have the most control when trying to conceive is your lifestyle. The day-to-day choices you make can greatly influence your chance of becoming pregnant and having an uncomplicated pregnancy and delivery.
Smoking can, without a doubt, impact your ability to become pregnant and carry your baby to term. Your chance of getting pregnant decreases by 50 percent if either partner smokes, and your chance of miscarrying increases. Secondhand smoke causes a similar reduction and decreases ovarian reserve. We highly recommend that both partners stop smoking prior to beginning fertility treatment.
Limit Caffeine and Alcohol
Limiting caffeine and alcohol consumption is also recommended prior to attempting to conceive. Before or during an IVF (in vitro fertilization) cycle we suggest limiting your caffeine intake to no more than one cup of decaf coffee or tea per day (5 mg or less of caffeine). It is also wise to avoid chocolate (approximately 20 mg of caffeine per serving) and soda (about 80 mg). Caffeine has been connected to pregnancy loss, so we recommend avoiding it throughout your pregnancy.
Alcohol has been shown to decrease pregnancy rates (Hakim, 1998, Rossi, 2009) and potentially increase the rate of miscarriage (Klonoff-Cohen, 2003).
A balanced diet can improve fertility for both partners. Your diet should include lots of fruits and vegetables, high-quality protein (seafood and poultry) and healthy fats such as those found in olive oil, avocados and nuts. It is best to keep consumption of red meat to a minimum, and to avoid trans fats (found in processed and fried foods, and baked goods) as much as possible.
Take Dietary Supplements
Women trying to become pregnant should take 800 to 1,000 micrograms of folic acid daily (unless otherwise advised by your physician). Your physician may also suggest that you take a quality prenatal vitamin. Be sure to speak with your physician before you begin taking any dietary supplements.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
It is important to maintain a healthy weight if you are trying to become pregnant. Obesity is defined as having a BMI (body mass index) over 30; it decreases a woman’s fertility, increases the chance of miscarriage and increases the chance of premature birth. The odds of delivering before 32 weeks (quite premature) increase by 25 percent when the BMI is above 30. When the BMI is over 35 that risk doubles to 50 percent. Such early delivery can lead to consequences such as the newborn not surviving or having significant health problems. If your BMI is over 35 we generally recommend weight loss before attempting to conceive.
Stress comes with the territory when undergoing treatment for infertility. We recognize that reducing it is difficult, but since stress can affect fertility we urge you to do whatever you can to address it. Different people have different stress-reduction strategies. Yoga, meditation, exercise, prayer and massage are just a few of the techniques patients have used to help manage stress.
Counseling has also proven to be quite helpful for many patients. We are proud to have Pamela F. Richey, RN as part of the UNC Fertility team. Pam has special training in the Mind/Body Program for Infertility, plus years of experience helping couples through fertility challenges — first as an infertility nurse, then as a marriage and family therapist. Pam can help you reduce anxiety, regain a sense of control and strengthen your relationship.