If only the stork really did bring babies! It would be so simple if a small, sweet bundle of joy could be gently dropped in our outstretched arms. Of course (spoiler alert!) that doesn’t happen. Therefore, it’s important for us to know how to increase our chances of getting pregnant and delivering a healthy baby, whether it’s avoiding stress, staying healthy, or knowing when to see a fertility specialist. If you are thinking of getting pregnant, or like many women, have already been trying for a while, this is essential reading.
First, understand the basics.
For conception to occur, a single sperm from the male joins with an egg from the female. This is called fertilization.
On average, a woman releases one egg (or occasionally two) every 28 days. The release of the egg is called ovulation. Most women ovulate roughly halfway through their menstrual cycle, 12-16 days before their next period. An egg can only be fertilized for one day after being released by the ovary.
Each ejaculation of semen contains between 50,000,000 up to 400,000,000 sperm. For pregnancy to occur, at least one of those sperm has to be a strong enough swimmer to get up to the fallopian tube. Once it is in the tube, it finds and enters the egg that was released during ovulation. Once a sperm enters an egg, the egg is fertilized.
Know the best time to try to get pregnant
Because sperm can survive in the female reproductive tract for up to 5 days, and an egg is viable for one day after ovulation, the window of fertility is approximately 6 days long. To get pregnant, it helps to have sex every other day – or every day – during this window of time. The days with the highest chances of getting pregnant are the day before you ovulate and the day that you ovulate.
There are several ways to figure out when ovulation is about to happen or has already happened. These methods are:
Calendar. Use a simple calendar to keep track of the first day of your period. The Halza app includes an easy-to-use period tracker which is perfect for women who want to get pregnant. After a few months of entering the date in the app, you will know how long your menstrual cycle is. If your period is fairly regular, you will probably ovulate about 12-16 days prior to the first day of your period.
Basal temperature. First thing each morning, take your temperature with a regular oral or rectal digital thermometer, or if possible, with a more sensitive oral one labeled “basal temperature” or BBT. Add the result to a chart or to the Halza app. If your periods are regular, after a few months you will notice a pattern, because your temperature is roughly .4 degrees to 1 degree F higher after you have ovulated. Since this method only tells you that you have already ovulated, it is best used for noticing patterns.
Ovulation predictor kit. These kits let you test your urine at home for a surge in luteinizing hormone. Luteinizing hormone signals the ovaries to release an egg. Once this surge occurs, you will probably ovulate within 24-36 hours. These tests can be particularly helpful If your period is not regular and ovulation seems unpredictable. Of course, you may need to purchase extra tests each month so that you don’t run out of tests before you get a positive result. Kits are available online and at many pharmacies.
Cervical mucus You may have noticed that the normal mucous-like discharge from your vagina changes color and consistency during the month. Don’t be afraid to touch it and look at it. When it becomes clearer, thinner, and more slippery, you are about to ovulate. Of course, in order to recognize this change, you will need to start checking it well before ovulation.
Saliva ferning Use a microscope or a specially designed saliva ferning scope. The microscopic appearance of saliva changes to a fern-like pattern just prior to ovulation. It’s not always easy to tell what you are looking at, so this is probably best done along with another method.
It’s very helpful to know when you are most likely to conceive. But before you start your journey through pregnancy, please read this very important list of things to do beforehand.
Ten things to do before you get pregnant
Talk to your doctor about your existing medical conditions and your menstrual cycle.
Will your medical conditions, or an irregular menstrual cycle affect your fertility or the health of the fetus?
Ask your doctor about all medications that you take, including over-the-counter, herbal or homeopathic remedies, and prescription medications. Go through your medicine cabinet and clean out any medications that are not acceptable during pregnancy.
Even before you know you are pregnant, the tiny embryo is beginning to form important organs. Many medications, some untreated illnesses, and nutritional deficiencies can harm the embryo during that period and cause severe, irreversible birth defects.
Consider being tested for STDs, including HIV.
Remember that unprotected intercourse leaves both partners vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases.
Consider having pre-conception genetic testing.
Many people unknowingly carry genes for certain diseases. People who carry these genes might not have symptoms, but they can still pass the gene on to their children. Depending on whether both parents carry the gene, and how the DNA of the parents combine, the child can also be a carrier or might be born with or develop the disease. A genetic counselor will ask you about your families’ medical histories and about your ancestry in order to determine which blood tests to do.
Testing positive for disease-related genes does not mean that you shouldn’t get pregnant. It only means that you were wise to take advantage of available testing, and that you can be informed about your options. In many cases, modern medical techniques can reduce the chances of passing on disease-associated genes to your child.
Take a folic acid supplement (400 mcg of vitamin B9) every day for at least a month before trying to conceive.
Brain and spinal cord defects can develop before a woman is aware that she is pregnant. Therefore, many doctors recommend that all women with any possibility of becoming pregnant take folic acid supplements. Also ask if you should take a pre-natal multi-vitamin before getting pregnant.
Eat well. Include a good variety of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, fish, whole grains, heart-healthy fats, and low-fat dairy.
Although you don’t need to eat enough for two people (how disappointing) you do need to make sure that you are getting enough nutrients from the above sources for both you and the fetus. This is not the time to go on a crash diet, or to fill up on chips instead of apples.
Avoid eating fish that are high in mercury. Mercury in your body can damage your baby’s brain.
Fish that are high in mercury are: swordfish, shark, king mackerel, bigeye tuna, marlin, orange roughy and tilefish. Continue to avoid these fish during your pregnancy.
Avoid even low-level environmental exposure to toxic or hormone-disrupting chemicals.
An interactive list of chemicals that can affect fertility or embryo development can be found at https://oehha.ca.gov/proposition-65.If you work in a facility where exposure is likely, ask if the management has guidelines and procedures in place for your protection.
Quit smoking and avoid being around people who are smoking.
You probably already know the dangers of smoking or second-hand smoke to your body, and to your fetus. But did you know that tobacco smoke can also decrease your fertility?
Gain weight – or carefully lose a few pounds.
Being significantly overweight, underweight, or following very strenuous exercise routines are all linked to irregular menstrual cycles and less frequent ovulation. If you are overweight, a loss of 5 -10% of your weight can help to improve fertility. However, this is not the time for a crash diet of grapefruit and watermelon. Take a little longer to lose the weight by eating healthy foods and/or smaller portions.
Stop drinking alcohol.
Alcohol is a well-known cause of birth defects. The embryo is vulnerable to the damaging effects of alcohol in the earliest weeks of pregnancy — and throughout the entire pregnancy. Therefore, it is important to stop drinking alcohol before trying to conceive. There is no established safe limit for alcohol consumption during pregnancy, so it is safest not to drink alcohol at all.
Did you know that…
Stress might decrease your chances of getting pregnant?
It is unclear exactly what the link is between stress and fertility but try to minimize stress-providing events as much as possible. Some day to day stressors are completely unavoidable. Meditation, writing in a journal, moderate yoga or exercise, breathing techniques, and talking with a friend or therapist are all good options for helping you manage stress.
Your chances of getting pregnant decrease with age?
A woman’s fertility starts to decline by her mid to late 20s and drops significantly by age 35.
You might be able to freeze your eggs? (in a special facility, not in your refrigerator!)
Are you concerned about age-related fertility decline, but want to delay pregnancy? Or do you need medical treatment that can cause harm to your eggs, such as radiation, drugs, or surgery? If these are concerns, speak to your doctor. Freezing eggs can be expensive, but creates the possibility of getting pregnant with your own egg years later.
Many women have medical conditions they are not aware of, but which can affect fertility?
Examples are thyroid problems, uterine abnormalities, scar tissue, and insulin resistance.
Infertility is often related to the male?
Before you undergo invasive or expensive fertility testing, remember that it takes two people to conceive. The man’s sperm count and motility (how effectively sperm swim toward the egg) are important factors that can easily be evaluated. Male fertility can also be affected by most of the same things that can affect female fertility, such as drugs, alcohol, medical conditions, and exposure to toxins. In addition, fertility can also be affected by things specific to men, such as undescended testicles.
When to see a fertility specialist
First, take a deep breath and remember that most women will become pregnant after a year of regular unprotected intercourse. That means that statistically, some women will be pregnant the first month. It also means that many women won’t get pregnant until the 11th or 12th month. However, if you are in your 20s and have regularly had unprotected sex for a year without conceiving, you and your partner should both be evaluated. People 35 and older should be evaluated within six months. This avoids losing valuable time as fertility declines. The good news is that there are doctors who specialize in treating infertility, often with excellent results. Don’t hesitate to ask your OB-GYN or internist for a referral if you are concerned.
How Halza and the Period Tracker can help
Closely observing key dates is important when trying to get pregnant. Introducing the newest feature on the Halza app – the period tracker. It lets you track your menstrual cycles, ovulation, and fertile days so you know the best time to try and conceive. The feature also lets you record your basal body temperature (BBT) to help estimate ovulation days. You can also set your prenatal vitamin reminder on the Halza app in the month leading up to conception to ensure your baby is healthy. Halza also lets you communicate with family, friends, and doctors, where you can update them on anything you need.