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Having Trouble Getting Pregnant? Here’s What to Consider

Feb 22, 2022 | 2 minutes Read

Some couples are able to conceive a baby without trying at all. In fact, many say they can’t work out exactly how and when conception could have happened for them. And although it doesn’t take too much imagination to connect the actual mechanics of conception, sometimes it’s the opportunity which has simply slipped our minds. Busy lifestyles, work commitments, and constant juggling of time means that getting together and actually having sex is often pushed down on our list of priorities.

Although it sounds basic, if you want to have a baby, you’ll need to have sex. From this, everything else follows. If you’re not having sex then you will not conceive, no matter how much dreaming and positive energy you invest. Unless of course you’re undergoing fertility assistance, which opens up a whole new area of conception possibilities.

How long should we wait?

The general rule is that for most fertile couples who are having regular sex and not using contraception, expect to conceive within 12 months of trying. Some recent Australian research has found that it may be entirely reasonable to extend this time frame.

Some couples are what is called ‘sub-fertile,’ which means the man is producing sufficient, healthy sperm and the woman is ovulating regularly, though for some reason, they do not conceive as quickly as they should otherwise. Many do go on to conceive normally after another one to two years of trying and do not need fertility assistance. This same research has found it is important for couples to remain optimistic about their chances of conceiving, even if it is taking a bit longer than they expect.

But the issue is that unless couples have been checked to see that they are fertile, then the wait-and-see approach won’t work. If there are physical issues with the man such as low numbers or absent sperm, or the woman has blocked fallopian tubes, then no amount of waiting will help. Increasing maternal and paternal age also reduces the overall chances of conceiving, and increases the risks of pregnancy complications, too.

Intensive fertility treatments are not always necessary. For many women, a short course of hormone medication, such as Clomid, can help to synchronize their ovulation patterning. But it also increases the odds of more than one egg being released each month and therefore the likelihood of conceiving multiple babies.

Why am I having trouble getting pregnant?

In women, there can be a range of causes why there are problems conceiving. Many are gynecological problems. These include:
  • Blocked fallopian tubes.
  • Anovulation, which means not ovulating. Problems with ovulation are commonly termed ovulatory dysfunction, an umbrella label which covers just about every problem relating to egg release.
  • Hostile cervical mucus, which means the sperm are prematurely killed off by the woman’s mucus.
  • Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, which affects insulin production.
It’s important to remember that not all causes of infertility in women are clearly understood. Many times, unexplained Infertility is given as a diagnosis when other common causes have been eliminated. In many ways, this can be a devastating process. If we understand how and why something is happening with our bodies, then the next logical step is to try to do something about it. But in the case of unexplained infertility there can be a great deal of soul searching and feelings of guilt for both partners in the relationship.

Maternal age is certainly a factor which impacts getting pregnant. At birth, a baby girl is born with all the eggs she will ever use. Over time, the quality and number of her eggs which can be matured towards ovulation reduces. Fertility peaks in women in their twenties and thirties and declines steadily after the age of forty.

In men, a few contributing factors to infertility include:
  • Low numbers of sperm or absent sperm in the ejaculate.
  • Trauma or surgery to the testicles or vas deferens, the tubes which transport the sperm.
  • Previous history of mumps or chemotherapy which has led to sterility.
  • Vasectomy.

What helps when you’re having problems getting pregnant?

Build upon your understanding of how fertility and conception work. If knowledge is power, then studying up on your comprehension of gynecology and how babies are made can only help you. There are countless books and websites devoted to this precise topic. Be an informed parent-to-be and don’t assume that just because it’s your body, you know how it’s working.

Aim to have sex before you ovulate. The egg only has a 12-to-24-hour window of time when fertilization is most likely. This is different from sperm that can lie in wait for days. Don’t wait until one of your ovaries has released an egg. Get in early and optimize your chances of getting pregnant. Check an  ovulation calculator for more information on how to tell when you’re ovulating.

Eat a healthy diet. Having a regular intake of wholegrains, lean animal protein, dairy food and fresh fruit and vegetables. Healthy foods support healthy reproductive functioning.

Stay within a healthy weight range. Scientific evidence has demonstrated that for both women and men, the chances of conception are reduced if one or both are overweight. One of the first recommendations made to overweight couples who are experiencing infertility is for them to lose weight. There is a natural increase in fertility as weight decreases and the Basal Metabolic Index (BMI) returns to a normal level. This is between 20 and 25 for most individuals who are within childbearing years.

It does seem from research that 29 is the ‘golden’ BMI number when it comes to impact on fertility. For women who have a BMI of 29 or higher, there is an incremental impact on their chances of conceiving naturally.

Stay within a healthy BMI range and focus on reducing this if it is too high. Similarly, if a woman is not carrying sufficient subcutaneous fat, then this can reduce her chances of conceiving.

Eating disorders and excessive exercise can impact on regular ovulation and menstrual cycles. Women who are particularly lean will often increase their chances of conceiving if they gain weight and return to a healthy weight range.

Try to reduce your level of stress. We all deal with stress in different ways and while it is true that some people have a very laid-back approach to life, most of us are less easy-going. Insulating ourselves from all stress is unrealistic and would probably have a major impact on our motivation. Getting out of bed each morning and going to work demands a certain level of stress.

There’s a balance between swinging from one extreme to the other and sustaining high levels of stress day after day. Regular exercise, yoga, meditation, hypnotherapy, and music are all ways to reduce the stress in our lives.

Sometimes couples need to make major lifestyle decisions, such as quitting or changing their jobs, moving from their current home, or reducing their financial commitments in order to reduce their stress levels and boost their chances of getting pregnant. Only you can decide what is right for you.

Stop smoking cigarettes and or taking illicit drugs. Research shows that the correlation between drug taking and the reduction on both male and female fertility is clear. Even the occasional use of recreational drugs does make a difference. Reduce or stop your intake of alcohol and caffeine.

What about complementary medicine?

Some couples find that complementary medicine works for them. The truth is that there is little clear, scientific evidence to support the claims. Acupuncture, aromatherapy, mindfulness training and naturopathy generally don’t cause any harm, but whether they actually boost the chances of conceiving is up for debate.

Diet tips to help with getting pregnant

Diet can make a huge difference in increasing the likelihood of conceiving. It seems that targeting specific foods and nutrient compounds can make a big difference.

Try reducing your intake of:
  • Saturated fats.
  • Fast or convenience type foods.
  • Foods which are chemically produced.
  • Animal proteins. Avoid an excessive intake of red meat.
  • Refined sugars and carbohydrates. White flour and sugar, white rice ,and pasta have all been refined to make them more appealing and palatable.
Try increasing your intake of:
  • Foods which are high in monounsaturated fats. These include olive oil, avocado, fish, and seafood.
  • Whole grains, fresh fruits, and vegetables. Bread, pasta, rice, sugar, and cereals are all more complete and less manufactured. They should bear resemblance to how they were grown.
  • Some fat in the diet is essential. Small amounts of full cream dairy foods, nuts, and oils help to boost the chances of conceiving.
  • For men, a daily intake of zinc is beneficial for producing healthy sperm. Seafood, green leafy vegetables, and red meat are rich sources.

Things to remember

If after 12 months of actively trying to conceive you are still not pregnant, don’t leave it to chance. See a health care professional to take proactive steps in helping you on your pregnancy journey.

The information of this article has been reviewed by nursing experts of the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric, & Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN). The content should not substitute medical advice from your personal healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for recommendations/diagnosis or treatment. For more advice from AWHONN nurses, visit Healthy Mom&Baby at health4mom.org.