TIP #1: SEE YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER
You can lay the groundwork for a healthy pregnancy even before you get pregnant. You’re more likely to have a successful pregnancy when your body is up to the task. Schedule a preconception checkup with a doctor or midwife to find out whether you’re in your best baby-making shape – and to learn what changes may help.
You may not be able to get an appointment right away or resolve any health issues immediately, but taking these steps as soon as possible can help you conceive more easily in the long run.
TIP #2: PLAN FOR A HEALTHY PREGNANCY
When you’re trying to conceive, eat nutritious foods, maintain a healthy weight, get regular exercise, and try to kick any bad habits (like drinking, smoking, or using drugs). Limit your caffeine intake to less than 200 milligrams a day (about 12 ounces of coffee). Any more than that may contribute to fertility problems.
At your preconception appointment, discuss any medications you’re taking and find out if they’ll be safe to use during pregnancy.
You can dramatically reduce the risk of certain birth defects if you begin taking folic acid at least one month before you start trying to conceive.
Find out what else you can do ahead of time to give your baby a healthy start.
TIP #3: FIGURE OUT WHEN YOU OVULATE
The biggest secret to getting pregnant quickly is knowing when you ovulate (release an egg from your ovary).
You ovulate only once each menstrual cycle, and there are just a few days during that time when it’s possible to conceive. Knowing when you ovulate means that you and your partner can time intercourse to have the best chance of getting pregnant that cycle.
You can use a few different methods to figure out when you ovulate. Our article on predicting ovulation walks you through them. This ovulation calculator also does the math for you by determining when you’re most likely to be fertile.
(If you have irregular periods, pinpointing ovulation could be difficult. Ask your provider for advice.)
TIP #4: HAVE SEX AT THE RIGHT TIME
Once you know the timeframe your egg is likely to be released from your ovary, you can plan to have sex during your most fertile days, which is usually about three days before ovulation through the day you ovulate.
You have a range of days for baby-making sex because sperm can survive for three to six days in your body. (Your egg survives for only about a day.) That means if you have sex on Monday, sperm can survive in your fallopian tubes until Thursday – or even as late as Sunday.
If you’re not sure when your fertile period will be, just have sex every other day. This means you’ll have healthy sperm in your fallopian tubes whenever your egg gets released.
(If you want to have sex more often than every other day, that’s fine. It won’t improve your chances any more, but it won’t hurt, either.)
Another tip: If you and your partner are waiting to have sex until your most fertile time, make sure you haven’t gone through too long of a dry spell beforehand. Your partner should ejaculate at least once in the days just before your most fertile period. Otherwise there could be a buildup of dead sperm in his semen.
(Ed. note: Vaginal lubricants including saliva, olive oil, and most water-based lubricants can slow down sperm. Ask your provider to recommend one that’s safe to use when trying to conceive. Canola oil can be a good alternative.)
TIP #5: GIVE SPERM A BOOST
Sperm have the best shot of fertilizing an egg when they’re healthy, strong, and plentiful. Your partner can do several things to help:
Cut back on alcohol. Studies show that drinking daily can lower testosterone levels and sperm counts, increasing the number of abnormal sperm.
Skip tobacco and recreational drugs. These can cause poor sperm function.
Try to maintain a healthy weight. Obesity can lower sperm count and slow down sperm.
Get enough of certain key nutrients – like zinc, folic acid, calcium, and vitamins C and D – that help create strong and plentiful sperm.
Don’t use hot tubs and saunas or take hot baths because heat kills sperm. (Testicles function best at 94 to 96 degrees Fahrenheit, a couple of degrees cooler than normal body temperature.)
The sooner your partner can make these changes, the better: Sperm take a while to mature, so any improvements now will yield better sperm specimens about three months from now.
How long to try before getting help
If you’re going to get pregnant naturally, it’s very likely to happen within the first six months. About 8 out of 10 couples have conceived by then.
After that, how long you should keep trying before you seek help from a fertility specialist depends in large part on your age. Fertility declines as you get older, so if you’re age 40 or older, get help from an expert right away. If you’re 35 to 40, talk to a specialist after you’ve tried for six months with no luck. And if you’re younger than 35, it’s probably fine to keep trying for a year before seeking assistance.
Of course, if you know of a reason you or your partner are more likely to have a fertility problem, make an appointment right away. There’s no reason to wait in that case.