How to improve your odds of conceiving

Can the latest fertility breakthroughs let you cheat Mother Nature?

YOUR BIOLOGICAL CLOCK: How to improve your odds of conceiving
Can the latest fertility breakthroughs let you cheat Mother Nature?

Angelina Jolie

Angelina Jolie

Photo: George Pimentel

With so many possibilities and opportunities, it’s no surprise that more and more of us are postponing starting a family. According to Statistics Canada, over the past 20 years, the average age of women giving birth has risen to 29.3 from 27. And, in 2006, for the first time ever, women aged 30–34 had more kids than women 25–29. But if motherhood’s on your to-do list—eventually—how long can you really wait? Here, the lifestyle changes that may improve your odds of conception.


Reduce your stress levels. Chronic anxiety can throw your hormones off balance, resulting in irregular periods, which will hinder your efforts to get pregnant. Stress can also affect your baby-to-be. A recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that expectant moms who experienced high job strain in the first trimester and worked 32 hours or more per week were more likely to deliver a baby with reduced birth weight.

Try acupuncture. “Based on where a woman is in her cycle and depending on her constitution, we may focus on points related to supporting the ovaries and uterus, and points to help her relax,” says Tanya Smith, clinic director of Toronto’s Lifecycles Wellness. According to a study published this year in the journal Fertility and Sterility, researchers have found that the ancient practice increases blood flow through the uterine arteries and decreases serum levels of stress hormones. These factors are linked to improving the quality of the eggs (including their ability to be fertilized and develop healthily) and a greater success rate for IVF.

Quit smoking. This unhealthy habit has been shown to reduce fertility and increase the risk of having a miscarriage or a low-birth-weight baby. Plus, if you’re smoking while undergoing in vitro fertilization, clinical studies show that the embryo is not as likely to implant in the uterus successfully.

Don’t over-exercise. Hitting the gym too hard—to the point where you’re losing excessive weight—may stop your period altogether. A minimum of 22-percent body fat is required for ovulation and a healthy reproductive system, says obstetrician Dr. Charles Hux, author of the new book Nine Healthy Months, so your workouts should focus on maintaining your fitness level, not burning fat or building muscle mass. For aspiring moms, Dr. Hux recommends 30 minutes of light activity, such as walking, three times a week.

Ensure you maintain a healthy weight. Excess pounds can also cause irregular periods and hormonal fluctuations, both of which impede fertility. In fact, according to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, 12 percent of infertility cases are due to weight issues. Sustaining a healthy weight once pregnant is important, too. According to recent research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill school of medicine, a mother’s weight gain during pregnancy impacts her daughter’s risk of being obese later in life; gaining too little (less than 10 pounds) or too much (more than 40 pounds) each resulted in a 1.5- and two-fold increase, respectively, in the odds that the daughter would be obese at age 18.

Eat right. Although no specific diet has been proven to directly boost fertility, a well-rounded diet will help you maintain a healthy weight, which can improve fertility. Dr. Susan L. Treiser, a reproductive endocrinology and fertility specialist who also penned the foreword of the new book Cooking to Conceive, also recommends cutting out sushi and freshwater fish (they can be high in mercury) and adding foods rich in DHA, an essential fatty acid that will help your baby’s brain develop. Since few foods other than fish contain DHA, look for milk and foods fortified with it.

Have sex daily. New research from Sydney IVF, a fertility clinic in Australia, shows that having sex every day improves the quality of men’s sperm.

“Your Biological Clock” has been edited for; the complete story appears in the October 2009 issue of FLARE.