youíre among the hundreds of thousands of U.S. couples
trying to get pregnant this season ó and December is the
most popular month for baby-making ó experts say there are
some lifestyle choices that could improve your odds.
fairly obvious: Maintain a healthy weight and donít smoke.
health during pregnancy starts with being healthy before you
get pregnant," said Dr. Ranit Mishori, associate
professor of family medicine at Georgetown University School
of Medicine in Washington.
are more surprising, such as avoiding exposure to certain
environmental chemicals, including some ultraviolet filters
commonly used in sunscreen.
at the National Institutes of Health recently discovered that
men with high exposure to the UV filters benzophenone-2 (BP-2)
and 4OH-BP had a 30 percent reduction in their ability to
reproduce. There was no similar effect in women.
fecundity seems to be more susceptible to these chemicals than
female fecundity," even though women have greater
exposure to UV filters overall, said Dr. Germaine Louis in
announcing the results in November. Louis is director of the
Division of Intramural Population Health Research at the
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and
Human Development in Bethesda, Md. "Our next step is to
figure out how these particular chemicals may be affecting
couple fecundity or time to pregnancy ó whether itís by
diminishing sperm quality or inhibiting reproduction some
researchers studied 501 couples who were trying to conceive.
The couples were part of the Longitudinal Investigation of
Fertility and the Environment (LIFE). Earlier findings from
the LIFE study have linked reduced fertility to high
cholesterol levels in women and couples and to high
concentrations of phthalates in men.
Sandra Carson, an obstetrician and reproductive
endocrinologist from Brown University in Providence, R.I., who
now serves as vice president of education for the American
Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said her most
important advice for a woman who wants to start a family is to
see her doctor for an assessment of current health.
best thing she can do for herself is to be in the best shape
she can be," Carson said. "Make sure all her
immunizations are up to date. Make sure sheís on folic acid.
Make sure she knows about ovulation and when to have sex to
maximize her chances, and she knows about good health in
Proudfoot, a 29-year-old newly married architect in
Washington, just had a checkup with her physician, Mishori, in
which she mentioned that she and her husband were getting
ready to start a family.
is in very good shape ó sheís a runner, she bikes a lot,
and she exercises her dog before and after work every day.
Mishori ascertained that her weight is in a healthy range and
that her diet contains all the necessary nutrients. "The
only thing she recommended I do differently was to start
taking folic acid," Proudfoot said.
folic acid supplement both before and during pregnancy is
important, experts agree, because it helps prevent defects in
the development of the fetal brain and spinal cord. That
development takes place in the first three to four weeks of
pregnancy, so doctors recommend starting a supplement ó or a
prenatal multivitamin containing 400 micrograms of folic acid
ó at least a month before conception.
some other tips:
of intercourse ó but not position ó can affect fertility.
"Every day or every other day during your fertile period
is best," Mishori said. "And you should know when
your fertile period is. But you donít have to put a pillow
under your hips or hold your legs up for half an hour. Thatís
donít have to abstain during nonfertile times unless the
male partner has a low sperm count. In that case, Carson said,
the couple may have to restrict intercourse to the two days
right before ovulation.
can buy a test kit to learn when youíre ovulating,"
cigarette smoke ó her own and her partnerís ó can help a
woman get pregnant both now and long-term (because smoking has
been linked to earlier menopause) and also protect the unborn
studies show that women who smoke and women exposed to
secondhand smoke have a greater likelihood of being infertile.
Smoking by the male partner hurts in another way: It harms his
you donít need a study to know smoking is bad," Mishori
consumption is a little trickier. Some studies have shown
detrimental effects on fertility as well as on the developing
fetus, but others have shown that a little wine may actually
tell women, if you donít have to drink, donít,"
Mishori said. "If you must drink, donít have more than
two drinks a day."
levels of caffeine ó more than five cups of coffee a day ó
may impede fertility and increase the risk of miscarriage,
Mishori said. "But one or two cups a day may be OK."
diet, "there are all kinds of myths," Mishori said.
"Low fat, low carbohydrate, antioxidants, vitamin-this or
vitamin-that. None has any good evidence. Donít buy
supplements that promise to increase your fertility. A
well-balanced diet is the way to proceed, whether or not youíre
intending to get pregnant."
thing everyone agrees on is the importance of maintaining a
healthy weight. "For those who are either very over- or
underweight, their fertility is lowered," Mishori said.
youíre obese, youíre going to have a harder time getting
pregnant," she said. "Youíre more likely to have
pregnancy complications that will have negative effects on the
fetus. And there is also a higher risk of complications in
labor and delivery."
are no good studies on the link between exercise and
fertility, Mishori said, but exercise before pregnancy makes
for a healthier pregnancy.
fit makes it easier for you to withstand the delivery,"
she added. "And sometimes exercise helps to lower weight,
blood sugar and blood pressure, all of which can be
detrimental in pregnancy."
other hand, excessive exercise, such as training for a
marathon, can harm fertility by interfering with ovulation.
noted that protecting against sexually transmitted diseases
also shields fertility. That means "having a limited
number of sexual partners and using condoms in relationships
where they donít want to become pregnant," she said.
there is some evidence that personal lubricants may decrease
fertility. "Donít use any at all," Mishori said.
heard that the way to get pregnant is to relax and take a
vacation, you may be disappointed.
way to get pregnant is to have sex," Carson said.
"Going on vacation only helps if you have more sex."
stress doesnít work either. "Stress can impair
fertility," Carson explained, "because it can stop
ovulation. But relieving stress doesnít necessarily restore
way, no one knows why December is the most common month for
conception in the United States (and the United Kingdom). Some
have suggested sperm may be healthier in cold weather.
According to a 2006 chart compiled by Amitabh Chandra of
Harvard University, using U.S. data for each date from 1973
through 1999, the largest number of births occur in September.
And in case you were wondering, Sept. 16 is the most popular