Why Did I Write This Guide?
Before my husband and I tried to conceive I did a lot of research into ovulation and conception. I wanted to give us the best chance of having a baby as quickly as possible. I would love to pass on what I’ve learned to you.
According to the American Pregnancy Association, for the average couple under age 35, it takes four to six months to successfully conceive a child. Furthermore, 85 out of every 100 couples who try to conceive naturally will be successful within a year of trying. Only a small percentage of couples suffer from infertility, which can be brought on by genetics, injuries or lifestyle choices. If genetics are preventing you from successfully conceiving, you and your partner should contact a fertility expert. There are medical options, like in-vitro fertilization, that are available to you.
I’ve created this guide for couples who have been trying to conceive for less than a year. In it, I outline ways for couples to take an active role in their fertility from the comfort of their own home. My focus is on helping couples accurately chart their fertility cycle and making sure they are creating the healthiest environment possible for a developing baby. My goal is for you to use this guide to give yourselves the best possible chances of successfully starting a family.
Does This Guide Cover Infertility?
I am not a doctor, nor am I a fertility specialist. The methods that I present in this guide are ways to increase your odds of conception by helping you track and chart your cycles with greater accuracy. I’ll show you ways to improve your overall health. You don’t want to accidentally sabotage your own fertility with poor diet and lifestyle choices. Trouble during conception is often the result of mistiming, missing the moment of ovulation. Couples who are just planning or have been trying to conceive for less than a year might benefit from this guide. It is not written for couples who have been diagnosed with infertility.
10 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 44 suffer from infertility. The CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) defines infertility as:
-Women under 35 who are unable to get pregnant naturally after a year of trying.
-Women over 35 who are unable to get pregnant after 6 months of trying.
-Women who are able to become pregnant but repeatedly have trouble carrying their pregnancies to term.
What causes female infertility? Female infertility is linked to problems with how women ovulate. After all, without ovulation there can be no conception. The most common ovulation problems women face are polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and primary ovarian insufficiency (POI). PCOS is a hormone imbalance that affects a woman’s ability to ovulate. In POI, a woman’s ovaries stop functioning properly before she reaches the age of 40. Uterine fibroids and blocked fallopian tubes (either from endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease or surgery from an ectopic pregnancy) are less common causes of infertility in women.
Infertility is not just a female problem. Genetics and injuries can affect a man’s ability to produce healthy sperm in large enough concentrations for conception to occur. I would welcome every couple to use this guide. However, if you or your partner have been diagnosed with infertility or have been trying to conceive for over a year with no success, it may be time for you to speak with a fertility specialist.
Let’s discuss some of the basics of conception and ovulation.
Day one of your monthly cycle is marked by the first day of your last period. Ovulation typically occurs 2 weeks after day one. Each month your egg matures inside your ovaries. If you have healthy ovaries, you should release an egg from your ovary 12 to 16 days after the start of your cycle. From there, the egg travels down your fallopian tube towards your uterus. The egg will either be fertilized and begin to form a baby (congratulations!) or it will be sloughed off during your next period, giving you another chance to conceive next month.
An unfertilized egg is surprisingly fragile. The egg will only live for 24 hours, so it has to meet up with healthy sperm during that window of time for conception to be successful. Sperm are more rugged than a woman’s egg – they can live in a woman’s body for up to 5 days. A healthy man will release between 30 and 300 million sperm with each ejaculation. Those sperm need to be as nourished, healthy and strong as possible. It takes a lot of strong, agile swimming for sperm to survive the trip to the egg.
A woman’s vagina is, quite frankly, a hostile place. We want to make sure that only the strongest genes survive and get the chance to be passed on. Sperm have to travel through a highly acidic environment. This kills a lot of the weaker sperm before they even make it to the egg. The successful sperm travel through the cervix and uterus to the fallopian tube. If the timing is perfect and the sperm meets the egg, a huge amount of energy is still required for the sperm to burrow through the egg’s outer membrane. If everything is successful, conception will occur.
Tracking Cycles and Ovulation (Timing is Everything)
Every woman’s cycle is different. We don’t have the same periods, right? Well, we don’t all ovulate at the same time either. Knowing when you ovulate and whether your cycles are regular is the first step to successfully conceiving a child. Hormones and personal wellbeing can all affect a woman’s cycle. Estrogen, luteinizing hormone and follicle-stimulating hormone all send signals through a woman’s body. These signals tell her when to release her eggs and how her cycle will progress. External factors like stress, heavy labor and excessive exercise can also cause irregular cycles. Extreme exertion, or exercising to the point where a woman’s BMI (body mass index) becomes very low can cause ovulation and menstrual cycles to cease completely.
You should begin tracking ovulation by determining whether your cycles are regular. Women with regular menstrual cycles will have the easiest time conceiving because they can predict ovulation with much greater accuracy. This process can take anywhere from 3-5 months.
First, let’s begin by charting your period. You can do this by hand with a calendar or through an app on your phone. I use “Life – Period Tracker” by Lovetap. It allows me to track the start and end of each period, as well as any symptoms I might experience throughout the month.
You want to get an idea of the average length of your period and how long your monthly cycle lasts. To see how long your periods are, track the day your period begins. Make notes about how heavy your flow is and any symptoms you might experience during menstruation. Mark when your period finishes.
To understand your monthly cycle, mark the day your period begins and mark the day before your next period begins. This is one complete cycle. Mark your beginning dates for at least 3 months and you will begin to see how regular your cycles actually are.
For the best chances at conception, your cycles should be roughly the same length every month. My cycle is 30 days long, every month. My period is 6 to 7 days long. I used to think my periods were irregular, but after tracking for several months I know my cycle is very consistent. That is why tracking symptoms during menstruation and journaling throughout the month are so important. Let’s say one of your cycles is much shorter than another month. Why did that happen? Were you more stressed that month? Did you eat and exercise well? Don’t leave conception up to chance. Track your cycle and learn the signals your body is sending you.
Now that you know the length of your cycles (and the individual factors that might affect them) you can begin pinpointing your unique moment of ovulation. You can do this by charting you basal body temperature, your cervical fluid, the position of your cervix and by using over-the-counter ovulation prediction kits. I would recommend doing all four and I will take you through each method below:
♥ Charting basal body temperature
Right after ovulation a woman’s body temperature rises. It only increases by a degree or two, so unless you keep track of your basal body temperature regularly you probably won’t notice the difference. First, purchase a good basal body thermometer. Every morning before you get out of bed, take your basal body temperature. Write down the result so you remember it. Stick with it and take your temperature at that time every morning for at least 3 months.
You’ll know you’ve ovulated when you chart a small rise in your temperature over 5 days. Mark the date on your calendar when you reach the highest temperature. Continue to chart your temperature after ovulation throughout the rest of the month. Your temperature should stay higher until your next cycle. Some women have irregular cycles and need to chart for many months before a pattern of ovulation emerges. That’s why I recommend charting your basal body temperature for at least 3 months. Your ovulation date will be most accurate if you give yourself more data to work with. After a few months you will see the consistent change in temperature. Your ovulation happens on one of the days near the peak temperature. Other methods may be necessary to know the exact day of ovulation.
In addition to pinpointing your date of ovulation, you’ll want to figure out your basal coverline temperature each month. This will help you discover if you have a problem with your progesterone levels. To find your coverline temperature, locate the date of ovulation you marked for each month. Count back 6 days before the rise in temperature. Take the highest temperature of those 6 days and raise it by .1 degree. This is your coverline temperature. Make sure that your post ovulation temperature does not fall below your coverline temperature. If it does, this is a good indication of progesterone imbalance.
♥ Charting cervical fluid
Charting your cervical fluid, or discharge, is one of the easiest ways to identify your unique ovulation date. Charting cervical fluid to pinpoint ovulation is most accurate when used alongside at least one of the other methods.
It goes without saying that to chart cervical fluid you have to be comfortable touching and examining your own discharge. This might seem gross for some people but checking discharge is an easy way to keep you connected to your own health. If at any point you notice a fishy odor to your discharge, it might be a sign of yeast or bacterial infection. You should check with your doctor for treatment.
To check your cervical fluid, take your clean hand and wipe the inside of your vagina. You’ll want to pay attention to both the amount of discharge and how it feels. Low amounts of discharge are common just after the end of your period. Discharge will also be cloudy and sticky at this time, like white glue. As you near ovulation the amount of discharge your body produces increases. When your fluid is clear and stretchy, like raw egg whites, ovulation is very close. Charting cervical fluid will only tell you when ovulation is near, so I recommend keeping a record of the amount and texture of your fluid along with one of the other methods listed in this guide. Using all of these methods together will give you the most accurate ovulation date possible.
♥ Charting cervical position
Charting the position of your cervix should only be done with clean hands and very short nails. I suggest you begin right after your period finishes. At this point your cervix will be very low, hard and much easier for you to locate. Place your clean hand (with short nails) inside your vagina and reach up until you feel a small opening. This is your cervix. Feel around and notice how hard it feels.
Do this at the same time every day. Be gentle. As ovulation nears, you will notice your cervix rising. It is moving higher up in your body and becoming more soft and open to allow sperm to enter easily. Keep a log of what you feel throughout the month. After a few months you will be able to pinpoint when your cervix is most soft and open.
♥ Using Ovulation Prediction Kits
Ovulation Predictor Kits (OPK) are used in a similar way to pregnancy tests: they are sticks you have to pee on in a certain way. Most measure the moment when your luteinizing hormones surge in your body (which happens right before ovulation). To use these tests you need to know how long your cycle is each month. I would recommend at least 3 practice months before using an OPK for conception. It takes some trial-and-error to make each one work properly with your cycle.
My favorite test I used was Clear Blue Advanced Digital Ovulation Tests. It boasts a claim that it will tell you what the four most fertile days are in your cycle (2x the results from other OPK’s). There are some things you must do if you want to avoid false negatives and false positives. Luckily I’ve done the “trial-and-error part” for you already, so follow my tips below for a smooth Clear Blue OPK experience.
– Pee on the stick at the same time each morning. The test says that “first morning urine” is not necessary, but I found it was more accurate for me. If you don’t use the first morning urine, drink water normally and wait 4 hours before testing again.
– Never put the test pointing up. The instructions say you can either lay the test flat or point the absorbent tip facing up in the air, like a baton. Don’t do this. On my practice months I tried this twice and both times I received an incomplete test (which is a wasted test).
– The way that the digital Clear Blue kit functions is based on smiley faces. A circle indicates that you don’t have enough luteinizing hormone in your urine yet. A flashing smiley face indicates your luteinizing hormone levels are rising. A solid smiley face indicates you have reached peak fertility, at which point the test becomes inactive for 2 days and you can no longer use it that month.
If you’ve followed all of my advice above, don’t get angry and throw the test at the wall if the solid smiley face appears earlier than you expected it to show.
The first month of trying to conceive I got a solid smiley face 8 days after my period ended. On all the other months I “practiced”, the smiley face had appeared 11 days after the end of my period. I thought it was a false positive and, distraught that I could not test again that month, I threw the test stick against the wall in frustration. We thought we missed our window, but three weeks later my husband and I found out I was pregnant. Oops. False positives do happen but if you follow the tips I mentioned above, chances are your positive will be an accurate one.
How to Promote Healthy Sperm
Men, sperm are fascinating. The health and mobility of your little guys are absolutely dependent on what you eat and the lifestyle choices you make. Sperm have to work hard to fertilize a woman’s egg. You need sperm that are strong, flexible and fast to give you and your partner the best chances of conception.
The first thing you can check is your weight. Scroll down to the “Body Mass Index section” of this post. I offer a free online BMI tool which can let you know how your weight compares with your height. If you are over or under a normal BMI, getting your weight 10 or 20 lbs closer to that normal weight goal will significantly improve the quality and quantity of your sperm.
Next, take a look at which vitamins you’ve been taking every morning. You do take vitamins, right? If not, conception is a great time to start. Folate and zinc are the building blocks of good sperm. Supplements like l-carnitine can give sperm a huge boost in energy and help them make that dangerous journey to fertilize the egg. High-quality fish oil pills give sperm greater elasticity and motility as they swim towards their destination. Vitamins can make all the difference between a conception success and a conception-bust. Check out my post on vitamins here for more information.
Finally, examine your lifestyle. Your little lady should be taking care of herself. She’s no longer smoking, drinking excessively or using recreational drugs because she wants to give your baby the best chance of life it can get. (If she hasn’t modified her lifestyle, perhaps you can be a good influence and impress why she needs to kick old habits for the baby’s sake). She’s not the only one who needs your support. Your sperm need a clean, oxygen-filled healthy environment to grow strong and stable for conception to occur. Here are some ways poor lifestyle choices damage your sperm:
- Smoking. Smoking anything, whether it’s cigarettes, cigars, vapes or marijuana will deprive your body of oxygen. This leads to low sperm counts and slow-moving sperm. These guys are too tired to get the job done. They can barely make it to the egg. Should conception occur, these sperm are more likely to lead to miscarriage and fetal abnormalities than their smoke-free cousins. While sperm are always “available”, they take a few months to grow from infancy to maturity. Quit smoking at least 3 months before trying to conceive.
- Drinking. Don’t worry, you don’t have to quit drinking completely, but you should reduce the amount of alcohol you drink and don’t get drunk. Excessive alcohol has been shown to cause slow, sluggish, abnormal sperm. If you are having trouble knowing what is excessive and what isn’t, stick to 2 beers or two shots of hard liquor per night, maximum. Keep in mind that your wife should drink even less while trying to conceive and limiting your alcohol consumption may make it easier for her to abstain.
- Caffeine. Women can safely consume about 12-ounces of caffeine every day during conception and pregnancy (though caffeine makes mood swings worse, so she might not want to drink any during the first trimester). There is no evidence that small amounts of caffeine negatively impact sperm movement. Old wives tales suggest that a cup of coffee can make sperm move faster. While there is a lot of conflicting evidence regarding caffeine consumption and male fertility, the recommended amount of caffeine for men during conception is under 18-ounces a day. Keep in mind that caffeine comes from sodas, coffee, tea and chocolate.
- Temperature. Do you like saunas? Hot tubs? When you are trying to conceive it’s best that you avoid anything that will heat up your body (and your testicles) too much. Too much heat can cause serious sperm deformities and interfere with regular sperm production. You’ll want to avoid wearing tight underwear and placing your laptop on your lap for extended periods of time for this very reason. Keep those bad boys cool.
- Stress. Stress at work is a common issue for many men. There’s a lot of pressure on guys to preform an provide for their families and sometimes that stress can come home with you. When you and your partner are trying to conceive, stress acts like a roadblock for conception. It makes it harder for men to perform sexually. It also interferes with male hormones that create sperm. Do what you can to decompress from work in a healthy way before you get home. Exercise can be a great way to blow off some steam. If your source of stress is coming from within the home consider couples counseling or speaking with someone you trust, like a priest or rabbi. Try to get your stress under control before trying to conceive a child. You want to solve those relationship issues before the baby arrives because children almost always complicate things. They will not fix your relationship for you.
- Toxins at work. Some men have jobs in a toxic environment. Whether your job places you around strong cleaning chemicals or pesticides, or something more hazardous like lead, consider working away from those chemicals while trying to conceive if possible. If you cannot change your proximity to those substances, be diligent about wearing a face mask and protective clothing at work
Strategies for How to Get Pregnant Faster
♥ Frequency of sex
Now that you have used the techniques above to discover your unique ovulation date, you can use that information to help get pregnant faster. The first thing you should consider is the frequency that you and your partner have sex. As we discussed earlier a woman’s egg lives for only 24 hours, while a man’s sperm can live in a woman’s body for up to 5 days.
Some couples believe that the best way to get pregnant is to wait and have sex only on the 4 days before ovulation but this is not the best approach. Yes, having sex on the four days before ovulation would give sperm the best chance of meeting the egg. But if you are not consistently having sex throughout the month those sperm may not be the best specimens for conception. If a man does not ejaculate frequently, sperm will build up in his testicles and get weak. They might even die. It does no good to try and conceive with dead sperm. To ensure you and your partner are using the strongest sperm possible for conception, have sex frequently throughout your cycle. Aim for having sex every one to two days. Every three days is fine, too. On the four days before ovulation and two after ovulation occurs, try to have sex every day. This will give your egg and his sperm the best chances of meeting at the right time.
You don’t want to have sex more than once per day while trying to conceive. Not only can both of you get worn out but your partner will have less sperm available for you. Limit the frequency of sex to once per day.
♥ Stop using birth control
There are many different forms of birth control available for women. Each one will affect your fertility cycle differently. Barrier methods, such as female and male condoms, diaphragms and cervical caps require no adjustment period from your body before your cycle normalizes. All you have to do to become fertile is stop using the barrier and have sex regularly.
Intrauterine devices (IUD) also require no adjustments from your body. Just remove the device and your body will return to the same level of fertility that it was at before the device was used.
If you use birth control pills, the patch or a vaginal ring it might take a month or two before you begin ovulating regularly. Birth control shots, like Depo-Provera, take 13 weeks to fully leave your system. Your ovulation cycle might not normalize for a year or more once you stop taking the shot.
With any birth control method, you will know when your ovulation cycles have returned to normal once you are able to track your periods with some degree of regularity.
♥ Visit your dentist for a deep cleaning and check-up
Dental health is SO important once you become pregnant. Pregnancy causes a wave of hormonal changes that place women at increased risk for teeth and gum disease. The subsequent infections from cavities and gingivitis breed bacteria that can be very harmful to the health of your developing baby.
Before you decide to conceive, make an appointment with your dentist for a deep cleaning and a thorough exam. You can still get a dental checkup once you become pregnant but more precautions need to be taken to ensure the health of you and your baby. It’s easier to get dental work done before you conceive.
♥ Check your lubrication
You’ll also want to pay attention to the lubricant that you use while trying to conceive. Saliva and regular lubricant can damage the sperm, as many lubricants contain spermicide. At best, these will slow sperm down and make it much more difficult for them to reach the egg. In case your body is not producing enough cervical fluid during sex, purchase a high-quality, sperm-friendly lubricant.
♥ Eat lots of grapefruit
Many women over 35 struggle with regular ovulation due to hormone changes. If you’ve been charting you cycle and find that you do not ovulate regularly each month, try incorporating grapefruit into your diet. Grapefruit contains myo-inositol, a compound that improves insulin sensitivity and can help regulate your cycle. You can also purchase myo-inositol in supplement form.
♥ Take a quality, raw prenatal
The importance of taking prenatal vitamins before conception cannot be overstated. Not only will it give you a much healthier pregnancy, raw prenatal supplements like iron, zinc and B6 are essential for regulating the luteal phase of your menstrual cycle and are indispensable for proper ovulation.
Your body will absorb much more nutrients from a raw prenatal because they are plant-based, as opposed to mineral-based, supplements. My go-to raw, prenatal is made by Vitamin Code. While I have experimented with others by Solaray and Rainbow Light, Vitamin Code’s Raw Prenatal was the easiest on my stomach and delivered the highest-quality ingredients of any supplements I tried.
Read my post on vitamins for conception to see how vitamins can affect your fertility.
♥ Exercise & Body Mass Index (BMI)
Women who are at a normal body mass index (BMI) will have a much easier time conceiving. Individuals who are overweight and underweight place a lot of stress on their reproductive system. Your BMI is determined by knowing your current weight and your height. You can calculate you BMI for free using this online tool.
A normal BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9. Women in the normal BMI range will have, on average, much healthier pregnancies. They will also experience less birth complications, preterm delivery and health issues while pregnant. It is also much easier for women with a normal BMI to conceive, because weight imbalances place such a strain on the reproductive system. Men with normal BMI levels have an easier time producing quality sperm for conception.
An overweight BMI is between 25 and 29.9. Women who are overweight may encounter serious complications to their own health and the health of their baby during pregnancy. Even though you are not obese, pregnancy will throw your digestion and hormones out of wack. You will have a much greater risk of developing preeclampsia, hypertension, eclampsia and gestational diabetes than mothers with a normal BMI. You are also at a greater risk for C-section birth and postoperative complications as your body heals from pregnancy. Your baby has an increased risk of developing heart abnormalities and spina bifida. It will also make it much more difficult for you to conceive. Men who have an overweight BMI have measures of lower sperm count and overall poor semen quality on average. This can also contribute to birth complications.
An obese BMI is one that is 30 and above. Women with an obese BMI should strongly reconsider getting their BMI down, even 20 lbs towards a normal BMI, before trying to conceive. You are at the highest risk for birth complications. Women with an obese BMI often suffer from sleep apnea, which deprives your body of oxygen. You are at a higher risk for developing high blood pressure, preeclampsia, eclampsia, as well as heart and lung disorders. You are also far more likely to develop gestational diabetes during your pregnancy, which can cause birth complications and will put your baby at risk for developing diabetes in their lifetime. Your baby is also at the highest risk for miscarriage, infertility, neural tube defects, larger-than-normal body shape, preterm birth and stillbirth. You might not be able to get an ultrasound because sound waves have trouble travelling through fatty tissue. Conception will be difficult because extra weight throws off your ovulation cycle. Men with an obese BMI often suffer from very low sperm counts, to the point that they can become infertile.
An underweight BMI is below 18.5. Women who are underweight often suffer from irregular cycles. Your body is trying to hold onto its fat reserves and that can throw off ovulation. In some cases, the menstrual cycle will shut down completely and women will become infertile. This is not just the case for women who have eating disorders. Women who exercise intensely or compulsively, or those who have a very active, marathon lifestyle, can also suffer from irregularity and infertility. This makes conception very difficult. If conception occurs, your baby will be at an increased risk for preterm birth and other pregnancy complications. Poor nutrition and fat intake can also put your baby at risk for a postpartum hemorrhage, which leads to sudden infant death. Men who have an underweight BMI often suffer from infertility.
Some things need to be taken into consideration when you look at your BMI. If you have a lot of heavy muscle instead of fat on your body, as is the case with people who weight-lift regularly, you might register in the overweight BMI category. I would recommend that you check in with a family practitioner if you’re trying to conceive. They will help you get the proper amount of fat necessary for a healthy birth.
If you are underweight, overweight or obese, both partners need to check with a doctor about what is needed for a healthy pregnancy. They will help you to (1) quit any food addictions or manage any eating disorders you might have, (2) help you get your diet and weight on track for conception and (3) provide you will an expected weight-gain plan for pregnancy.
I hope this guide helps you to grow a happy, healthy family. Every woman (and man) is different but by following this guide you will have a better understanding of your own fertility. Take it slow, don’t rush. As you implement these changes in your daily life your health and fertility will change, but not overnight. With patience and dedication, you will have a great chance to create the happy family you’ve always wanted.
I look forward to hearing how this guide has helped you and your partner achieve conception and a healthy pregnancy. Your fertility is in your hands. ♥