Whether you're officially TTC (Trying to Conceive) or just planning ahead, these essentials will help maximize your chances for conceiving and delivering a healthy baby.
1. Stop using birth control. Seems obvious, but some forms of birth control have more lasting effects than others. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, if you're taking birth control pills, continue to the end of your current cycle before stopping the pills, then start trying the next month (some doctors recommend waiting an additional month or more -- check with your gynecologist). Makers of Norplant say that the contraceptive sticks wear off three days after they are removed, while the manufacturers of Depo-Provera claim it takes 12 weeks for the progestin (contraceptive hormone) to leave your body. If you use condoms, a cervical cap, or a diaphragm, all you need to do is put them away.
2. See a doctor. Blood pressure, weight, chronic conditions such as diabetes, and many other factors can affect your ability to carry and deliver a healthy baby, according to the Mayo Clinic Complete Book of Pregnancy and Baby's First Year (William Morrow & Co., 1994). If you have health issues of any kind, address them with your doctor now.
3. Eat right. That means a balanced diet complete with protein, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and a minimum of sweets and fats, recommends the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
4. Take folic acid. Folic acid is a synthetic form of folate, a B vitamin that can help reduce the risk of serious birth defects that affect the brain and spinal cord. These defects can occur in the fetus even before the mother knows she is pregnant. For this reason, the FDA recommends that all women of childbearing age take folic acid supplements.
5. Quit smoking, drinking, and drugs. A great deal has been written about the effects of nicotine, drugs, and alcohol on the unborn fetus. What's less well known is that these substances can affect male fertility, too, causing chromosomal damage, decrease in motility (the swimming rate of the sperm), and erectile dysfunction, say Leslie Schover and Anthony Thomas in Overcoming Male Infertility (John Wiley & Sons, 2000).
6. Know your cycle. General wisdom has it that your most fertile time is the fourteenth day after you get your period. But in fact, ovulation occurs on the fourteenth day before your period begins, if you're not pregnant, says Toni Weschler in Taking Charge of Your Fertility (HarperPerennial Library, 1995). If your cycle is 28 days long, that makes day 14 (counting from the first day of your last period) your most fertile day. But if you have a 30-day cycle, day 16 is the most fertile, and 32-dayers should go for it on day 18.
7. Chart your basal body temperature. According to Taking Charge of Your Fertility author Toni Weschler, a basal thermometer (about $10 at most drugstores) can help you determine when you're at your most fertile.
8. Look out for mucus. When ovulation occurs, your body produces a slippery, thin substance called cervical mucus to help facilitate the passage of sperm. If you examine yourself daily, says Weschler, you'll notice a vaginal discharge that's transparent and stretchy between your fingers, like egg white, on your most fertile days.
9. Tell your man to play it cool -- and loose. Loose pants and underwear, that is. According to Schover and Thomas, sperm count drops -- sometimes drastically -- when the testicles are constricted or overheated. Tell your partner to avoid hot tubs, saunas, and hundred-mile runs (hot showers and moderate exercise are okay).
10. Have sex the "old-fashioned" way. Those missionaries had a lot of kids! Anything that helps gravity direct your partner's semen toward your uterus -- man on top, doggy style, side-by-side -- is okay, says Christopher D. Williams, MD, author of The Fastest Way to Get Pregnant Naturally (Hyperion, 2001). Avoid woman on top, standing, or leaning positions, which discourage the flow of semen to the uterus.
The information on this Web site is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your or your child's condition.