A home of your own, a stable job and a loving partner: Once a person achieves these three cornerstones of adult life, they often see it as the perfect time to crown their joy by trying to conceive. However, not everything in life goes according to plan. Many people are driven by a strong desire to have children – but also feel an equally strong sense of impatience. While we don’t pretend to hold the secret formula for successful family planning, we’d like to offer some tips for different stages that can smooth the path to conceiving.
Fertility & women: Timing it right
The menstrual cycle shapes a large portion of a woman’s life. Between puberty and the menopause, the monthly cycle repeats around 400 to 500 times. A woman’s cycle is as individual as she is. For an egg to mature, be fertilized and attach to the uterus, female sex hormones need to be able to perform their functions unimpeded. Both external and internal stimuli can influence and disrupt a woman’s sensitive hormonal balance – and thus impair her fertility.
To date, nobody has developed a true formula for successfully conceiving. That being said, knowing your own cycle is a clear advantage. A woman ovulates approximately 14 days before she next starts to menstruate. As sperm are fertile for an average of three days, timing it right – ideally two to three days prior to ovulation – can significantly boost a woman’s chance of falling pregnant. Nowadays, special apps, ovulation tests and fertility calculators offer help for women looking to conceive.
Ensuring you have a good supply of essential vitamins, minerals and trace elements is excellent preparation for conceiving. Building this “internal nest” lays the foundation and creates the best possible conditions for pregnancy by making sure the new life inside you does not miss out on anything. It is common knowledge that expectant mothers have elevated nutritional requirements. In fact, their need for some nutrients almost doubles. Yet even before becoming pregnant, it is important that women trying to conceive have good nutrient reserves, especially of folic acid. Ultimately, a mother’s nutrition and lifestyle will have considerable impact on the growth and development of her unborn child and the course of her pregnancy.**
Fertility & men: Healthy sperm reach their target
A race like no other – just 20 centimeters long: the distance the sperm have to travel to reach the egg. Each sperm cell’s chances of winning the race and creating a new life are vanishingly small at less than 1 in 500,000,000. Couples looking to “make a baby” should therefore bear one thing in mind: The more sperm in the race, and the healthier they are, the more chance of successfully conceiving.
A growing number of studies have confirmed that the crux of the problem is declining sperm density and sperm quality. Alongside health conditions and genetic defects, modern lifestyles also disadvantage men who are hoping to conceive. An unhealthy diet, environmental toxins, nicotine, alcohol, being underweight or overweight, lack of exercise, and elevated testicle temperature, e.g. due to tight trousers, hot baths, prolonged sunbathing or heated seats can all impair male fertility.**
Any couple trying to conceive should consider what the man can do to increase their chances of getting pregnant. Eating a balanced diet rich in vital substances is certainly a step in the right direction – read on for more details. A man’s body needs sufficient quantities of certain micronutrients to produce healthy, viable sperm. In addition to vitamin B6, which supports hormonal activity, and selenium, which plays a role in sperm formation, the trace element zinc is also an important factor in male fertility. Zinc supports a man’s normal fertility and ability to procreate in several different ways. For instance, beyond being an important factor in boosting testosterone levels in the blood, zinc also contributes to DNA synthesis, which ensures that genetic code is correctly copied and packaged in the sperm – a decisive factor in the longevity and “marksmanship” of sperm cells.**
From planning to conceiving – What you and your partner should bear in mind: Nutrition
• Baby-friendly, of course! If you eat a healthy diet, you’re more likely to be healthy overall. And, if you’re healthy, you’ll find it easier to conceive – that’s just the way Mother Nature made us. For this reason, couples trying to conceive should base their efforts on a varied diet packed with vital substances. Fresh fruit and vegetables, high-quality grains and seeds, nuts, wholegrain products and low-fat sources of protein form a healthy basis for a varied supply of micronutrients. Women and men should be mindful of their micronutrient intake when trying to conceive. One of the most important nutrients for women trying to fall pregnant – and in the early stages of pregnancy – is folate. It supports cell division and, during pregnancy, contributes to normal blood formation and promotes the growth of maternal tissues (placenta, uterus, breast tissue). For this reason, it is recommended that women take an additional 200 mcg400 µg of folic acid per day even during the planning phase. Men should also ensure they eat plenty of foods containing zinc and selenium as part of a balanced diet to promote optimal sperm quality. Special nutritional supplements can help future parents achieve the necessary daily intake of nutrients.**
• Alcohol, nicotine & co. – take a break for your baby: People who like to indulge in alcohol and nicotine should abstain from them the sake of their fertility. Men who fail to do so will see their sperm activity fall, while women will reduce their likelihood of conceiving and increase the risk of miscarriage. If you want to become pregnant, make sure to drink enough water and avoid possible environmental toxins (e.g. pesticides, plasticizers which appear in cosmetics and plastic packaging).**
• Step on the scales: Being significantly overweight or underweight can have a negatively impact on your fertility. Overweight and underweight women can suffer from menstrual abnormalities resulting from hormonal imbalances; in some cases, these women may not ovulate or menstruate. However, men are also advised to maintain a normal weight. Carrying too much weight – or too little – can leave men at an elevated risk of testicular disorders and reduced sperm formation. Plus, if you achieve a beach-ready body and are (still) unable to conceive, watching your weight will still have been a healthy choice.**
• Time to get active: People who lead a healthy, active lifestyle generally have a better chance of having a baby. You should never underestimate the vitalizing power of exercise. Those who stay active and get enough exercise not only benefit from enhanced stamina but also increase their fertility. Be careful, though – an overly intense exercise regime and significant physical strain can have the opposite effect!**
• Avoid stress! In many cases, even the first thoughts of having a baby can trigger internal stress. High expectations and pressure to conceive can often put couples under such stress that sex becomes little more than a chore. But this is not the time for prolonged stress – a child should be born of love, not of perfect planning. What’s more, stress can also delay a woman’s cycle and negatively affect the quality of a man’s sperm. A better approach is to lower your expectations by accepting that around one-third of couples try for more than a year until they conceive. So, try reducing your stress levels at work and taking the time to relax, such as by taking walks, doing yoga or having massages.**
• Support through sleep: If efforts to conceive don’t bear fruit to begin with, night owls should change their sleeping patterns to make sure they get enough shut-eye. Studies have shown that a lack of sleep places strain on our body and thus is a barrier to conceiving. Working night shifts is particularly detrimental, as it can disrupt the hormonal balance of both partners. Ideally, we need six to eight hours’ sleep per day – at the same time each day if possible, because this will support your internal body clock and thus also your hormonal cycle.**
**These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.