You might be thinking about growing your family, already trying to conceive or frustrated that you have been trying without success.
Whether you are trying to get pregnant naturally or preparing for assisted reproductive treatments like IUI (intrauterine insemination) or IVF (in vitro fertilisation), nurturing the key ingredients will provide a foundation for the best chance of pregnancy success.
What are they key ingredients? Quality eggs, healthy sperm, and a receptive uterus!
Do see your healthcare provider for a check up to discuss pregnancy planning and you can be proactive in optimising your fertility.
Here are 5 tips to optimise your fertility for conception.
Confirm You are Ovulating
If you are trying to conceive naturally, knowing when you ovulate helps you time intercourse to give yourself the best chance of success. You can monitor changes in body temperature or use at home testing kits to detect a surge in urine luteinising hormone but tracking these can be difficult.
One of the best ovulation tracking techniques is cervical mucus monitoring.
If your cervical mucus is very wet, stretchy and resembles raw egg white then ovulation is very close! This method of ovulation tracking is 74% accurate when compared to tracking ovulation via the gold standard of transvaginal ultrasound.
There are four different types of cervical mucus.
- Type 1 and 2: dry or damp vulva
- Type 3: thick, creamy, whitish or yellowish
- Type 4: transparent, stretchy or elastic, wet slippery vulva
Keep an eye out for type 4 cervical mucus. The odds of conception are at least 2 to 3 times higher when having sex on a day with type 4 cervical mucus than when having sex on a day with type 1 or 2 cervical mucus!
Regular ovulation supports a healthy environment for your eggs to mature in.
Even if you are undergoing IVF or IUI, keep track of this vital sign of ovulation as an indicator of egg health. Ovulating may also indicate that you are making enough progesterone to support a pregnancy.
Move Your Body
Did you know that exercise can improve the diversity of your gut microbiome for optimal fertility outcomes?
Structured exercise can restore ovulation, reduce insulin resistance, improve sperm quality and DNA integrity and increase pregnancy and live birth rates.
Exercise benefits include positive shifts in our gut microbiome to dampen inflammation, increase microbiota diversity and reduce the abundance of pathogenic bacteria.
A snapshot of research study findings on fertility and exercise:
- 6 months of exercise restored ovulation in 87% of overweight females (and 77% then achieved pregnancy).
- In males taking part in structured resistance training, the chance of live birth increased by between 2 and 15 times.
- Six months of moderate exercise in males with low sperm counts, with or without low motility, increased live birth rates by over 90%.
- Double the pregnancy and live birth rates in females participating in physical activity.
- Spontaneous pregnancy rate 3.5 x higher (50%) in females receiving exercise guidance and dietary sessions compared to a control group (13%).
It Takes Two
Male factors matter! Even if you are using a sperm donor to conceive sperm health still matters.
It is estimated that in couples trying to conceive, male factors contribute to 50% of infertility.
If you have PCOS, Endometriosis, Diminished Ovarian Reserve or Autoimmune condition then sperm health is even more important.
Once sperm is stored and ready to fertilise an egg, it will not be able to repair any damage to DNA within the sperm that may be present. Sperm will always have some level of DNA damage but this is increased with increasing alcohol intake, insufficient or excessive physical activity, micronutrient deficiencies and poor gut health.
So who takes on the role of repairing the sperm DNA? Our eggs!
Yes, our eggs step up and get to work repairing fragmented DNA in the sperm.
An egg can repair sperm with a few different pathways. It can use enzymes to fix methylation errors, and other processes to correct DNA sequences. Essentially the egg rolls up its sleeves and gets in there to pull things apart and put them back together so the sperm is functioning better.
It takes a lot of energy to repair DNA damage in sperm.
This requires our energy producing powerhouses in our eggs, our mitochondria, to work overtime.
If the mitochondria content in our eggs is reduced, or the mitochondria just aren’t producing enough energy, our developing embryo runs out of steam.
A typical egg may have 100,000 mitochondria. If you have PCOS, endometriosis, are not ovulating regularly or an imbalance in your gut microbiome you are likely to have less mitochondria, and these may not be producing as much energy.
Nurturing your microbiome is a proven strategy to improve the health of mitochondria in your eggs, and to reduce DNA damage in sperm. Remember that it is a team effort!
Micronutrients Matter: Methylated Folate
There are many important micronutrients to support preconception health and pregnancy but one you most likely have heard of is folate.
Folate is one of the B group vitamins and is required for the development and growth of your baby. Folate is not stored as it is a water-soluble vitamin and any excess will be excreted in your urine, which is why you need to take a supplement.
It is advised to start taking folate months before you decide you want to get pregnant.
If your folate levels are low, a methylated folate which is more bioavailable may help your body absorb the folate more readily. Supplementing with methylated folate increases serum folate by 23% to 55% higher when compared to folic acid. Methylated folate may replete folate stores more uniformly and quickly.
Show Your Gut Some Love
Our gut microbiome influences the health of our eggs and sperm, and early pregnancy progression.
An imbalance in our gut microbiome, or dysbiosis, may result from:
- a reduction in the diversity of your microbes
- a reduction in beneficial microbes, or
- an increase in disease causing (pathogenic) microbes
Dysbiosis, or disruption of the gut microbiota, is present in many conditions affecting fertility such as:
- polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- low testosterone in males
- oestrogen driven conditions
- failure to ovulate (anovulation)
- inflammation and oxidative stress that impair egg, sperm and uterine receptivity
- autoimmune conditions (including Grave’s disease and Rheumatoid Arthritis)
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD)
- unexplained infertility
In a group of females experiencing recurrent implantation failure or multiple miscarriages, the diversity of their gut microbiome was reduced. Addressing this dysbiosis led to pregnancy rates that were 4 times higher!
Nurture your gut microbiota with proven prebiotics for optimal reproductive health.
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Duval et al 2015 Fertil Steril
Hajizadeh et al, 2019 J Strength Cond Res
Hajizadeh et al, 2018 Life Sci
Clark et al, 1995 Human Reprod
Evans-Hoeker, et al., Fertil Steril, 2013.
Bailey & Ayling, Sci Rep, 2018