When preparing for pregnancy, adapting some healthy lifestyle top tips, can improve your fertility and increase your chances of a successful treatment.
To help improve your health and fitness, and give you the best chances of achieving your aims, we have the following tips for men and women:
1. Stop smoking
The most important thing you can do if you smoke, is give up! We know it’s easier said than done but many research studies have shown the harmful effects of smoking on sperm quality, egg quality and implantation rates for fertilised eggs.
Smoking affects many aspects of your general health, such as increased risk of cancer, heart disease, lung disease and premature ageing. Passive smoking can also affect partners and other people.
Smoking is an expensive way to damage your health!
If you need help to give up smoking, try the following for support:
- 'Quitline' on 0800 002200
- Your GP or Practice Nurse
- The nursing staff of The Hewitt Fertility Centre on 0151 702 4123 for Liverpool or 01565 635000 for Knutsford
- Liverpool Women’s Hospital’s Smoking Cessation Advisor on 0151 296 7000
- Roy Castle ‘Fag Ends’ on 0800 195 2131
2. Achieve a healthy weight
A healthy weight and height is referred to as a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI) and it is important you are both as near to your ideal BMI as possible.
Being overweight or underweight can cause general health problems but it can also affect your fertility - you should aim for a BMI of between 21 and 29 (ideally 21 to 25).
If you need help achieving your ideal weight, then contact your GP for a referral to a dietician, or contact the nursing staff at The Hewitt Fertility Centre. Liverpool patients should call 0151 702 4123 and Knutsford patients should call 01565 635000.
NB: Healthy weight loss is a slow gradual process. As you wait for your treatment – use this time wisely. A loss of 1-2lb (0.5-1.0kg) per week is adequate.
3. Take regular exercise
Regular exercise improves physical fitness, helps you to lose weight and decreases stress levels.
Aim for some form of aerobic exercise three times per week, i.e. any activity that increases your heart rate and breathing such as brisk walking, jogging, swimming or sporting activities like football, tennis or squash.
You do not need to join an expensive club or buy lots of equipment to get enough exercise. Brisk twenty minute walks two or three times per week can be beneficial and, using stairs instead of using lifts/escalators and walking to the shops can make a difference in improving your fitness.
4. Reduce alcohol intake
Excessive alcohol reduces fertility and damages sperm. For general health purposes, the safe limits are up to 21 units per week for men and up to 14 units for women.
It’s better to have one or two units occasionally, rather than saving them all up for one night! However, men and women trying for a baby should limit alcohol intake to no more than 6 units per week for men and women should avoid alcohol completely.
5. Drink plenty of water
Our bodies need between 8 and 10 cups of fluid per day.
Some studies suggest that excessive caffeine can reduce your fertility – tea, coffee, cola and energy drinks, (e.g. Red Bull) are particularly high in caffeine. Instead, try caffeine free alternatives or drink water or squash.
When you’re having your treatment cycles, we will suggest that you cut down on caffeine by avoiding coffee and replacing some cups of tea with water.
6. Follow a healthy eating plan
Eating healthily is incredibly important; it helps you to maintain a healthy body weight and ensures your body has sufficient vitamins and minerals – essential for men and women trying to conceive. It also ensures your body has enough energy for all your daily activities.
It’s always important to:
- Eat regular meals
- Eat similar foods to the rest of the family
- Enjoy your food
- Eat a wide variety of different foods
- Try to eat 5 portions of either fruit or vegetables each day
Here are some tips to help you achieve the recommended proportions:
Eat more fruit and vegetables:
- Fruit and vegetables are excellent sources of vitamins and minerals
- Aim for at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day
- If you’re trying to lose weight, fruit makes an excellent snack or dessert
- Choose fresh, frozen or tinned (avoid fruit tinned in syrup
A portion equals:
- 1 apple, pear, banana
- 1 slice of melon or pineapple
- 2 plums or satsumas
- 1 cup of strawberries/raspberries
- 2 tablespoons of vegetables (raw, cooked, frozen or canned)
- 1 dessert bowl of salad
Fill up on starchy foods:
- This includes bread, cereals and potatoes
- Try wholegrain varieties where possible e.g. wholemeal bread, bran flakes etc.
- These are higher in vitamins and minerals and also help to fill you up – so you’re less tempted to snack between meals
Meat and Fish Alternatives:
- These foods are important for protein and iron, as well as other nutrients
- Vegetarians should include pulses, beans or nuts to replace meat or fish
- Take care with fat content of meat or fish – especially if trying to reduce your weight
- Milk, cheese and yoghurt are important for calcium, protein and other nutrients
- Choose low fat varieties as much as possible, for example; skimmed milk, cottage cheese or low fat yoghurt (especially if trying to lose weight)
- Low fat varieties have as much calcium as the regular versions
- Many snack and convenience foods contain lots of fat and sugar e.g. sweets, chocolate, biscuits, burgers, cakes, crisps and pastries
- They are low in vitamins and minerals and high in calories, so should only be eaten occasionally
- Added fats e.g. butter, oils and margarine should be used sparingly
Take Folic Acid
- It’s strongly recommended that women take 400μ of folic acid per day, 3 months before pregnancy and until 12 weeks after you conceive
- Good dietary sources of folic acid include fortified breakfast cereals, fortified bread, sprouts, spinach, Bovril and oranges
To check whether you may need to take any other supplements; you should always seek advice from a pharmacist before taking any other vitamin supplements or herbal remedies.
7. Improve Sperm Quality
The normal activity of the sperm-producing tubules in the testes is affected by heat. Intermittent overheating of the testes leads to a reduction in sperm production and/or decrease in sperm activity (motility). The testes are situated in the scrotum mainly because it is cooler here than inside the body cavity. The testes have their own heat regulating mechanism so that in cold conditions the scrotum contracts, pulling the testes closer to the body whereas in hot conditions, the testes hang much lower.
Overheating of the testes can be caused in various ways:
- Soaking in hot baths
- Working in high environmental temperature
- Jacuzzis or saunas
- Wearing tight or support underwear
In addition, illness associated with fever temporarily reduces fertility.
Remember that sperm take 70 days to develop from their cells of origin, so any episode of testicular overheating could affect your fertility for over two months.
To improve your fertility, you should:
- Avoid hot baths, Jacuzzis and saunas and change to having showers or lukewarm baths
- Wear non-support, non-insulating cotton boxer shorts
There is some evidence to suggest that in some cases, the taking of zinc and vitamin E can improve sperm quality.
Other factors that can affect your sperm quality include the use of certain medications, including anabolic steroids or recreational drugs such as marijuana. If you are taking any medication, you should always discuss this with a member of The Hewitt Fertility Centre team.
8. Cope with stress
At The Hewitt Fertility Centre, we know just how difficult it can be to undergo fertility treatment. This is completely understandable, especially if a couple believes that their future happiness depends upon a successful treatment outcome. Stress in such a situation is unavoidable. However, it’s not stress itself that causes problems, but the way in which an individual may respond.
Without positive ways of dealing with stress, a couple undergoing fertility treatment may experience some negative symptoms, such as:
- Fatigue – constant lack of energy
- Inability to concentrate for long
- Mood swings
Our dedicated staff at The Hewitt Fertility Centre are here to help our patients avoid distress that such symptoms bring about. For this reason, we recommend that you give some thought now to which coping mechanisms you usually use to deal with stress. Are they positive and likely to get you through your treatment in good shape? Or, are they negative and therefore likely to make the situation worse?
To help, we’ve compiled a short list of ways to cope positively with stress, that some of our patients have found helpful:
- Physical exercise – swimming, running etc.
- Stress management courses – night school, information from GPs, libraries etc.
- Support – building your own network using friends, family and counsellors
Here at The Hewitt Fertility Centre, counselling is available before, during and after treatment. For more information, or to arrange an appointment, simply contact our counselling service. Liverpool patients should call 0151 702 4075 and Knutsford patients should call 01565 635000.
We always want you to feel able to give treatment its best chance of success and using positive coping mechanisms to deal with stress may help you do it.