Ovulation Calculator and Detecting Ovulation
Ovulation Calculator and Detecting Ovulation:
Ovulation Calendar Plugin
If you want to conceive, you have to figure out when you’ll ovulate. Our Ovulation Calculator, above, gives the dates you’re most likely to be fertile. Mark your calendar!
See below for advice on charting your basal body temperature, using an ovulation predictor kit, what cervical mucus looks like through your cycle, and getting pregnant fast.
During the days leading up to and just after ovulation, you may notice certain changes in your body, and figuring out when you ovulate is the key to determining when you’re most fertile.
Some women ovulate around the same day each cycle, but for others the timing is hard to pinpoint. So learning how to identify and track ovulation symptoms can help you plan when to have sex if you want to get pregnant.
Common signs of ovulation
Almost all women have these three ovulation symptoms:
- Changes in your basal body temperature (BBT). Your BBT is your lowest body temperature in a 24-hour period. You use a special thermometer to measure it every day, right when you wake up. On the day after you ovulate, your BBT will go up by 0.5 to 1.0 degree Fahrenheit and stay elevated until your next period. (After recording your BBT for a few cycles, you may see a pattern that will help you predict your ovulation day in the next cycle.)
- Changes in your cervical mucus. Cervical mucus is the vaginal discharge you sometimes find in your underwear. For most of the month, you may have very little of it, or it may be thick and sticky. But in the few days before, during, and immediately after ovulation, you’ll notice an increase in cervical mucus and a change in its texture: It will turn clear, slippery, and stretchy (like raw egg whites).
- Changes in your cervix. During ovulation, your cervix is softer, higher, wetter, and more open. You can feel these changes if you reach inside your vagina with a finger to examine your cervix, though it may take some practice to recognize the differences.
Learn more about how tracking your BBT and cervical changes can help you predict when you’ll ovulate.
Other ovulation symptoms
These symptoms are not as common or consistent as the ones described above, so you may have all, some, or none of them
These ovulation symptoms may include:
- Breast tenderness
- Mild cramps or twinges
- Heightened sense of smell
- Increased sex drive
Try our quick and easy ovulation calculator and learn the best ways to get pregnant fast.
Maybe you’re really eager to get pregnant, or maybe you’re hoping to have a baby at a certain time of year. Here are five ways to boost your chances of conceiving quickly as well as some guidelines on when to be concerned about a possible fertility problem.
1. See your healthcare provider
You’re more likely to have a successful pregnancy when your body is up to the task. Lay the groundwork for a healthy pregnancy by scheduling a preconception checkup with a doctor or midwife to find out whether you’re in your best baby-making shape – and to learn what changes could help.
You may not be able to resolve any health issues immediately, but taking these steps as soon as possible prepares you for a healthy pregnancy.
2. Plan for a healthy pregnancy
Begin taking folic acid at least one month before you start trying to conceive. This nutrient can dramatically reduce the risk of certain birth defects.
Other good advice that may help you conceive a healthy baby: Kick any unhealthy habits (like drinking, smoking, or using drugs), get yourself to a healthy weight, and limit your caffeine intake to less than 300 milligrams a day (about 16 ounces of coffee).
Find out what else you can do ahead of time to give your baby a healthy start.
3. Figure out when you ovulate
The key to getting pregnant quickly is figuring out when you’ll ovulate, or release an egg from your ovary.
You ovulate only once each menstrual cycle. If you can tell when you’ll ovulate, you and your partner can time intercourse for the best chance of getting pregnant that cycle.
You can use a few different methods to determine when you ovulate. Our article on predicting ovulation walks you through them.
(If you have irregular periods, pinpointing ovulation could be difficult. Ask your provider for advice.)
4. Have sex at the right time
Once you know your time frame for ovulation, plan to have sex during your most fertile window, which is two to three days before ovulation through the day you ovulate.
If you’re not sure when your fertile period will be, aim to have sex every day or every other day during the second and third weeks of your cycle. That way you’re likely to have healthy sperm in your fallopian tubes whenever your body releases an egg.
Another tip: If you and your partner are waiting to have sex until your most fertile time, make sure you haven’t gone through too long of a dry spell beforehand. Your partner should ejaculate at least once in the days just before your most fertile period. Otherwise there could be a buildup of dead sperm in his semen.
(Note: Many vaginal lubricants, including store-bought products as well as homemade versions like olive oil, can slow down sperm. If you want to use one, ask your provider to recommend one that’s fertility friendly.)
5. Give sperm a boost
Strong, healthy sperm have the best chance of fertilizing an egg. Your partner can do several things to try to improve his fertility:
- Skip tobacco and recreational drugs.
- Limit alcoholic drinks to no more than three a day.
- Get to a healthy weight if significantly overweight.
- Get enough of certain key nutrients – like zinc, folic acid, and vitamin C – that help produce strong and plentiful sperm.
- Don’t use hot tubs and saunas or take hot baths because heat kills sperm. (Testicles function best at 94 to 96 degrees Fahrenheit, a couple degrees cooler than normal body temperature.)
The sooner your partner makes these changes, the better: Sperm take a while to mature, so any improvements now will yield better sperm specimens in about three months.
How long to try before getting help
If you’re younger than 35 and haven’t gotten pregnant after trying for a year, it’s time to see a fertility specialist. If you’re 35 or older, talk to a specialist after you’ve tried for six months with no luck.
Of course, if you know there’s a reason you or your partner are more likely to have a fertility problem, it’s a good idea to see a specialist even before you start trying.
Trying to conceive? Five changes to make to your diet now
Reasons to take a prenatal vitamin
Fun and done! Parents relate the moment they conceived
When do I ovulate?
There’s no foolproof method to predict when you’ll ovulate, or release an egg from one of your ovaries. But here are a few ways you can estimate when it’s most likely to happen, so you can try to time sex or intrauterine insemination (IUI) accordingly and boost your chances of getting pregnant.
(If that egg gets fertilized by a sperm and implants in your uterus, you’re pregnant!)
Try the calendar method
If your cycle is regular – the same number of days each time – you can try the calendar method (also known as the Standard Days Method).
To estimate when you’ll ovulate, count back 14 days from when you expect your next period. Your fertile window includes the day you ovulate and the preceding five days. So, for example, if day 1 is the first day of your period and day 28 is the day before you expect your next period, you’d be fertile on days 10 through 15. (But you’re much more likely to get pregnant during the final three days of this window.)
This method is the easiest way to estimate your fertile window, but it’s not very accurate, even if you have a good idea of when your next period will start. That’s because ovulation rarely happens exactly 14 days before menstruation.
In one large study of women with 28-day cycles, the day of ovulation varied from seven to 19 days before menstruation. Ovulation happened 14 days before a period only 10 percent of the time.
So you can see how it’s possible to miss your fertile window altogether using this method. On the other hand, it’s easy and free and worth a try, especially if you’re not in a hurry to conceive.
You can use BabyCenter’s Ovulation Calculator to find out which days you’re likely to be fertile according to the calendar method and what your due date will be if you conceive.
Use an ovulation predictor kit
Testing your hormone levels with an ovulation predictor kit (OPK) is a more dependable way to identify your fertile window, though it doesn’t work perfectly for all women.
There are two kinds of kits: The most common type tests your urine, and the other tests your saliva. Both show a positive result in the days before you ovulate, giving you time to plan ahead for baby-making sex.
The pee-on-a-stick test indicates when your level of luteinizing hormone (LH) has gone up, which usually means one of your ovaries will soon release an egg. With the saliva test, you use a microscope to spot a pattern in your dried saliva that indicates the rise in estrogen which happens in the days before ovulation.
The kits are available at drugstores without a prescription. But they can be costly at $20 to $50 each.
Learn more about ovulation predictor kits.
Chart your cycle
You can also track subtle changes in your basal body temperature (BBT), cervical mucus, and cervical firmness for a few cycles to try to determine when you ovulate.
If you pay attention to these clues and note them on a chart or app, you may see a pattern that can help you predict when you’re likely to ovulate next. (If your periods are irregular, you may not notice a pattern.)
Your BBT is your lowest body temperature in a 24-hour period. You use a special thermometer to measure it every day, right when you wake up. After ovulation, your BBT will rise 0.5 to 1.0 degree Fahrenheit and stay that way until you get your period.
Cervical mucus is the vaginal discharge you sometimes find in your underwear. During the few days before your ovulate and immediately after ovulation, you may notice an increase in cervical mucus and a change in its texture. It’ll be clear, slippery, and stretchy, like raw egg whites.
When you’re ovulating, your cervix is softer, higher, wetter, and more open. You can feel these changes if you reach inside your vagina with a finger. Charting is free (after you buy the thermometer), but this method takes time and effort to do accurately.
Learn more about how keeping track of your BBT and ovulation symptomscan help you predict ovulation. Then follow the steps to charting your BBT and cervical symptoms.
Be aware of other ovulation symptoms
Some women report certain symptoms during ovulation, such as spotting or cramping. Although this isn’t a precise way to determine when you’re ovulating, it may be helpful to be aware of these symptoms (if you have them) while using the calendar, OPK, or charting methods.
Learn more about the signs and symptoms of ovulation.
The following experts contributed to this article:
Nathaniel DeNicola, M.D., ob-gyn at the Center for Digital Health and The George Washington University Hospital
Allen J Wilcox, M.D., Ph.D., senior investigator, Reproductive Epidemiology Group, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
Charting your basal body temperature (BBT) and cervical mucus is a way to estimate when you’ll ovulate so you’ll know when to have sex if you want to conceive.
See our article on how to detect these ovulation symptoms. Print out copies of our blank chart so you can track them each cycle.
You can also take a look at our sample chart to see what a completed one looks like. (Remember that every woman’s cycle is different, and your chart may not look exactly like the sample, or even be the same month to month.)
Now you’re ready to start charting. Here’s how:
1. On the first day you get your period, fill in the date and day of the week under cycle day 1. Continue noting the dates of your cycle until the first day of your next period.
2. Each morning when you wake up – before you drink, eat, have sex, or even sit up in bed – take your temperature with a basal thermometer, and put a dot next to the temperature that matches your thermometer reading for that day. (You can also note the time you took your temperature. Try to take it at about the same time each morning.) Connect the dots to see how your basal temperature fluctuates from day to day.
3. You can also check your cervical mucus each day if you wish. Record the type of discharge you find each day, according to the key at the bottom of the chart:
P = period
D = dry
S = sticky
E = egg-white
4. Toward the end of your cycle, watch for a day when your BBT rose 0.5 to 1 degree F and stayed high. That day is usually the day you ovulated. It should correspond with the last day you noticed egg-white type cervical mucus. The days when you notice egg-white type mucus are your most fertile.
5. Track these symptoms for a few months to see if you notice an uptick in BBT and egg-white type mucus at the same time each cycle. That will allow you to plan which days to have sex if you want to get pregnant.
6. For the best chance of conceiving, have sex at least every other day during your most fertile period.
For more information, read about how to boost your chances of getting pregnant, connect with other couples trying to conceive, and learn the most common early signs of pregnancy.
If you’re trying to get pregnant, it’s helpful to estimate when you’ll ovulate so you can determine the best days to have sex (or be inseminated). You may be able to do this by tracking your basal body temperature or monitoring changes in your cervical mucus or both.
What is basal body temperature?
Your basal body temperature (BBT) is your lowest body temperature in a 24-hour period. You’ll need to measure it every day for a few months to see if there’s a predictable pattern to your cycle that will allow you to estimate when you’ll ovulate.
To get an accurate reading, you need to use a basal thermometer, which is sensitive enough to measure minute changes in body temperature. (Some experts think glass BBT thermometers are more accurate than digital ones.)
Take your temperature when you first wake up in the morning – before you eat, drink, have sex, or even sit up in bed or put a foot on the floor – and record it on a BBT chart. Try to take a reading at about the same time each morning. If you don’t take your temperature immediately after waking up, your BBT chart will not be accurate. (The same is true if you get a fever.)
You can print our blank BBT chart, along with step-by-step instructions for using it and a completed sample chart.
Before ovulation, your BBT may range from about 97.2 to 97.7 degrees Fahrenheit. But the day after you ovulate, you should see an uptick of 0.5 to 1.0 degree in your BBT, which should last until your next period. (You may notice your temperature occasionally spiking on other days, but if it doesn’t stay up, you probably haven’t ovulated yet.) If you become pregnant, your temperature will stay elevated throughout your pregnancy.
After charting your BBT for a few months, you’ll be able to see whether there’s a pattern to your cycle. If there is, you may be able to estimate when you’ll next ovulate. (Charting your BBT can also help your healthcare provider pinpoint the cause of fertility problems.)
What is cervical mucus?
Cervical mucus is vaginal discharge produced by the cervix. Over the course of your menstrual cycle, the amount, color, and texture of your cervical mucus changes, due to fluctuating hormone levels. Checking your cervical mucus and keeping track of these changes can help you tell when you’re most fertile. Here’s what to watch for:
- Once your period stops, you may not have any discharge for a few days.
- Then you may notice a few days of cloudy, sticky discharge.
- In the few days leading up to ovulation, the amount of discharge increases and becomes thin, slippery, and stretchy (like egg whites). This consistency makes it easier for the sperm to travel through the cervix to the egg. These are your most fertile days.
- Just after ovulation, the amount of mucus decreases and becomes thicker.
- Then you may be dry for several days before your next period.
A good time to check your cervical mucus is when you go to the bathroom first thing in the morning, but you can check it any time of day. Sometimes you may be able to see cervical mucus on the toilet paper after you wipe. Other times you may need to insert a clean finger into your vagina (toward your cervix) to get enough mucus to examine.
Keep in mind that taking certain medications, having sex, using a lubricant, or douching can change the appearance of cervical mucus.
How do I use basal body temperature and cervical mucus to predict ovulation?
Your best bet is to track your basal body temperature and cervical mucus together on your chart for a few months. You should be able to see a pattern of having fertile-quality egg-white mucus for a few days before you notice an uptick in your BBT.
For your best chance of conceiving, plan to have sex at least every other day while you have egg-white mucus. If your cycle is predictable, you can time sex a few days before you expect the uptick in your BBT.
What if charting doesn’t work for me?
If the idea of charting sounds stressful, or if you just can’t make it work, there are other ways to estimate when you’ll ovulate. For example, you can try using an ovulation predictor kit, which measures your hormone levels and indicates when you’re about to ovulate.
And if you have the flexibility to take a more low-key approach, you can just have sex about every other day during the middle two weeks of your cycle.
The sample chart below shows you what a basal body temperature (BBT) and cervical mucus (CM) chart might look like when it’s all filled out.
Tracking your BBT and CM can help you get pregnant. The patterns you see month after month can help you predict ovulation – and once you know when you’re likely to ovulate, you can have sex (or plan insemination) at the best time for conceiving.
When you look at the sample chart, remember that every woman’s cycle is different, and your personal chart may not look like the example or even be the same month to month.
Why would I use an ovulation predictor kit?
An ovulation predictor kit (OPK) can help you identify the most fertile daysduring your monthly cycle – that is, the day or two leading up to ovulation when sex (or insemination) is most likely to lead to pregnancy.
Of course, you don’t have to schedule sex in order to get pregnant. Having sex every few days during the middle two weeks of your cycle will usually do the job. However, you may want to try to pinpoint your most fertile days if:
- You and your partner have hectic schedules or already have children, and it’s not feasible for you to have sex that often.
- You’re trying to get pregnant through insemination.
An OPK can be a quick and easy way to predict when you’re about to ovulate. You can buy kits online as well as over-the-counter at most drugstores and supermarkets (they’re usually near the pregnancy tests).
How do ovulation kits work?
There are two kinds of ovulation kits:
Urine-based OPKs test your urine for an increase in luteinizing hormone (LH). This usually happens within a day and a half before ovulation. There is always a small amount of LH present in your blood and urine, but the level will go up by about two to five times in the days before ovulation. A test stick usually shows a positive result about 24 to 36 hours before your egg is released, so plan to have sex (or be inseminated) during that window if you want to maximize your chances of getting pregnant.
Salivary ferning kits help you tell when ovulation is imminent by showing changes in your saliva. As your estrogen levels rise in the days before ovulation, the salt content of your saliva increases. If you put a drop of saliva on a glass slide, the salt may dry and crystallize into a fern-like pattern that you may be able to see with a pocket-size portable microscope. The ferning pattern should indicate that you’ll ovulate in the next few days (though you may continue to see a ferning pattern up to two days after ovulation).
How do I use an ovulation kit?
Read and follow the instructions that come with the kit you select.
With either type of OPK, you’ll need to figure out which day of your cycle to start testing. Some kits suggest that you count back 18 days from the day you expect your next period. So if you have a 28-day cycle, start testing on day 10 (the 10th day after your period starts), and continue until you get a positive result.
Using a urine-based OPK
Urine-based OPKs supply five to 20 days’ worth of test sticks. Once a day, you hold a test stick in your urine stream or dip the end of the stick into urine you’ve collected in a cup. The colored bands or symbols that appear on the test stick indicate whether the LH surge is occurring.
Try to collect your urine at about the same time every day, but follow the instructions on your particular kit for best results.
Don’t drink a lot of liquid during the two hours before testing. Too much liquid dilutes your urine, which could make it more difficult to detect the surge.
Read the results within 10 minutes. A positive result won’t disappear, but some negative results may later display a faint second color band that would be misleading.
Using a salivary ferning OPK
Use a finger or lick the slide to put a little bit of your saliva on a slide. Do this first thing in the morning, before you’ve had anything to eat or drink. Make sure the sample is free of air bubbles.
Wait for the saliva to dry and then use the microscope to see whether there is any ferning. Compare your slide with examples in the instructions to tell how to identify ferning.
How accurate are ovulation kits?
Urine-based LH tests are more accurate than salivary ferning kits, but they’re not foolproof. Follow the instructions on your kit carefully for the most accurate results. Make sure you use the test at the time of day recommended, and read the results within the timing window specified.
Also, keep in mind that because LH can surge with or without the release of an egg, the tests can’t tell you for sure whether you’ve ovulated.
Most important, don’t use these kits to try to avoid pregnancy, since you won’t know exactly when you’ve ovulated or when your fertile window has closed for that cycle.
Salivary ferning tests are less accurate than urine tests. Ferning may happen as early as six days before you ovulate as well as at other times in your menstrual cycle, particularly if you’re taking the fertility drug Clomid (clomiphene).
It may also be hard to recognize whether ferning has happened on the test slide. If you have poor eyesight, salivary ferning kits may not be the best method for you.
Taking Clomid or drugs containing human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) or LH can affect results for both salivary ferning and urine-based tests. Ask your provider whether you need to stop taking certain drugs before using these tests.
Finally, OPKs are not likely to be accurate for women who are nearing menopause or have polycystic ovarian syndrome.
How much do ovulation predictor kits cost?
Urine-based OPKs cost between 20 and 50 and contain between five and 20 test sticks. Most brands offer the same level of reliability, so pick the one that offers you the most test sticks for the least amount of money.
Once you detect your surge, you can stop testing for that cycle and save any unused test sticks for the following month (unless you conceive, of course).
Salivary ferning OPKs can be a better value. After the initial outlay of about $30 for the microscope, you should be able to test again and again. If it takes you a long time to conceive, you may have to replace the kit with a new one after about two years, depending on the brand.
This blank chart gives you a handy way to track your basal body temperature (BBT) and cervical mucus (CM). Charting your BBT and CM can help you figure out when you’re most likely to ovulate, so you can time sex (or insemination) just right to boost your chances of getting pregnant.
Print out some copies of the blank chart below, buy a basal thermometer (available at most drugstores), and you’re ready to start charting.
If you need them, read our step-by-step instructions for charting your BBT and CM.
And if you want to see what a chart looks like when it’s completed, take a look at our filled-in sample chart.
To maximize your chance of getting pregnant each cycle, it’s important to time sex during your most fertile window – the days leading up to ovulation. But how do you know when that is? Some woman use ovulation predictor kits and others track their basal body temperature and cervical mucus to try to determine when they will ovulate. Here are the pros and cons of each method.
Ovulation predictor kit: The most common type of kit tests your urine for hormones that signal ovulation is imminent. Another type of kit tests the salt content of your saliva as your estrogen levels rise in the days before ovulation.
Convenient and simple.
Kits can be expensive. (They cost between $20 and $50 per cycle).
Quicker and easier than charting.
Your results may be inaccurate if you don’t follow the instructions exactly.
Can predict ovulation about 24 to 36 hours before it happens.
These tests can detect the hormonal changes that take place right before ovulation, but they don’t confirm that you’ve ovulated.
Only needs to be used for a few days mid-cycle, instead of every day.
They may not work well for women with polycystic ovarian syndrome.
Fertility drugs can invalidate results.
BBT and cervical mucus chart: With this method, you use a special thermometer to take your temperature when you first wake up in the morning, and you also note the changes in the texture of your cervical mucus during your cycle.
This method is inexpensive – there are no costs after the initial investment of $5 to $10 for a basal body thermometer.
To chart your BBT accurately, you must check your temperature as soon as you wake each morning, before you do anything else.
You learn how to interpret the texture of cervical mucus, a fairly precise sign of fertility.
Some women don’t like the idea of examining their cervical mucus.
You’ll know for sure that you ovulated if your temperature stays high after the .5 to 1 degree uptick.
Illness, travel, and stress can disrupt your cycle, skewing your pattern for that month.
You probably have a good idea of what happens during your menstrual cycle. Your body prepares for pregnancy and releases an egg. If the egg isn’t fertilized by a sperm cell, your body sheds it, as well as your uterine lining, during your period. Then the cycle repeats.
Those are the basics. But if you’re hoping to get pregnant or just want to understand your body better, it’s important to know some of the finer details of how this complex, hormone-driven process works.
Your reproductive system
The female reproductive system is made up of the:
- Uterus: Holds your baby during pregnancy. The lining of the uterus – called the endometrium – thickens every month in case it’s needed to support a fertilized egg. Amazing fact: Before pregnancy, your uterus is only about the size of a small orange. By the end of pregnancy, it’s about 5 times that size.
- Ovaries: Two small, almond-shaped organs – one on each side of the uterus – that contain your eggs. You’re born with 1 million to 2 million eggs, and you’ll probably release about 400 during your fertile years. Most of the others get reabsorbed into your body, so when you reach menopause – at age 51, on average – you’ll have about 1,000 eggs remaining.
- Fallopian tubes: Two tubes (one on each side, for each ovary) that “catch” the egg after it’s released from the ovary and transport it to the uterus.
- Cervix: The opening of the uterus into the vagina.
- Vagina: The passageway from the uterus to the outside of your body.
Cycle days and length
The average length of the menstrual cycle is 28 days, but anywhere from 23 days to 32 days is considered normal. The first day of your menstrual period (when you begin to bleed) is called “cycle day one” – or “CD1.” (Here’s a guide to decoding other fertility terms and abbreviations.)
Some women have regular periods, meaning their cycle always lasts the same number of days. Others find their cycle length varies – and that can be normal, too. But if your cycle length varies by more than a week for months at a time or if you’re missing periods, it’s a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider.
Your reproductive hormones
Hormones are chemical messengers that travel through the bloodstream to an organ or tissue. Once the hormone “locks on” to the cells of that organ or tissue, it sends a chemical signal that tells the cells what to do.
In women, the main reproductive hormones are:
- Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), which is produced in the hypothalamus region in your brain. GnRH stimulates the release of two additional hormones that are crucial for reproduction: follicle-stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone.
- Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) is produced in the pituitary gland, a small area near the hypothalamus. It tells the eggs in your ovaries to start “ripening” and controls the release of estrogen from the ovaries.
- Luteinizing hormone (LH) is also produced in your pituitary gland. It stimulates your ovaries to release eggs.
- Estrogen is produced in your ovaries and has many roles in your body, from causing your breasts to develop to maintaining the tissues of your reproductive tract.
- Progesterone, also produced in your ovaries, works with estrogen to keep your reproductive cycle regular and maintain pregnancy.
Menstrual cycle: Period, follicular phase, ovulation, luteal phase
Your menstrual cycle can be divided into several phases: menstruation (your period), the follicular phase, ovulation, and the luteal phase. Here’s what happens during each one. (The timing shown here assumes a typical 28-day cycle.)
Menstruation: Days 1 to 5
When you get your period, your estrogen and progesterone levels are low. Menstrual bleeding lasts three to seven days, or about five days on average.
Follicular phase: Days 1 to 13
The first day of your period also marks the beginning of the follicular phase. During this phase, your body is preparing your uterus and your eggs for a possible pregnancy. Thanks to the hormone GnRH, levels of FSH slowly rise and spur your ovaries to start readying 15 to 20 eggs. Each egg is encased in a sac called a follicle.
One follicle grows quicker than all the others, reaching a diameter of 18 millimeters to 25 millimeters (about 1 inch). This dominant follicle is the one that will release an egg this cycle. (If your body produces two dominant follicles and both release eggs that are fertilized, they become fraternal twins.)
In a 28-day cycle, the follicular phase typically lasts until about day 13. This phase accounts for most of the variation in women’s cycle lengths: In a shorter cycle, the follicular phase is shorter; in a longer cycle, the follicular phase is longer.
FSH also stimulates the ovaries to produce estrogen, which has several effects on your reproductive system at this stage of your cycle.
- Estrogen stimulates cells in the endometrium to grow. As a result, your uterine lining thickens and becomes spongier. Blood vessels also swell, increasing blood flow to the lining. These changes prepare your uterus to support a pregnancy. (If you don’t get pregnant, this uterine lining is shed during your period.)
- Estrogen causes your cervical mucus to become thinner and more slippery. This type of mucus helps sperm cells slip more easily through the cervix and into the uterus.
Ovulation: Day 14
Ovulation – when an egg is released from the ovary – typically happens about 14 days before the first day of a woman’s next period. So, in a 28-day cycle, ovulation may happen on cycle day 14.
What triggers ovulation? A rise in estrogen, which causes a surge of LH from the pituitary gland. (You can buy an ovulation predictor kit to help you identify when this is happening, so you have advance notice that you’re about to ovulate. If you don’t want to buy a kit, you can try charting your cycle or using the calendar method to predict ovulation.)
About 36 hours after an LH surge, the egg breaks out of the follicle. (The empty follicle stays behind and plays an interesting role a bit later in your cycle.)
Almost immediately, the egg is swept into the fallopian tube by the finger-like projections that surround the tube’s opening. There, the egg is in position to meet up with a sperm cell.
The egg survives in the fallopian tube for only about 12 to 24 hours. Sperm, however, can survive up to five days in your reproductive tract. So, if you ovulate on cycle day 15, for example, it’s possible that sperm entering your body between cycle days 10 and 15 may reach your egg.
If you want to get pregnant, a good approach is to have sex two days before ovulation, so sperm are waiting in the fallopian tubes when the egg is released, and again on the day you ovulate. To improve your chances, experts often suggest having sex every other day around the time you expect to ovulate.
Luteal phase: Days 15 to 28
The luteal phase begins after you ovulate. In a 28-day cycle, it may start on day 15. Once this phase starts, levels of FSH and LH drop. The time for conception has passed, and your body is preparing for pregnancy – or your period.
In your ovary, the now-empty follicle collapses and becomes a small yellow mass of cells called the corpus luteum. The corpus luteum produces progesterone, which changes the mucus in the cervix. You may notice that your vaginal discharge becomes thicker and stickier during this stage of your cycle.
Progesterone also affects the lining of your uterus, which continues to thicken as a result of an increased blood supply. The lining secretes special substances that will nourish a fertilized egg.
If a sperm cell has successfully fertilized your egg, the developing ball of cells (called a zygote at first and then an embryo) makes its way down your fallopian tube toward your uterus. In about a week, it will likely implant in your uterine lining. At that point, you’ll be pregnant!
Within a week or so of implantation, you may see a positive result on a home pregnancy test. And within another week or more you’re likely to feel pregnancy symptoms. Often, one early clue that you’re expecting is breast tenderness, which is caused by increased progesterone and estrogen. During pregnancy, levels of both hormones will skyrocket.
If the egg isn’t fertilized or isn’t viable, it degenerates as it travels along the fallopian tube to your uterus, and its microscopic remnants will leave your body along with your menstrual flow.
During the last few days of your cycle, if you’re not pregnant, the levels of both progesterone and estrogen drop. This hormone shift causes the blood vessels in the uterine lining to constrict, and without a steady blood supply, the uterine lining starts to break down.
Meanwhile, inflammatory pain chemicals called prostaglandins – which are produced in the disintegrating uterine lining – make your uterine muscles contract and bring on menstrual cramps. Eventually, the blood vessels in the lining rupture, and the blood and tissue from your uterus flow out of your body through your vagina. In other words, you get your period.
Then the cycle starts again. Except during pregnancies, your body will likely continue this incredible process until menopause.
Sex for Getting Pregnant
Sex for Getting Pregnant:
When is the best time to have sex if we’re trying to conceive?
You’re most likely to conceive if you have sex during the two days before you ovulate and on the day of ovulation. That way, it’s more likely there will be a healthy supply of sperm in your fallopian tubes when an egg is released.
See our article on how babies are made for more information on how conception works.
How can I tell when I’m ovulating?
Read our article on predicting ovulation to learn more about the following three ways you can estimate when you’ll ovulate:
- If your cycle is the same number of days each time, you can try using our ovulation calculator to estimate your fertile window each month.
- You can use an ovulation predictor kit to test your hormone levels throughout your cycle, and the test will indicate which day you’re most likely to ovulate.
- You can track ovulation symptoms, such as changes in your basal body temperature and cervical mucus.
Will it be harder for me to get pregnant if my periods are irregular?
It may be. If you don’t have a good idea how many days your cycle will last, that can make it hard to predict when you’ll ovulate.
It’s normal to have an irregular cycle or two now and then. But if you continue to have irregular periods, or if you don’t have a period at all for three to six months, it’s time to see your healthcare provider.
You may be referred to a fertility specialist to check for other causes of an irregular cycle, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), ovarian dysfunction, thyroid disorder, or an elevated prolactin level.
Can’t we just try and see what happens?
Of course! You don’t have to use ovulation kits or track your symptoms if you don’t want to. Try having sex at least three times a week, particularly during the middle two weeks of your cycle.
Most couples get pregnant within three months, but it could take longer if you’re older, have certain lifestyle habits that can affect fertility (like smoking), or have a condition that impairs fertility.
Note: If you’re younger than 35 and have been trying to get pregnant for a year without success, it’s time to consult a fertility doctor. If you’re age 35 or older, it’s best to see a specialist after about six months of trying to conceive.
Sure, you know the basics about how babies are made – a man and woman have sex and nine months later, a beautiful baby is born. But there’s actually a lot more to it than that.
Here are all the fascinating biological facts about getting pregnant.
How do women’s eggs develop?
For women, a potential pregnancy begins in the ovaries, those two almond-shaped glands attached to either side of the uterus. (See illustration below.)
Ovaries come fully stocked: You are born with 1 to 2 million eggs – more than a lifetime’s supply. The eggs begin dying off almost immediately, and no more are ever produced.
Altogether, you probably release about 400 eggs over the course of your reproductive years, beginning with your first period and ending with menopause (usually between ages 45 and 55).
During the middle of the menstrual cycle, most likely sometime between the 9th and 21st days for women with a 28-day cycle, an egg reaches maturity in one of her two ovaries, then is released and quickly sucked up by the opening of the nearest fallopian tube. These two 4-inch canals lead from the ovaries to the uterus.
This release, called ovulation, starts the conception clock ticking. The egg lives only about 24 hours after ovulation, so it has to be fertilized soon for conception to happen. If your egg meets up with a healthy sperm on its way to the uterus, the two can join and begin the process of creating a new life.
If not, the egg ends its journey at the uterus, where it either dissolves or is absorbed by the body. When pregnancy doesn’t occur, the ovary eventually stops making estrogen and progesterone (hormones that help maintain a pregnancy), and the thickened lining of the uterus is shed during your period.
How do men make sperm?
A man’s body is almost constantly at work producing millions of microscopic sperm, whose sole purpose is to penetrate an egg. While women are born with all of the eggs they’ll ever need, men aren’t born with ready-made sperm. They have to be produced on a regular basis, and from start to finish it takes 64 to 72 days for new sperm cells to develop.
The average sperm lives only a few weeks in a man’s body, and about 250 million are released with each ejaculation. That means new sperm are always in production.
Sperm begin developing in the testicles, the two glands in the scrotal sac beneath the penis. (See illustration above.) The testicles hang outside a man’s body because they’re quite sensitive to temperature.
To produce healthy sperm, testicles have to stay around 94 degrees Fahrenheit – about four degrees cooler than normal body temperature. The sperm are stored in a part of the testicle called the epididymis before mixing with semen just prior to ejaculation.
Despite the millions of sperm produced and released with each ejaculation, only one can fertilize an egg – this is the case even for identical twins. The sex of the resulting embryo depends on which type of sperm burrows into the egg first. Sperm with a Y chromosome make a boy baby, and sperm with an X chromosome make a girl.
Plenty of myths about how to choose a baby’s sex have been circulating for centuries. Some are backed by a bit of scientific evidence, but a child’s sex is pretty much randomly determined.
Does having an orgasm help baby-making?
Besides being pleasurable, that wonderful sensation known as an orgasm also has an important biological function.
In men, having an orgasm propels sperm-rich semen into the vagina and up against the cervix, helping them reach the fallopian tubes minutes later. This gives sperm a head start on their way to the egg.
A woman’s orgasm also might help conception: Some studies suggest that the wavelike contractions associated with the female orgasm pull sperm farther into the cervix (but other research says there’s no real evidence this is true).
Still, having an orgasm couldn’t hurt – and just might help – your chances of getting pregnant.
Many couples also wonder whether a particular sexual position is best for baby-making. You may have heard that certain positions are the best because they allow for deeper penetration, but there is no evidence that sex position has any effect on pregnancy rates.
But do whatever you like. The most important thing about sex is that you’re both having a good time and you’re doing it frequently enough to have live sperm in the woman’s reproductive tract during ovulation. That means you should aim to make love at least every other day during the middle of your cycle.
Which sperm gets to the egg first?
At this point, you can’t do much except cross your fingers and hope. You may have heard that it helps if the woman stays on her back afterward with a pillow elevating her bottom so gravity can help the sperm get to the waiting egg, but there is no evidence this helps achieve pregnancy.
While you and your partner are cuddling, a great deal of activity is taking place inside your body. Those millions of sperm have begun their quest to find the egg, and it’s not an easy journey.
The first obstacle is the acid level in your vagina, which can be deadly to sperm. Then there’s your cervical mucus, which can be impenetrable, except on the days when you’re most fertile. Then it miraculously thins enough for a few of the strongest sperm to get through.
But that’s not all – the sperm that survive still have a long road ahead. In all, they need to travel about 7 inches from the cervix through the uterus to the fallopian tubes.
If there isn’t an egg in one of the fallopian tubes after ejaculation, the sperm can live in the woman’s reproductive tract for up to five days. Only a few dozen sperm ever make it to the egg. The rest get trapped, head up the wrong fallopian tube, or die along the way.
For the lucky few who get near the egg, the race isn’t over. They still have to penetrate the egg’s outer shell and get inside before the others.
And as soon as the hardiest one of the bunch makes it through, the egg changes instantaneously so that no other sperm can get in. It’s like a protective shield that clamps down over the egg at the exact moment that first sperm is safely inside.
Now the real miracle begins. The genetic material in the sperm combines with the genetic material in the egg to create a new cell that starts dividing rapidly. You’re not actually pregnant until that bundle of new cells, known as the embryo, travels the rest of the way down the fallopian tube and attaches itself to the wall of your uterus.
However, if the embryo implants somewhere other than the uterus, such as the fallopian tube, an ectopic pregnancy results. An ectopic pregnancy is not viable, and you’ll either need to take medication to stop it from growing or have surgery to prevent your fallopian tube from rupturing.
That final leg of the trip can take another three days or so, but it may be a few more weeks until you miss a period and suspect that you’re going to have a baby.
If you miss your period or notice another sign of pregnancy, you can use a home pregnancy test to find out for sure if you have a little one on the way.
Are some sexual positions better than others for conceiving?
There’s no evidence that any particular sexual position is more likely to lead to conception. You may have heard that some positions, such as the missionary position (man on top), are more promising than others because sperm is deposited closest to the cervix, but there aren’t any scientific studies to back this up.
Proper timing, on the other hand, is a crucial factor. Most women are fertile for only six days at most during each cycle, the so-called fertility window. The fertility window opens five days before ovulation and closes on the day of ovulation. You’re most fertile just before ovulation, so to make conception more likely, have sex during the days just before you expect to ovulate and then again on the day of ovulation.
There’s also no truth to the notion that you shouldn’t have sex more often than every other day if you’re trying to conceive. If your partner’s sperm is normal, it will replenish from day to day, so there’s no need to wait. The main thing is to have sex close to the day you ovulate.
Does having an orgasm boost my chances of conceiving?
Some people believe that a woman who climaxes after her partner ejaculates is more likely to get pregnant, but there’s no evidence to support this notion.
The female orgasm isn’t necessary for conception, but it is possible that the uterine contractions from an orgasm propel sperm toward the fallopian tubes. (The uterus also contracts involuntarily when you’re not having sex, especially around the time of ovulation.)
Should I stay lying down after having sex to help my chances of conceiving?
There’s no evidence that this makes a difference either. As ovulation approaches, you may notice sticky vaginal discharge (cervical mucus). This type of mucus ‘captures’ sperm, so even if some semen seeps out, most of the sperm stay alive in your body. And with millions of sperm in every ejaculation, there should be plenty of them making their way toward the egg, even if you get up right away.
Note: If you’ve been trying to conceive for a year or more without success (or for six months if you’re 35 or older), or if you have irregular periods, it’s a good idea to make an appointment with a fertility specialist.
When you’re trying to conceive, lots of problems can creep into the canoodling. But would it be stating the obvious to say that if you’re not having sex, you’re not going to get pregnant (at least, not the old-fashioned way)? Here are some of the ways your coupling may have cooled off, and how to restore the sizzle.
It’s gotten (yawn) humdrum
Well sure, when you’re doing it on a schedule, it’s bound to be a bit boring. “When couples are trying to conceive, it takes the spontaneity out of the act,” says Beverly Whipple, Ph.D., R.N., FAAN, professor emerita at Rutgers University College of Nursing in Newark, New Jersey. And couples who have been together a long time often feel there’s nothing new to experience with each other.
How to turn up the heat
Add some variety back into your sex life. Just because you have to do it on certain days doesn’t mean you have to do it only in certain places. Leave the bedroom and get busy on the living room couch, or even the kitchen floor (or countertops if you’re feeling particularly adventurous). Try some different positions. And even try some different times: Instead of making love at night, try a morning romp. “When you’re just coming out of your dreams, sex can be divine,” says Gina Ogden, Ph.D., licensed marriage and family therapist in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and author of The Heart & Soul of Sex (Trumpeter, 2006). Or meet for a lunchtime tryst. “By night time most of us are exhausted and not in the relaxed state that makes sexual pleasure possible,” says Ogden.
Take advantage of sight, taste, sound, touch, and smell to heighten the experience, advises Whipple. Play Ravel’s “Bolero” (or Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax”), feed your partner some grapes, or have him massage your body with heated oil.
By changing all the variables of making love, you’ll be forced to focus on the experience again instead of just going through the motions.
The burning desire has waned
Low sexual desire is the most common sexual issue among women. And women trying to conceive may feel it even more. “Sex goes from being something we want to do, to something we have to do,” says Whipple. And who wants to do something you have to? What’s worse, men—who have the reputation of wanting it any time, anywhere—sometimes have trouble experiencing an erection when it comes to conception. “We call this the ready-teddy syndrome,” says Whipple. “The penis has a mind of its own, and it doesn’t always erect when you want it to.” Just one bad experience can lead to a major downward spiral—who’d want to put himself in the position (so to speak) for potential failure?
How to turn up the heat
Between your fertile days, skip sexual intercourse entirely. “We always want what we can’t have,” says Ogden. Vow not to cave and you’ll be craving each other like mad when the time finally comes. On those in-between days you can forgo full-out sex and focus on foreplay.
Another way to stoke the fires: Try some tantric breathing together. Sit facing each other and take deep breaths, matching yours to your partner’s so you’re breathing in and out in the same rhythm. Within a few minutes you’ll be jumping each other’s bones. Really.
You don’t have an orgasm
Technically women don’t need to climax in order to conceive. Women trying to conceive are often overly focused on the end result—for him. But why should he have all the fun? For starters, stop skimping on the pre-game show. Women vary in how much foreplay they need to rev up for orgasm, but the key is finding the right amount of arousal time for you, says Ogden.
Also, if you’re concentrating too hard about conceiving during the act, your brain won’t be registering sensations and releasing the feel-good chemicals you need to go over the edge. While it may be impossible not to think about conception when you’re trying (it’s like telling somebody not to worry about something, which just makes them worry about it more), the best way to deal with it, says Ogden, is to acknowledge it, then find a way to let the feeling flow through you rather than try to pretend it doesn’t exist.
How to turn up the heat
“I’ve spoken in 94 countries about this, and women are the same all over,” says Whipple. “We’re all embarrassed to ask for what we want.” But how can you expect a man to know what makes you feel good without telling him? Find out what makes you orgasm through masturbation, then share what you’ve learned with your partner. Try bringing it up at a time when you’re together, alone, and relaxed … but not in the middle of foreplay or intercourse. Keep it neutral and non-threatening, using “I” statements like, “I really like it when you do this,” or “Let me show you how I like to be touched,” as opposed to, “You really don’t do it for me.” If you really can’t get the words out, bring home The Joy of Sex and read it together. You can point to positions or techniques you’d like to try.
You’re lacking lubrication
If you’re stressed, not in the mood, or just downright exhausted, your vagina may be dry, which makes intercourse uncomfortable. Hormones may play a factor as well: Estrogen dips in the late 30s and early 40s, causing vaginal dryness. Another possible culprit: antihistamines. They suppress the body’s production of fluid, both in your nose and in the vagina.
How to turn up the heat
Have more sex! “Women in their 40s who have sex once or twice a week have twice as much circulating estrogen as women who have sporadic sex, or none at all,” says Whipple. If you’re taking antihistamines, see about switching to a different drug. And if you need to, use some artificial lubricant—just make sure you choose one that is sperm-friendly.
You feel self-conscious about your body
Is there a woman in the world who actually thinks she looks great naked? Probably even Heidi Klum has hang-ups about her thighs. “Our society is like a training program for feeling terrible about your body,” says Ogden. “It teaches us that whatever we have it’s too big, too small, too hairy, too flat.” This can be especially relevant when you’re trying to get pregnant, because you can’t help but think, “Is he really attracted to me? Or is he just doing this because we have to?”
How to turn up the heat
Think about some of the sexiest women you know. Here’s one: Callie on “Grey’s Anatomy.” She’s certainly not like the wispy-thin waifs who dominate the media. But she is, in a word, h-o-t. Watch how she carries herself. She exudes sexiness. “Find a way to let go of the images of what you think you’re supposed to look like, and feel how your body is,” says Ogden. “Allowing yourself to truly feel your body and how it moves can actually change your entire energy field.” Take a belly dancing or yoga class to really get in tune with your own body, and soon you’ll be putting out an energy that will make every man in the room turn their heads. If you don’t feel it, fake it. You’ll be amazed at how pretending can transform into genuine feelings.
You’re too stressed to score
It’s been said time and time again, but it’s worth repeating: The most important sex organ in the body is the brain. If your mind is telling you that you should be working, or the light bulb needs changing, or the dog needs to go to the vet, you’re not going to be in the sexiest frame of mind. “Also, stress often causes emotional upset, depression, and anger, and we often blame our partners when we’re feeling down, which in turn creates sexual problems,” says Peter S. Kanaris, Ph.D., a psychologist and certified sex therapist in Smithtown, New York.
How to turn up the heat
Once you recognize the issue, you and your partner can take steps to solve it. Instead of blaming each other for the stress, realize you’re in the same boat and try to work it out as a team. Use sex as part of the solution as opposed to it being another stressor in your life. “Intimacy can be a little safe haven where we turn to each other in times of stress,” says Kanaris. In addition to the psychological boost sex can give, touch can actually help reduce stress-hormone levels.
Also, be sure you both find some outlets in addition to sex that can help relieve stress over the long haul. Yoga, meditation, even long walks can help clear your mind. “It goes without saying that having difficulty conceiving is stressful for any couple,” says Whipple.
He can’t climax
Nope, that’s not a typo; some men do have difficulty ejaculating. “It’s one of the least reported, and least understood sexual problems,” says Kanaris. “I think it happens more often than we think.” Often it’s the result of masturbation—when a man has literally trained himself only to orgasm in a certain way. That can leave a partner thinking she’s not enough of a turn-on for her partner to orgasm. Alcohol and certain drugs (including antidepressants) can also be the cause.
How to turn up the heat
Let him show you how he masturbates, so you can see what he likes. Or try this surefire hit: Press your fingers against the area right behind the base of the scrotum, says Dennis P. Sugrue, Ph.D., associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor. “This is where the prostate gland is located, and it’s highly arousing,” he says. And most of all, try to relax. To (mis)use a cliché, a watched pot never boils. (If antidepressants or other medications are to blame, see if a different prescription can help with symptoms without the side effects.)
He comes too quickly
Years of masturbating as a young boy and hoping he’d finish before Mom or Aunt Harriet walked in can lead to hasty orgasms as an adult. While it may not hurt in the conception department, it can’t possibly be all that much fun for him, or for you.
How to turn up the heat
Many experts recommend the start and stop method. Tell him that when he feels he’s about to climax, to stay still and take a few relaxing breaths.
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2008 issue of Conceive Magazine.
As most couples know, getting pregnant often takes more than one night of magic. The reasons for the long wait — on average 6 months of trying — can be many and complicated, but one known baby delayer is something we all face nearly every day: stress.
Now, a BabyCenter survey shows that parents-to-be are beginning to fight back against this fertility buster with a vacation dedicated to getting pregnant: a conceptionmoon.
How do conceptionmoons work?
Scientists aren’t exactly clear on why stress mucks up the works, but whatever the cause, the effects are pretty clear. Research, like a 2004 study published in the journal Fertility and Sterility, shows that women who regularly worry about things like work or money problems are significantly less likely to conceive than those who don’t.
Vacations are about relaxation, so it makes sense that some folks are now combining getting away from it all with something more purposeful. And as far as our survey is concerned, a conceptionmoon looks like a winner. Of the more than 1,000 BabyCenter members surveyed, 40 percent of those who took conceptionmoons conceived while on vacation.
With a success rate like that, conceptionmoons could move from being a new trend to a pre-baby must-do right up there with eating right, knowing when to say when, and tossing your birth control.
Who’s taking the trip?
Those looking to relax, light a fire in their relationship, or make conception something special are packing their bags.
The typical conceptionmooners are thirtysomething, have been trying to get pregnant for eight months, and, like most people in need of a break, are busy: They have other kids; they have demanding jobs. Some of our survey takers also declared they were “taking control of their fertility,” and a few reported they headed out the door on doctor’s orders.
What to consider before you book
Take a good look at how you define relaxation — beach, city, mountains, whatever. You don’t have to go far or spend a lot of money. Just make sure the environment you choose is conducive to helping you unwind. Then get out the calendar and pick a date when you’re likely to be ovulating.
How to make the most of it
Bring whatever you need to pinpoint ovulation tests, a basal body temperature chart, and our list of baby-making sexual positions). If you have other kids, call a sitter and leave them at home if you can. (If Grandma has been bugging you for more grandkids, call her.)
Don’t bring your stress with you on the road. Head to a destination that’s off the grid or at the very least, leave the Blackberry, the email, the voicemail, and (if you can bring yourself to go without it) the cell phone behind.
Finally, relax. Catch up on sleep, lounge, eat good food, and enjoy each other — in and out of bed.
For more tips, see our articles on boosting your chances of conceiving.
What to do if you can’t get away
Reduce stress with some exercise, yoga, meditation, or whatever allows you to take a deep breath (literally or not) and get some peace.
At the same time, make some moves to reconnect with your partner. Try a real dinner for two. If you can afford to, take a day off from work together. And if you know you’re ovulating and can arrange it, consider a night in a nearby hotel.
Fab facts from our conceptionmoon survey
1, 2, and 3 The ranking of Florida, Hawaii, and Las Vegas as top domestic conceptionmoon destinations. The Caribbean and Mexico topped the lists of people wanting to use their passport.
$1,700 The typical amount spent on the trip.
48 percent were stressed about trying to conceive.
8 months The typical time couples had been trying to conceive before going on their conceptionmoon.
68 percent of couples heading out of town have at least one child.
45 percent of conceptionmooners planned their departures around their ovulation schedule.
24 percent timed their baby-making break based on when they wanted their baby to be born.
51 percent said they shared the planning duties of their conceptionmoon with their partner.
77 percent of couples who took a conceptionmoon would recommend taking one to other couples trying to conceive.
Nutrition While Trying to Conceive:
Nutrition While Trying to Conceive:
Don’t wait until you’re pregnant to improve your eating habits. Set the stage now with healthy diet changes to ensure your baby gets off to a strong start.
Pay attention to your diet
For both men and women, food and fertility are linked. Stick to a balanced diet to boost your chances of a healthy baby.
Eat several servings of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and calcium-rich foods such as yogurt, cheese, and milk every day. Not getting enough nutrients can affect your periods, making it difficult to predict when you ovulate. And you may not ovulate at all if you’re significantly underweight or obese.
Your partner should also pay attention to his diet since certain vitamins and nutrients – such as zinc and vitamins C and E, and folic acid – are important for making healthy sperm.
Fish is a nutritional powerhouse for a growing baby, offering low-fat protein with omega-3 fatty acids, but you need to take care to avoid types that are high in mercury, which can be dangerous to your unborn baby. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration urges women to eat 8 to 12 ounces of a variety of fish each week.
Because mercury can accumulate in your body and linger there for more than a year, avoid high-mercury fish such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish. Instead, eat lower-mercury fish such as salmon and canned light tuna (not albacore, which is higher in mercury) once or twice a week. Read more on eating fish while trying to conceive.
Processed meats can be particularly dangerous for pregnant women and should be consumed in small amounts, and smoked or raw meats should be avoided entirely during pregnancy. Even hot dogs or deli meats should be heated until they are steaming before you eat them if you are pregnant.
Practice good habits for pregnancy
For many moms-to-be, pregnancy prompts an abrupt change in eating and drinking habits – but some habits are hard to break. Make it easier on yourself by changing habits now, and help ensure your baby gets off to a good start from the moment you conceive.
Some solid advice: The occasional bottle of beer or glass of wine probably won’t affect your chances of getting pregnant, but alcohol can harm a developing baby. And since you may not know exactly when you ovulate or conceive, you may want to play it safe and cut out alcohol completely. (For non-alcoholic alternatives, see our list of the best virgin drinks).
On a related note, if you use any recreational drugs or smoke, quit now. All of these substances and habits can harm a developing fetus.
You may also want to cut back on caffeine. The research on whether caffeine can affect fertility is mixed. Experts generally agree that low to moderate caffeine consumption, less than 300 mg a day or about the equivalent of two 8-ounce cups of coffee, won’t affect your fertility, but your healthcare provider may recommend that you cut caffeine out entirely to play it safe. Learn more about caffeine and fertility.
And once you’re pregnant, experts recommend limiting yourself to less than 200 milligrams a day of caffeine – that’s a little less than a 12-ounce cup of coffee – because higher amounts have been linked to an increased risk of miscarriage. If you have a strong coffee or soda habit, you might want to start weaning yourself off caffeine now.
Take prenatal vitamins
Although you can meet almost all of your nutritional needs through a balanced diet, many experts believe that even the healthiest eaters can use extra help. Taking a prenatal vitamin ensures that you’re getting enough folic acid and other essential nutrients to boost your chances of conceiving a healthy baby.
Remember that a supplement is a safeguard, not a substitute for a sound diet. And since regular over-the-counter multivitamins may contain megadoses of vitamins and minerals that could be harmful to a developing baby, choose a pill formulated specifically for pregnant women. If you have a vegetarian diet, you may also need vitamin D and B-12 supplements, along with extra protein. Talk with your healthcare provider about the right prenatal supplement for you.
Get enough folic acid
Folic acid has been proven to reduce a baby’s risk of neural-tube birth defects such as spina bifida, and it is linked to a lower incidence of heart attacks, strokes, cancer, and diabetes.
Most women of child-bearing age should take a supplement with 400 micrograms (mcg) daily for at least a month before pregnancy, and 600 micrograms during pregnancy. If you have a family history of neural-tube birth defects or take medication for seizures, your healthcare provider may suggest that you boost your daily intake to 4,000 mcg, or 4 mg, starting at least a month before you conceive and continuing throughout your first trimester.
A good over-the-counter prenatal vitamin should contain more than the minimum recommendation of folic acid, between 600 and 800 mcg – what you’ll need during pregnancy. In addition, you can eat folate-rich foods, such as dark green leafy vegetables like spinach or kale, citrus fruits, nuts, legumes, whole grains, and fortified breads and cereals.
Folic acid is a water-soluble vitamin, so your body will flush out the excess if you consume too much. But there’s a downside to being water-soluble, too: You can lose a lot of this vitamin in cooking water, so steam or cook vegetables in a small amount of water to preserve the folate.
Be aware that getting too much folate may hide a vitamin B-12 deficiency, which is sometimes a problem for vegetarians. Ask your doctor or midwife if you think you may be at risk.
Maintain a healthy weight
It might be a good idea to shed some pounds, or gain a few if you’re underweight, while you’re trying to get pregnant, since you want to be as close as possible to your recommended weight when you conceive. Being over- or underweight can make it harder to get pregnant. Also, obese women have more pregnancy and birth complications, and underweight women are more likely to have a low-birth-weight baby.
In addition to following a smart eating plan with low-fat, high-fiber foods, get regular exercise. If you’re overweight, aim to lose one to two pounds a week, a safe rate of weight loss. Extreme weight loss from crash dieting can deplete your body’s nutritional stores, which isn’t a good way to start a pregnancy.
If you’re trying to get pregnant, practicing good eating habits now can help you have a healthy pregnancy once you conceive.
“What you eat affects everything from your blood to your cells to your hormones,” says Cynthia Stadd, a nutrition specialist at the Berkley Center for Reproductive Wellness in New York City.
But no matter how balanced your diet is, it’s still important to take prenatal vitamins to reduce the risk of having a baby with neural tube defects. Most experts recommend that all women start taking folic acid at least a month before trying to get pregnant.
Read on for more tips about eating a healthy diet while trying to conceive.
It’s unclear whether caffeine can affect fertility. There’s some evidence that very high consumption – more than 500 milligrams a day, or about three to four 8-ounce cups of coffee depending on the strength of the brew – might interfere with fertility. But experts generally agree that low to moderate caffeine consumption (less than 300 milligrams a day, or about two 8-ounce cups of coffee) shouldn’t make it harder for you to get pregnant.
Because no one knows for sure how caffeine impacts fertility, some experts suggest lowering your caffeine intake even more or giving it up entirely, especially if you’re having difficulty conceiving or if you’re undergoing in vitro fertilization.
Once you’re pregnant, experts recommend getting no more than 200 milligrams of caffeine a day (a little less than a 12-ounce cup of coffee) because higher amounts have been linked to an increased risk of miscarriage.
Read more about caffeine and fertility, including the amount in other beverages and tips for cutting back
Eat lots of fruits and vegetables
Think of produce as Mother Nature’s multivitamin. Fruits and vegetablesdeliver a wide variety of vitamins and minerals, and getting enough of certain nutrients is especially important before you conceive.
For example, veggies like spinach, romaine lettuce, asparagus, and broccoli are high in the B vitamin folate. (Folic acid is the synthetic form.) Eating foods rich in folate during preconception and pregnancy can help prevent neural tube birth defects, such as spina bifida.
Produce that’s high in vitamin C – such as citrus fruit, strawberries, broccoli, and tomatoes – can help your body absorb iron more easily, and iron is an important mineral for women who become pregnant. (See “Pump up your iron intake” below.)
In general, choose fruits and vegetables in a range of colors to get the most nutritional bang for your buck. (Eating a produce “rainbow” gives you a wider variety of nutrients.)
Seafood is the best source of omega-3 fatty acids, and according to some scientists, these essential fats may have a positive effect on fertility. Research suggests that a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids may help regulate ovulation, improve egg quality, and even delay aging of the ovaries.
Omega-3s are also important for a baby’s brain and eye development and could have many other pregnancy-related benefits. These include lowering your risk of preterm birth, reducing your chance of preeclampsia, and easing depression.
On the other hand, you’ve probably also heard that some types of fish contain contaminants such as mercury. In high doses, this metal is harmful to a baby’s developing brain and nervous system.
The good news is that not all fish contain a lot of mercury. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says that women trying to conceive can safely eat up to 12 ounces (roughly two or three servings) a week of fish like canned light tuna, salmon, shrimp, cod, tilapia, and catfish.
However, the FDA advises limiting white (albacore) tuna and completely avoiding fresh or frozen swordfish, tilefish, king mackerel, and shark because these have the highest mercury levels.
You can take fish oil supplements if you don’t like seafood, but first talk to your doctor about which brand to buy and how much you should take.
Read our article on eating fish when you’re trying to conceive for more advice on mercury and omega-3s.
Pump up your iron intake
Fill your body’s iron reserves before you get pregnant, especially if your periods are heavy. According to Sam Thatcher, a reproductive endocrinologist and author of Making a Baby: Everything You Need to Know to Get Pregnant, “Bleeding every month is a constant source of iron depletion.”
Make sure to get enough iron now – once you’re expecting, it’s difficult for your body to maintain its iron level because your developing baby uses up your stores of the mineral. (Pregnant women need double the amount of iron they needed before pregnancy.)
Too little iron at conception not only can affect your baby, it can also put you at risk for iron-deficiency anemia during pregnancy and after you give birth(especially if you lose a lot of blood during delivery). Anemia causes your red blood cells to fall below normal and saps your energy.
If you don’t eat much red meat, or if you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, your healthcare provider may recommend that you take a prenatal vitamin containing extra iron. And to be on the safe side, ask your healthcare provider to test you for anemia at your preconception checkup.
Eat whole grains
A woman trying to conceive should eat as many nutrient-rich foods as possible, and whole grains are a great place to start, says nutrition specialist Stadd.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) food guidelines recommend that you make at least half of the grains you eat each day whole grains (such as bran cereal, oatmeal, brown rice, or whole wheat bread).
Refined carbohydrates (like white bread, pasta, and white rice) won’t directly lower your chance of getting pregnant, but they do shortchange your body because the refining process strips grains of key nutrients such as fiber, some B vitamins, and iron.
Note: If you have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), the most common cause of infertility in women, pay extra attention to the types of carbs you eat. PCOS is a hormonal imbalance that can get worse when insulin levels in the bloodstream surge, and refined carbohydrates are a main cause of insulin spikes.
Mark Leondires, fertility specialist and medical director of Reproductive Medicine Associates of Connecticut, explains that when women with PCOS eat too many refined carbohydrates, insulin flows into the blood, feeds back to the ovaries, and can lead to irregular ovulation.
An occasional beer or glass of wine probably won’t hurt your odds of conceiving, but having two or more drinks a day can. Moderate drinking can also increase your risk of miscarriage. You may want to skip alcohol completely when you’re trying to conceive because it can be hard to tell exactly when you get pregnant, and alcohol can harm a developing baby.
For nonalcoholic alternatives, see our list of the best “virgin” drinks.
Be aware of listeria
Listeria is a bacterium that can contaminate lunchmeats, soft cheeses, and unpasteurized dairy products. Pregnant women are more likely than other healthy adults to get sick from eating contaminated food, and the infection caused by listeria (listeriosis) can cause a miscarriage early in the first trimester – possibly before you even know you’re pregnant.
To kill listeria, heat high-risk foods in the microwave until they’re steaming hot. To reduce bacteria growth on leftovers, set the refrigerator’s temperature to 40 degrees or less. Toss any food that’s been at room temperature for more than two hours.
Do not eat these foods: raw fish and sushi, refrigerated smoked seafood (like lox), soft cheese made from unpasteurized (raw) milk, other unpasteurized dairy products, and refrigerated pâté or meat spreads. (Canned or shelf-stable spreads are safe to eat.)
Choose other proteins
Protein is a critical part of a healthy diet, but according to the USDA, many Americans rely too heavily on beef, pork, and chicken to get their daily amount. In a study of 18,555 women, experts at Harvard Medical School found that those who included one daily serving of vegetable protein – such as nuts, beans, peas, soybeans or tofu – were less likely to have infertility due to ovulation problems.
More research is needed on the link to fertility, but because vegetable proteins are usually lower in fat and calories than steak or fried chicken, including them in your meal plans is both good for you and a great way to maintain a healthy weight.
To get a personalized nutrition plan that includes the amount of protein, grains, and produce you should eat daily, try the USDA’s SuperTracker tool.
What about his diet?
When it comes to fertility and diet, men don’t get a free pass. Lisa Mazzullo, an ob-gyn and assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, recommends that fathers-to-be take a daily multivitamin that contains zinc and selenium for at least three months before conception. Studies suggest these minerals aid in healthy sperm development.
Why start so early? The sperm your partner ejaculates today was actually created more than two months ago. It takes about 74 days for sperm to fully develop and benefit from the supplementation.
“Genetic preparation is going on during sperm development, so that’s pretty heavy stuff,” says Amy Ogle, a registered dietitian in San Diego, California, and coauthor of Before Your Pregnancy: A 90-Day Guide for Couples on How to Prepare for a Healthy Conception.
Dietary changes men can make to boost fertility
Folic acid: Why you need it before and during pregnancy
Prenatal vitamins: Why they’re so important
Eating fish when you’re trying to conceive: How to avoid mercury and still get your omega-3s
USDA SuperTracker tool: Get your personalized nutrition plan
Nutrition has a direct impact on the potency of your sperm. Research shows that having a poor diet and drinking alcohol regularly, for instance, can lower the quality and quantity of sperm and make conception more difficult. And since infertility is nearly as much a man’s issue as a woman’s – about a third of fertility problems can be traced to men – eating healthfully now can boost your chances of conceiving a child.
Additional research shows that dads who are heavy drinkers risk damaging their sperm. If you drink, have no more than one or two drinks a day.
Whether drinking coffee harms or helps your fertility is less clear. The safest bet is to drink no more than a cup or two a day.
Which nutrients are most important?
Your diet should be every bit as balanced, varied, and nutritious as your partner’s. According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, research shows that a healthy diet including plenty of fish, vegetables, and whole grains means more active sperm. On the other hand, a diet high in trans fats may lower the number of sperm in semen.
Some specific advice for future dads:
- Eat plenty of foods rich in vitamin C and other antioxidants. These nutrients help prevent sperm defects and boost motility (movement). An 8-ounce glass of orange juice has about 124 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C. Aim to get at least 90 mg a day – more if you smoke (at least 125 mg).
- Get enough zinc. A lack of zinc can make sperm clump together and contribute to infertility. Great sources to help you get the 11 mg you need daily include oysters (16 mg in six medium oysters), extra-lean beef tenderloin (4.8 mg per 3-ounce serving), baked beans (3.5 mg per 1-cup serving), and dark chicken meat (2.38 mg per 3-ounce serving).
- Fuel up on folic acid. Studies suggest that men with low levels of this key B vitamin – the same one women need to reduce the baby’s risk of neural tube birth defects – have trouble producing healthy sperm. You may be able to get the daily minimum of 400 micrograms from fortified breakfast cereals, leafy greens, legumes, and orange juice, but taking a folic acid or a multivitamin supplement for extra insurance can’t hurt.
- Cut out (or cut back on) alcohol. An occasional drink is generally considered safe, but studies show that drinking wine, beer, or hard liquor daily can reduce testosterone levels and sperm counts and raise the number of abnormal sperm in your ejaculate.
- Take a multivitamin tablet every day. A pill is no substitute for a healthy diet, but a multivitamin can help you make sure you’re getting the nutrients you need.
Does caffeine affect fertility?
It might. Some studies have found a link between caffeine consumption and a woman’s ability to conceive, while others have not. Most experts say there just isn’t enough evidence to make a definite conclusion about caffeine and fertility.
Although researchers haven’t been able to find a clear connection between moderate caffeine intake and fertility problems, it’s generally considered safe to consume 200 to 300 milligrams (mg) of caffeine daily while trying to conceive. That’s up to two 8-ounce cups of coffee for a weak brew. If you get more than that, it might be a good idea to cut back.
Which foods and beverages contain caffeine?
Coffee is one, of course. The amount of caffeine in a serving of coffee varies widely, depending on the type of bean, how it’s roasted, how it’s brewed – and, obviously, on the size of the coffee cup. (For example, espresso contains more caffeine per ounce, but it’s served in a tiny cup. So a full cup of brewed coffee will actually deliver more caffeine.)
To manage your caffeine intake, you’ll need to be aware of other sources, like tea, soft drinks, energy drinks, chocolate, and coffee ice cream. Caffeine also shows up in herbal products and over-the-counter drugs, including some headache, cold, and allergy remedies. Read labels carefully.
Amount of caffeine in common foods and beverages
|coffee, generic brewed||8 oz||95-200 mg|
|coffee, Starbucks brewed||16 oz||330 mg|
|coffee, Dunkin’ Donuts brewed||16 oz||211 mg|
|caffé latte, misto, or cappuccino, Starbucks||16 oz||150 mg|
|caffé latte, misto, or cappuccino, Starbucks||12 oz||75 mg|
|espresso, Starbucks||1 oz (1 shot )||75 mg|
|espresso, generic||1 oz (1 shot)||64 mg|
|coffee, generic instant||1 tsp granules||31 mg|
|coffee, generic decaffeinated||8 oz||2 mg|
|black tea, brewed||8 oz||47 mg|
|green tea, brewed||8 oz||25 mg|
|black tea, decaffeinated||8 oz||2 mg|
|Starbucks Tazo Chai Tea latte||16 oz||95 mg|
|instant tea, unsweetened||1 tsp powder||26 mg|
|Snapple||16 oz||42 mg|
|Lipton Brisk iced tea||12 oz||5 mg|
|Coke||12 oz||35 mg|
|Diet Coke||12 oz||47 mg|
|Pepsi||12 oz||38 mg|
|Diet Pepsi||12 oz||36 mg|
|Jolt Cola||12 oz||72 mg|
|Mountain Dew||12 oz||54 mg|
|7-Up||12 oz||0 mg|
|Sierra Mist||12 oz||0 mg|
|Sprite||12 oz||0 mg|
|Red Bull||8.3 oz||77 mg|
|SoBe Essential Energy, berry or orange||8 oz||48 mg|
|5-Hour Energy||2 oz||138 mg|
How can I cut back on caffeine?
If you decide to drink less caffeine, cut back slowly to avoid withdrawal symptoms, such as fatigue and headaches.
You might want to start by switching to a drink that’s half regular brew and half decaf. Or reduce the caffeine in homemade hot beverages by watering them down or brewing them for a shorter time. If you love to start your day with a cup of English Breakfast tea, steeping your tea bag for one minute instead of five reduces the caffeine by as much as half.
Once you’ve acclimated to life with little or no caffeine, you may find steamed milk with a shot of flavored syrup to be a nice coffee substitute – and the calcium will do you good.
Should I eat fish while trying to conceive?
Many women who are planning a pregnancy wonder about this. The answer is yes – even if you don’t normally eat seafood, consider adding it to your pregnancy diet. But you’ll need to choose your fish carefully.
Studies show that fish provide an array of nutrients that are important for your baby’s early development. Most experts agree that the key nutrients are two omega-3 fatty acids – DHA and EPA – that are difficult to find in other foods. Fish is also low in saturated fat and high in protein, vitamin D, and other nutrients that are crucial for a developing baby and a healthy pregnancy.
Your body will store omega-3s for several weeks, so it’s a good idea to make sure you’re getting enough now so you’ll have adequate levels when you become pregnant.
On the other hand, you’ve probably heard that fish contain contaminants such as mercury, which can harm a baby’s developing brain and nervous system. Mercury accumulates in the body – and takes time to go away once you reduce your intake – so you’re right to be concerned about your exposure before becoming pregnant.
Most experts agree that women in their childbearing years should eat some fish. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults consume about 8 ounces a week of a variety of seafood that is low in mercury. (For pregnant or nursing women, they recommend 8 to 12 ounces a week.) But it can be hard to figure out which ones are best.
Here are some guidelines to help you limit your exposure to mercury while getting the nutrients you and your baby will need.
How does mercury get into fish?
Mercury is everywhere, even in the air we breathe.
Some of the sources (such as volcanoes and forest fires) are natural. It’s also released into the air by power plants, cement plants, and certain chemical and industrial manufacturers.
And mercury has been used for decades in making thermometers, thermostats, fluorescent lights, and many other products. When these items end up in a landfill, the mercury may be released.
When mercury settles into water, bacteria convert it into a form called methylmercury. Fish absorb methylmercury from the water they swim in and the organisms they eat. Methylmercury binds tightly to the proteins in fish muscle and remains there even after the fish is cooked.
What are the risks of getting too much mercury?
Your body easily absorbs methylmercury from fish and stores it for months. Once you become pregnant, the mercury in your body will cross the placenta, too.
Many studies have shown that exposure even to low doses of methylmercury during pregnancy can impair a baby’s growing brain and nervous system. The results can range from mild to severe. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), cognitive skills (like memory and attention), language, motor skills, and vision may be affected.
Babies in utero, infants, and young children are generally thought to be most vulnerable to damage from methylmercury. That’s why women who are pregnant, thinking of becoming pregnant, or nursing need to pay particular attention to the kind of fish they’re eating.
Why not just stop eating fish?
Fish is too good a nutritional choice.
For example, in one large Danish study, children whose mothers ate the most fish during pregnancy (an average of 14 ounces a week) had better motor and cognitive skills at 6 months and at 18 months than those whose mothers ate little fish. And those whose mothers ate the least fish had the lowest developmental scores.
Some studies also show that eating fish during pregnancy may help prevent preterm birth and low birth weight. So you’ll want to keep eating fish once you become pregnant, too.
Which fish are best to eat?
Good choices include salmon, trout, anchovies, herring, sardines, and shad. For example, 8 ounces of salmon, 12 ounces of rainbow trout, or 16 sardines a week should give you a good dose of omega-3s with minimal mercury.
Purdue University publishes a handy wallet card that tells you where most commercial fish falls on the mercury contamination scale and how much of each it’s okay to eat.
Purdue also has free iPhone/iPod apps that can help you track your seafood consumption and estimate your intake of omega-3s, mercury, and PCBs, a group of industrial pollutants that can harm your baby’s nervous system.
Which fish should I avoid altogether?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the EPA advise women of childbearing age and young children not to eat four high-mercury species: swordfish, shark, king mackerel, and tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico.
Other experts and advocacy groups would like to expand this list. Purdue University toxicologist Charles Santerre recommends that you also avoid eating all fresh or frozen tuna, striped bass, bluefish, Chilean sea bass, golden snapper, marlin, orange roughy, amberjack, Crevalle jack, Spanish mackerel from the Gulf of Mexico, and walleye from the Great Lakes.
What about canned tuna?
There’s some disagreement when it comes to canned tuna.
The FDA says it’s okay to eat canned light tuna but suggests limiting your intake of albacore (white) tuna, which is higher in methylmercury, to 6 ounces per week.
Purdue University guidelines say it’s okay to eat up to 12 ounces a week of canned light tuna but recommend limiting your consumption of canned white tuna to 4 ounces per week.
Other experts, like Edward Groth, an independent food safety and environmental health consultant and former senior scientist at Consumers Union, recommend avoiding canned tuna entirely. Groth points out that canned tuna is by far the largest source of methylmercury in the American diet.
Consumer Reports magazine also recommends that pregnant women avoid all forms of canned tuna; you may want to take it off your menu in preparation for pregnancy. They’ve found that white tuna has consistently high levels of methylmercury and some light tuna has high levels as well, so it’s not worth the risk.
What about fish caught in local waters?
Check advisories from your state or local health and environmental agencies to figure out which fish to avoid and how much of each type it’s safe to eat.
These advisories are usually indicated on signposts in fishing areas. You can also access your state’s advisories on this map, which is kept up-to-date by Purdue University.
If you don’t find an advisory for local fish, the EPA recommends limiting your intake of it to 6 ounces per week and not eating any other fish that week.
What can I eat, other than fish, to get my omega-3s?
It’s not easy to find DHA and EPA in other foods.
Many foods – such as eggs, milk, soy beverages, juice, yogurt, bread, and cereal – are now fortified with omega-3s, but most of these contain only ALA. ALA is an omega-3 that provides some health benefits, but not the same ones you get from DHA and EPA. (Most food labels don’t specify the type of omega-3.)
You may have heard that flaxseed is a good source of omega-3s, but it does not provide DHA or EPA. The only omega-3 fatty acid in plant foods is ALA.
What about omega-3 supplements?
If you don’t eat fish, you might choose to take an omega-3 supplement. A few studies have shown small benefits in child cognitive development when pregnant or nursing women take omega-3 supplements, but most have shown no significant benefits from these supplements.
Omega-3 supplements provide EPA and DHA and are mercury-free. Many contain fish oil, but mercury is not stored in fatty tissue, so it’s not in the oil, although PCBs may be.
Note: Some women turn to cod liver oil as a source of omega-3s. This is risky. Cod liver oil is very high in vitamin A, which can be toxic at high doses. Another concern is that it’s impossible to verify whether the oil has been filtered to eliminate toxins such as PCBs.
How much omega-3s should I get each day?
The 2015 U.S. Dietary Guidelines suggest that pregnant and breastfeeding women get 250 milligrams of EPA and/or DHA a day by eating 8 ounces of fish that are rich in omega-3s each week.
The Food and Nutrition Board (the group that sets the recommended daily intake levels for nutrients) has not set recommended levels for DHA or EPA.
How can I find out how much mercury is in my body?
It’s simple to test for mercury in your blood or in a hair sample, but testing is not routinely recommended. Following the guidelines above for amounts and types of fish to eat should help keep your mercury levels in a safe range.
If you eat fish more often than recommended and are concerned, talk with your healthcare provider about having a test done. If your levels indicate that you’re getting too much mercury, your provider or a dietitian can help you change your diet accordingly.
- Is it safe to take omega-3 supplements when you’re trying to conceive?
- Eating fish when you’re pregnant
This article was reviewed by:
Edward Groth Ph.D., independent food safety and environmental health consultant and former senior scientist at Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports magazine
Keli Hawthorne, M.S., R.D., L.D., director for clinical research for the Department of Pediatrics at the Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin
Charles R. Santerre, Ph.D., professor of food toxicology at the College of Health and Human Sciences, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana
Health and Fitness While Trying to Conceive:
Health and Fitness While Trying to Conceive:
When you’re trying to get pregnant, some of your habits may need to change. Here are 10 fertility foes to steer clear of when you’re actively trying to have a baby:
- Certain medications
- Large amounts of caffeine
- Mercury in fish
- Certain chemicals
- Hot tubs
- Marijuana – maybe
Take the time to strengthen your belly and back before getting pregnant, and you’ll reap the benefits throughout pregnancy and beyond.
Strengthening your core
When you’re trying to get pregnant, most of your focus naturally goes to the eight or so inches that run from the top of your stomach down to your pubic bone: That part of your body is probably getting a lot of attention right now. But there’s more to the belly-and-below area than hormone levels and ovulation-optimal sex. What we don’t tend to consider so much are the muscles in our middles.
“But if you go into pregnancy with strong abdominals, you’re going to prevent back problems, have an easier time pushing during labor, and recovery is going to be better,” says Julie Tupler, R.N., co-author of Lose Your Mummy Tummy (Da Capo Press, 2004). Some women also say a fit belly and lower back make labor go more quickly, though research so far confirms only that overall fitness can shorten delivery times. (Alas, there’s no evidence that strong abdominals make it more—or for that matter, less—likely that you’ll conceive or avoid miscarriage.)
To achieve that winning trifecta of a pain-free back, easier labor, and quicker postpartum recovery, you need a strong core. And what is the core, exactly? “It’s made up of your deep abdominal muscles—the transversus abdominus—which act like a corset around your middle, and the small muscles in your back,” explains Chantal Donnelly, MPT, a physical therapist and founder of Body Insight in Los Angeles. “Core fitness is strengthening the muscles that support and stabilize the spine.”
True core-building moves focus on that deep muscle of the abdominals, not the top rectus abdominus muscles, which don’t do much more than give you six-pack abs and help you bend forward. What’s more, working the top muscles incorrectly, which many of us do, can lead to a diastasis, in which the outermost muscles separate, explains Tupler.
And don’t forget the pelvic floor muscles, especially when you’re trying to conceive. “These come into play because when you engage the deep abdominal muscle, the pelvic floor muscles engage too, so they’re considered part of the core,” adds Donnelly. Tone your pelvic floor muscles (for example, with Kegel exercises, where you contract the muscles that you use to stop the flow of urine) and you can add one more benefit to the list, too: You’ll be less likely to experience continence problems after you deliver.
If you start a belly-and-back-building regimen now, your timing couldn’t be better. “Once you’re pregnant, there are a lot of precautions, especially as you get into the second and third trimesters,” says Donnelly. “You won’t be able to do any exercises on your stomach, for example.” Or lying flat on your back. So you can make more progress, and faster, now. And your core workout may even be a little safer when you do it before pregnancy.
“Most people do abdominal exercises incorrectly,” cautions Tupler. They lurch when coming up in a sit-up or crunch, pulling on the head and neck, making it impossible to bring the belly button back to the spine and hold it there. “Every time you have a forward forceful movement on the outermost abdominal muscles, it’s making the connective tissue go sideways,” which ups your risk for the dreaded diastasis, Tupler says. “That weakens the support system for the back and organs, and if you go into pregnancy with the muscle separated, you’ll start with that liability, which [leads to] a higher incidence of back problems and a harder time pushing in labor.”
To avoid this potentially serious problem, Tupler’s advice for toning the transversus abdominus, whether you’re pregnant or not, always emphasizes drawing the belly button in toward the spine and holding it there while doing muscle strengthening exercises. That doesn’t mean you stop breathing during your workouts, of course, but you do need to breathe a bit differently than most of us are accustomed to. Instead of sucking the navel in as you breathe in and then exhaling the belly forward when you breathe out, try expanding the belly as you take in air and then bring the belly back to the spine as you exhale. “If you’re not bringing the belly button to the inner spine and holding it there, you’re not working the core,” Tupler says.
Sarah Picot, author of Pilates and Pregnancy: A Workbook for Before, During and After Pregnancy (Picot Pilates, 2006), believes that Pilates, an exercise program that focuses on core strength, is an especially good fit for women who are trying to conceive. “Pilates is all about circulation—getting your body’s blood pumping,” she explains. “So much of the work Pilates does is on the lower abdominal wall and the pelvic girdle, sending blood flow to the area that you’re trying to bring life to.”
Here are three of Picot’s favorite Pilates core-builders. Follow this five-minute regimen four or five days a week, and your core will be pregnancy-ready in about six to eight weeks. Remember to keep your navel drawn in toward your spine throughout each move.
- Lie on your back with your feet flexed, legs together long and slightly bent. Inhale as you raise your arms toward the ceiling. Exhale and bring them over your head, but don’t touch the floor.
- Inhale to curl your head and shoulders off the floor while keeping your head between your arms. Exhale and continue rolling up, one vertebra at a time. Your legs will bend as you come up.
- Straighten your legs when you reach the top; reach your body forward, keeping your head between your arms.
- Inhale as you start to roll down, allowing your pelvis to tuck under. Then exhale and uncurl one vertebra at a time until you’re back in the starting position. Repeat five more times.
- Lie on your back with your legs together and bent at a 90-degree angle, and your pelvis in a neutral position (neither tucked nor arched). Extend your arms down alongside your body, and draw your shoulders down away from your neck.
- Inhale as your head and shoulders curl off the floor, keeping your lower back in contact with the floor as you exhale and extend your legs toward the ceiling or slightly past 90 degrees. Heels stay together and arms reach long as they float about 2 inches off the floor.
- Pump your arms up and down slightly as you inhale slowly for five counts and exhale slowly for five counts. That’s one set; repeat nine more times. (If this is too difficult, modify the move by keeping your legs bent in chair position or placing your feet together and flat on the floor; it’s more important to control your abdominals and keep your back flat on the floor.)
- While lying on your back, place your feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart. Your hands should be at your sides, palms down, pressing slightly into the floor.
- Inhale, then exhale while keeping your hips still and floating the right leg up to a 90-degree angle, then inhale again. Exhale as you float your left leg up to meet the right, so you look as if you’re sitting in a chair.
- Inhale as you lower your right leg, keeping your abdominal muscles drawn in. Exhale when your leg reaches the bottom. Inhale to lower your left leg and exhale as your left foot touches the floor. Repeat twice more, alternating legs.
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2008 issue of Conceive Magazine.
In the 1967 film, “The Graduate,” a family friend looks the new college grad played by Dustin Hoffman straight in the eye and gives him the now-famous career advice, “Plastics.” In a single word, the man sums up the incredible array of chemical creations that would revolutionize and simplify much of modern life.
Forty-plus years later, it turns out, scientists are learning that all those undeniable benefits have not come without risks—to the environment, the planet, and, in what may be the most shockingly personal risk of all, to our and our children’s ability to start healthy families of our own.
Chemicals and fertility
Scientists have discovered that the thousands of chemicals that have enabled many of life’s conveniences may have been robbing us, slowly but surely, of our most precious necessity for future survival: our fertility. The concerns are undeniable for those whose jobs involve exposure to industrial-strength chemicals. But there’s now increasing evidence that long-term, low-level exposure to a mixture of seemingly benign substances that are part of the everyday environment may produce fertility hazards as well, ranging from impaired egg production to repeat miscarriage, sperm abnormalities, and decreased sperm counts.
The most startling finding of all is that some of these effects, on women and men, may literally begin within the womb, helping to explain why a growing group of public health experts believes that infertility is rising not only among the population as a whole, but specifically among couples in their 20s. Their problems, it turns out, may have begun before they were even born.
“Often fertility problems, like many health conditions, are what scientists call multifactorial, meaning that there is no one single cause to be identified,” explains Ted Schettler, M.D., M.P.H., science director of the Science & Environmental Health Network. “Everything from genetics to lifestyles to environmental exposures may play a part. And for many of these exposures, it may be impossible to determine precisely the amount that will endanger any individual at a particular stage of life.” Each of us, in essence, may have our own fertility “tipping point.”
How chemicals mess with our hormones
The most worrisome of these environmental chemicals are what experts classify as hormone-disrupters, meaning they either block, mimic, or upset the usual pattern of hormonal action within the body. Some chemicals can masquerade as natural estrogens. These may pose the biggest risk to conception, fetal development, and maternal and paternal health.
Some endocrine-disrupters may interfere with the complex genetic instructions that guide development of the male or female reproductive organs within a developing fetus, for example. Others may nudge a young woman into earlier puberty, which in turn can increase her risk of fertility-damaging conditions such as endometriosis or polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). The effects may be completely “silent” until she attempts to create a baby herself.
“Humans are exposed to very low doses of biologically active chemicals all the time. Some of these may be harmless on their own but could mix with other chemicals to interfere with conception and fertility,” says Tracey Woodruff, Ph.D., M.P.H., associate professor and director, Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment, University of California San Francisco (UCSF).
How much exposure is too much?
One problem is that the way chemicals were looked at in the past was in terms of a single toxic dose—and environmental agents aren’t even considered in the etiology of infertility by most practitioners, notes epidemiologist Shanna H. Swan, Ph.D., of the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, whose groundbreaking work in the field first led many of her colleagues to sit up and take notice.
Increasingly, she and others are urging medical experts to consider the overall “body burden” of particular substances in terms of the impact on a whole range of health issues, including reproduction—and to re-evaluate what constitutes safe exposure to the thousands of chemicals all of us encounter every day.
Someday, people may be able to take their own “chemical temperature” to assess which contaminants are in their body and how they are responding to them. That information could help people to make better choices about the food they eat, the water they drink, and the products they use every day.
What you can do
Waiting for the U.S. government to protect us may not come soon enough, either, maintains Woodruff, a former staff scientist at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “Americans need to let the government know that this is something they care about intensely,” she says. “Just as companies were forced to get the lead out of gasoline, they can be required to re-engineer certain products to remove chemicals that can harm health and fertility. This has already begun in Europe and Japan. If they can do it, why can’t we?”
While the science on every single substance isn’t all in yet, there are certain key categories of our personal environment that are most suspected of contributing to infertility, and may even hold clues to some of those cases deemed “unexplained.”
Read about the specific chemical threats that may pose a risk in your everyday environment. Unfortunately, you won’t find many of these names listed on product labels, but there are still ways to recognize—and try to avoid—what may be putting current and future generations at risk.
For advice about changes you can make in your own life, and for ways to help lobby for broader change, here are some good information sources:
- Healthy Child Healthy World
- The Collaborative on Health and the Environment
- The Environmental Protection Agency Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory
- The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. This site has links to areas on environmental health, reproductive health, and the National Toxicology Program as well as to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- The Women’s Health at Stanford program at Stanford University’s School of Medicine
- The National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health at the University of California, San Francisco
- Listings of cosmetic ingredients can be found at The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and the Environmental Working Group’s Cosmetic Safety Database.
- Based on the 1996 book of the same name, Our Stolen Future has important updates and links. Another book worth checking out: Generations at Risk (The MIT Press, 1999).
Conceiving a Boy or Girl:
Conceiving a Boy or Girl:
Can we choose the sex of our child?
Yes, choosing the sex of your child is technically possible, thanks to advances in fertility treatments that allow doctors to identify male and female embryos. Sex selection is an option for couples who want to avoid passing sex-linked genetic disorders to their children. It also might appeal to parents who have children of one sex and want to have a child of the other sex. (This is sometimes called “family balancing.”)
But today’s sex-selection options aren’t equally effective, affordable, or available. The most accurate sex-selection methods are the most expensive (tens of thousands of dollars) and often mean you have to undergo invasive infertility treatments and take fertility drugs with potential side effects.
If you’re serious about trying one of these techniques for family balancing, you’ll have to meet strict requirements. At some fertility clinics, you won’t be eligible unless you’re married and already have at least one child of the opposite sex you’re trying for. And some clinics have age limits, but all will run hormone tests to see if you’re still fertile.
Keep in mind that Mother Nature has already tipped the odds a bit in favor of boys: According to data from the National Center for Health Statistics, approximately 105 boys are born for every 100 girls.
Read on for more information on how today’s sex-selection methods work, whether you may eligible to try them, and how much they cost.
Overview: Infertility treatment and high-tech sex selection
Infertility treatment is one way to try to choose your baby’s sex. Artificial insemination (AI) and in vitro fertilization (IVF) are two types of infertility treatment which can also use sex-selection techniques.
These treatments require you to invest significant time and money, and often mean you have to take fertility drugs. Be sure you understand what’s involved before deciding whether high-tech sex selection is right for you.
AI is a type of treatment that places sperm closer to the site of fertilization. There are various AI methods, but intrauterine insemination (IUI) is the most common.
When you have IUI, your doctor uses a thin tube (catheter) to insert sperm directly into your uterus. You may also need to take fertility drugs.
In IVF, fertilization takes place outside your body. (In vitro means “in glass.”) IVF starts with a round of fertility drugs to stimulate your ovaries to produce multiple eggs for fertilization, instead of the single egg typically released each month.
When your eggs are ready to be retrieved, a doctor gives you an anesthetic and inserts an ultrasound probe through your vagina to check your ovaries and follicles (the fluid-filled sacs where eggs mature). Then your doctor inserts a thin needle through the vaginal wall to remove the eggs from the follicles.
After that, your eggs are fertilized with sperm in a petri dish. Three to five days later, your doctor places the fertilized eggs – now embryos – in your uterus by inserting a thin tube through your vagina and cervix (the opening to the uterus). The number of embryos inserted depends on your age, the quality of the embryos, and your reproductive history.
As a general rule, if you’re younger than 35 and the embryos look healthy, no more than two are transferred.
Preimplantation genetic testing
What it is
Preimplantation genetic testing is a procedure that can be done during IVF to remove one or two cells from an embryo and test them for genetic or chromosomal disorders. There are two types of tests – preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) and preimplantation genetic screening (PGS). Both can be used to screen embryos for sex, but which test you have depends on the reason you want to choose the sex of your child.
In PGD, parents with serious inheritable genetic disorders can have their embryos tested and reduce their risk of having a child with the same condition. Sometimes it’s important to determine the sex of an embryo because certain genetic disorders are sex-linked and mainly affect males.
For example, if a couple is at risk of having a son with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, PGD can identify male embryos with the abnormal gene. Then these would not be implanted in the uterus.
In PGS, embryos from parents who are presumed to have a normal number of chromosomes are tested for chromosomal disorders, such as Down syndrome. PGS can also screen embryos for sex, so some fertility clinics offer this test for nonmedical reasons, including family balancing.
PGD and PGS are almost 100 percent accurate at determining the sex of the embryo.
How it’s done
During an IVF cycle, eggs are fertilized with sperm in a petri dish. A single cell or cells are later removed from each of the resulting 3- to 5-day-old embryos and tested for genetic disorders or a normal set of chromosomes as well as the sex chromosomes X and Y.
In a regular IVF cycle, scientists try to determine which embryos have the best chance of implanting by looking at them under a microscope. But in preimplantation genetic testing, the embryos are tested thoroughly for genetic or chromosomal abnormalities and sex.
By transferring only healthy embryos to the uterus, you’re less likely to miscarry or have a child with a genetic disorder. Prenatal tests, such as amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling (CVS), are still offered if you’re 35 or older to check for genetic abnormalities.
For IVF, doctors usually transfer more than one embryo to your uterus – the number depends on your age, the quality of the embryos, and your reproductive history. (If you’re 40 or older, typically three to four embryos may be transferred.) But if you have PGD or PGS, doctors usually transfer fewer embryos because they’ve already weeded out the ones that are unlikely to implant or result in a healthy pregnancy.
- If you do get pregnant, PGD and PGS ensure with almost 100 percent certainty that you’ll have a baby of the sex you desire.
- Following a PGD or PGS cycle, remaining embryos of both sexes can be frozen. These can be used in the future if you miscarry or decide you want more children. Frozen embryos have a success rate similar to fresh transfers, but the procedure is less invasive and significantly cheaper.
- A single round of IVF with preimplantation genetic testing can cost more than $20,000.
- The procedure is invasive, and having eggs removed from your ovaries can be painful.
- Fertility drugs can have uncomfortable side effects, including weight gain, bloating, swelling, and blurred vision.
- As with any IVF pregnancy, you’re more likely to have multiple births. According to the latest statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, out of all infants conceived through IVF (and related procedures involving multiple embryo transfers) about 46 percent were twins or other multiples. However, the possibility of multiples may be lower with PGD and PGS because in many cases only a single embryo is transferred.
- In women younger than 35, about 46 percent of fresh IVF cycles result in a live birth, and that percentage goes down as you get older. (Most IVF centers report higher success rates with PGD and PGS because abnormal embryos are excluded.)
- You’ll need to decide what to do with the unused embryos: freeze, discard, or donate for adoption or research.
The average cost of a single IVF cycle is $12,400, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. Preimplantation genetic testing adds another $5,000 to $8,000 to the tab. Check with your insurance – part of the expense may be covered.
Some fertility clinics offer preimplantation genetic testing only for medical reasons, and not for sex selection. Other centers allow you to use PGS to choose the sex of your baby, even if you don’t have a medical reason to do so. Call fertility clinics to find out their policy on sex selection.
For more information
Read the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s report on sex selection and recommendations for its use.
What it is
This technique, named for pioneer Ronald Ericsson, aims to separate faster-swimming, boy-producing sperm from slower-swimming, girl-producing sperm. In theory, the sperm placed directly into your uterus through AI will become the desired sex of your baby.
Ericsson claims his technique is 78 to 85 percent effective when it comes to choosing boys and 73 to 75 percent effective for selecting girls.
How it’s done
First, a sperm sample is poured on a gluey layer of fluid in a test tube. All the sperm naturally swim down, but the boy-producing sperm tend to swim faster and reach the bottom sooner.
Once the fast and slow swimmers are separated, you’re inseminated with the sperm that may help you conceive a baby of the sex you desire.
- Inexpensive compared to higher-tech methods.
- Relatively safe.
- There’s no guarantee of success. Ericsson has published extensively and claims a success rate of approximately 75 to 80 percent. But evaluations of the test haven’t been published by other fertility experts or proven independently.
- AI is not as effective as IVF, and it may take many cycles to achieve a pregnancy, depending on your age and fertility.
Approximately $600 per insemination.
This technique is available to everyone at clinics in California, Florida, Maine, Michigan, New Jersey, and New York. Look for one in your area.
For more information
Learn more about this method at Ericsson’s website.
Overview: At-home techniques
These low-tech methods are noninvasive and affordable, and you can do them in the privacy of your own home. All you need to do is chart your basal body temperature or use an ovulation predictor kit to determine when you ovulate. Then time sex accordingly.
So what’s the catch? Their effectiveness is questionable at best.
What it is
Timed intercourse on specific days of your cycle.
Shettles proponents claim the technique is 75 percent effective for choosing girls and 80 percent for choosing boys, but other experts are doubtful. Keep in mind that you always have about a 50 percent chance of conceiving a child of the sex you want.
How it’s done
The theory is that sperm bearing a Y chromosome (for boys) move faster but don’t live as long as sperm that carry X chromosomes (for girls). So if you want a boy, the Shettles method contends you should have sex as close as possible to ovulation. If you want a girl, plan to have sex two to four days before you ovulate.
- Does not require drugs or invasive medical procedures.
- Free or low cost.
- You must use an ovulation predictor kit to figure out when you’re ovulating, or chart your basal body temperature to estimate the best time to have intercourse.
- There’s no guarantee of success.
Anyone can try it at home.
For more information:
Learn more about charting your basal body temperature and using ovulation predictor kits.
Read How to Choose the Sex of Your Baby, by Landrum Shettles, M.D., and David Rorvik.
What it is
Timed intercourse on specific days of your cycle.
Elizabeth Whelan claims her technique is 68 percent effective for choosing boys and 56 percent effective for choosing girls, but many experts are doubtful. Keep in mind that you always have a 50 percent chance of conceiving a child of the sex you want.
How it’s done
The Whelan method directly contradicts the Shettles method. The theory here is that the biochemical changes that may favor boy-producing sperm occur earlier in a woman’s cycle.
So if you want a boy, you should have intercourse four to six days before your basal body temperature goes up. If you want a girl, plan to have sex two to three days before you ovulate.
- Does not require drugs or invasive medical procedures.
- Free or low cost.
- You need to take your basal body temperature every day to figure out when you’re ovulating, or use an ovulation prediction kit.
- There’s no guarantee of success.
Anyone can try it at home.
For more information:
Learn more about charting your basal body temperature and ovulation predictor kits.
Read Boy or Girl? by Elizabeth Whelan.
What it is
These at-home kits are based on the Shettles theory. Separate girl and boy kits include a thermometer, ovulation predictor test sticks, vitamins, herbal extracts, and douches that are supposedly intended to favor a specific sex.
Kit makers claim a 96 percent success rate, but some medical experts say the manufacturer’s claims have no scientific merit.
How it’s done
You track your cycle by using the thermometer and urinating on the ovulation predictor test sticks. Following the Shettles method, you have intercourse two to four days before ovulation if you want a girl and as close as possible to ovulation if you want a boy.
The douche is intended to change the vaginal environment to “influence the chances that either an X-carrying sperm or a Y-carrying sperm will be successful in fertilizing the egg.” Vitamins and herbal extracts are also included to supposedly boost your odds of getting a child that is the sex of your choice.
- Does not require invasive medical procedures.
- The success rate claimed by the makers is questionable.
$199 for a 30-day kit.
Sex-selection kits are available through GenSelect.
For more information
Learn more about sex-selection kits at GenSelect’s Web site.
The bottom line: What do the experts say?
High-tech sex-selection methods have stirred hot debate in the medical community. Some doctors think it’s a great way to balance families, while others think we’re heading down a dangerous path.
Mark Sauer, a fertility specialist and the program director at the Center for Women’s Reproductive Care at Columbia University in New York, thinks that sex selection for family balancing is unethical and has no place in fertility treatments.
“I can’t endorse the destruction of normal human embryos because they happened to be of the wrong sex,” he says.
Not all fertility doctors agree with Sauer. Although the American Society for Reproductive Medicine officially opposes preimplantation genetic testing for nonmedical reasons, it acknowledges that sex selection shouldn’t be condemned in all cases and doesn’t favor making it illegal.
Low-tech sex selection has not sparked the same controversy, probably because these methods are far from foolproof, and the assumption is that couples practicing them are investing less – both financially and emotionally – in their success. But do they work?
These techniques range from Shettles and Whelan to folk wisdom (such as making love standing up and eating more meat if you want a boy, and eating lots of chocolate and having sex in the missionary position if you want a girl). The American Society for Reproductive Medicine says there’s no evidence any of this can influence the sex of your baby.
“I tell my patients that if they want to try low-tech methods, give them a go,” says Brian Acacio, a fertility specialist and medical director of the Sher Institutes of Reproductive Medicine in Los Angeles. “They probably won’t hurt, and there’s a 50 percent chance they’ll work.”
If you want your baby to be a boy, should you eat more red meat? To get a girl, should you treat yourself to chocolate? Or make love under a full moon?
Everyone’s heard at least one of these stories, and we all know they’re just urban myths, but what if, by chance, one of these methods actually works? Couples who’d give anything for a daughter or a son may want to give one or two of them a shot (heck, it can’t hurt, right?).
We’ve collected some of our favorite folklore about how to make a boy or girl.
(A caveat: Those of you who are truly serious about sex selection should be sure to see our article on what the scientists say. Also, don’t forget to take our quiz on the myths and realities of baby-making to find out what can really help you conceive.)
Your child is what you eat
According to folk wisdom, what you put in your body before conceiving may affect what comes out nine months later.
If you want a boy…
- Eat more meat – the redder the better.
- Stick with salty snacks such as pretzels and chips.
- Dads-to-be: Stock up on soda, especially cola drinks.
If you want a girl…
- Both partners should eat lots of fish and veggies.
- Give in to your chocolate craving, or just eat sweets in general.
The joy of sex
Quite a few old wives’ tales about sex selection involve theories about the best way to make love if you want to influence your baby’s gender.
If you want a boy…
- Lie down after sex and stay there for a while. Supposedly that gives the boy sperm a chance to beat the girl sperm to the egg.
- Make love standing up.
- Try the rear-entry position.
- Focus on his pleasure – if the male partner climaxes first, supposedly you’re guaranteed a boy.
- Give in to seduction – if the man is the one to suggest some baby-making, you’ll get a boy.
- Gals, sleep to the left of your partner.
If you want a girl…
- Give the missionary position a go.
- Make love with the woman on top.
- Focus on her pleasure – if the woman orgasms before her partner, you can decorate your nursery in pink.
- Let her take the lead – if the woman initiates sex, you’ll get a girl.
It’s all in the timing or direction
In a society where many people still check their daily horoscope for guidance, is it any surprise that superstition and folklore also dictate whento make love if you want to pick your baby’s sex?
If you want a boy…
- Make love when there’s a quarter moon in the sky.
- Have sex at night.
- Mark your calendar – more boys are conceived on odd days of the month.
- Follow the compass – one BabyCenter parent swears that pointing the woman’s head north while making love guarantees a boy.
If you want a girl…
- Do the baby dance when the moon is full.
- Make a date for love in the afternoon.
- Get together on the even days of the month.
Keeping your cool
And we mean both literally and figuratively. According to some stories, being relaxed when you conceive means you’ll have a girl. If you’re a worrywart, a son’s in your future.
But the actual temperature may play a role too. Some say a man’s testicles should be cool before you have sex if you want a daughter; for a son, warm them up.
That idea plays into the common belief about boxers versus briefs – go for the tighty-whities if you want a boy, but hang loose if you’re aching for a girl.
Just plain way out there
Some sex selection folklore defies categorization. For instance, some say that if the hairline at the base of your last child’s neck is a ducktail, your next baby will be a girl. If it’s straight across, prepare for a boy. Another story says that the baby’s sex is determined by which partner is dominant in the relationship at the time of conception.
Alternative Therapies for Getting Pregnant:
Alternative Therapies for Getting Pregnant:
What is gestational surrogacy?
Gestational surrogacy is an arrangement in which a woman carries and delivers a baby for another person or couple. The woman who carries the baby is the gestational surrogate, or gestational carrier. The parents-to-be are known as the intended parents, and they are involved in the pregnancy, can be present at the birth, and become the child’s parents after the baby is born.
In gestational surrogacy, the baby isn’t genetically related to the gestational surrogate – the egg comes from the intended mother or an egg donor, and the sperm comes from the intended father or a sperm donor. Donor embryos may also be used.
Without a donor embryo, in vitro fertilization (IVF) is necessary because eggs from one woman are used to create embryos to be implanted in another woman’s uterus. In IVF, fertilization occurs after eggs and sperm are combined in a laboratory. One or more of the resulting embryos are then transferred to the gestational surrogate’s uterus.
Only 1 percent of all assisted reproductive technology procedures involve gestational surrogacy. It’s likely that cost is a major factor preventing more people from using a gestational surrogate.
Is using a gestational surrogate for me?
Using a gestational surrogate may be a good option if:
- You don’t have a uterus.
- You have problems with your uterus.
- You can’t carry a pregnancy safely.
- Other fertility treatments have failed.
- You’re a single man or gay male couple.
What are the challenges of gestational surrogacy?
Whether you set up the arrangement through an agency or negotiate it privately, using a gestational surrogate is a legally complex and emotionally intense process. If you decide to go this route, be prepared to commit a lot of time, money, and patience.
Currently, a handful of states allow gestational surrogacy contracts, but they aren’t always enforceable, depending on what’s legal. Some states require couples to be married, and some don’t allow gestational surrogates to be compensated. Also, there may be requirements about sexual orientation.
Most states don’t have specific laws covering gestational surrogacy, so it’s important to work with a licensed attorney in your state who has expertise in third-party reproduction. An attorney can advise you on your options and draft a legally binding contract.
We’ve decided to try gestational surrogacy. How do we get started?
Get ready for a complex process that can be stressful. Although you won’t carry the baby, you’ll be very involved in the pregnancy. You’ll probably pay the gestational surrogate’s expenses, including medical appointments, health insurance bills, travel costs, legal bills, and agency fees (if you’re using one). Here’s how to get started:
1. Find a gestational surrogate. Decide whether to ask a relative or friend to be the gestational surrogate, or use an agency that can match you with someone. Most experts recommend choosing someone who:
- Is between 21 and 45 years old
- Previously gave birth without any complications
- Has a supportive family
- Is in good physical and emotional health
2. See a fertility counselor. Most doctors require that you and the gestational surrogate speak with a mental health professional (individually and together) to help you consider the pros and cons of the arrangement, process your emotions, and discuss the potential impact of a relationship with each other.
3. Schedule a medical exam for the genetic parents. If you’re using your own eggs or sperm, you’ll have a checkup and genetic evaluation to make sure you’re healthy enough for IVF. (If you’re using donated sperm, eggs, or a donor embryo, they’ll be screened during the donation process.)
4. Schedule exams for the gestational surrogate. She’ll need to have a medical exam and drug screen, and her partner or spouse will undergo psychological and medical screening as well.
5. Sign a legal agreement.You and the gestational surrogate should each hire separate attorneys experienced in gestational surrogacy to avoid potential conflicts of interest. Create a legal agreement that protects everyone and includes such important details as compensation, parental rights, legal custody, delivery location, future contact between the parties, insurance coverage, and control over medical decisions made during the pregnancy.
In some states, as long as one parent is genetically related to the baby, the gestational surrogate signs away parental rights before the baby’s birth, and the intended parents’ names are listed on the birth certificate. In other states, the gestational surrogate signs over parental rights after the baby is born.
Visit Resolve, the national infertility association, to learn more about the legal aspects of gestational surrogacy in the United States.
How does gestational surrogacy work with fresh eggs?
Your doctor uses IVF to produce one or more embryos that will be transferred to the surrogate. Here’s how it works:
- Match menstrual cycles. If you’re using your own egg, you and the gestational surrogate take medication to synchronize your menstrual cycles. That way, the surrogate’s uterus will be ready to support an embryo by the time your eggs are retrieved and fertilized. (Similarly, an egg donor will need to sync her cycle with the surrogate.)
- Stimulate egg production. Once you (or the egg donor) are in sync with the surrogate, taking gonadotropins stimulates the ovaries to develop multiple eggs.
- Fertilize the eggs. When mature eggs are ready to be fertilized, the doctor retrieves them during a minor outpatient procedure. Unless you’re using donor sperm, the intended father may need to provide a sperm sample at this time. Then the eggs are fertilized in the laboratory.
- Transfer embryos. After fertilization, the embryos are transferred to the surrogate’s uterus.
The surrogate becomes pregnant when at least one embryo implants in her uterus. The chance of a successful pregnancy varies with the age of the woman who provided the egg.
How does gestational surrogacy work with frozen eggs?
Here’s how gestational surrogacy works when using frozen eggs:
- Take medication. The surrogate takes medication over several weeks to prepare her uterus for a possible pregnancy.
- Thaw and fertilize the eggs. Unless you’re using donor sperm, the intended father may need to provide a sperm sample, so the eggs can be fertilized in a laboratory.
- Transfer embryos. After fertilization, the embryos are transferred to the surrogate’s uterus.
The surrogate becomes pregnant when at least one embryo implants in her uterus. The chance of a successful pregnancy varies with the age of the woman who provided the egg.
How does gestational surrogacy work with frozen embryos?
Using frozen embryos is similar to the process for using frozen eggs. Menstrual cycles don’t need to be synced, and the surrogate only needs to take medication to prepare her uterus for a possible pregnancy before the embryos are thawed and transferred into her uterus.
How long does gestational surrogacy take?
Finding a healthy, willing gestational surrogate can take months or even years, whether you screen candidates through an agency, decide to ask a friend or relative, or search for someone online.
Once you’ve finalized the agreement and have begun treatment, it can take at least three or four IVF cycles to achieve a successful pregnancy. Each IVF cycle takes four to six weeks.
What’s the success rate for gestational surrogacy?
Using your own eggs, your chance of having a baby through gestational surrogacy is as good as or higher than that of a woman your age using traditional IVF.
Recent national data on gestational surrogate IVF cycles using the intended mother’s eggs show the following live birth rates per cycle (ages refer to the intended mothers’ age):
- 51 percent for women age 34 and younger
- 49 percent for women age 35 to 37
- 38 percent for women age 38 to 40
- 21 percent for women age 41 to 42
- 10 percent for women age 43 and older
With frozen embryos using the intended mother’s eggs, the birth rates per cycle were:
- 46 percent for women age 34 and younger
- 46 percent for women age 35 to 37
- 42 percent for women age 38 to 40
- 38 percent for women age 41 to 42
- 22 percent for women age 43 and older
The donor egg data in the national report wasn’t grouped by age, but it showed that the overall live birth rate was 64 percent when fresh donor eggs were used in gestational surrogacy. When frozen donor eggs were used, the birth rate was 42 percent. When frozen embryos created from donor eggs were used, the birth rate was 51 percent.
What are the pros of gestational surrogacy?
- If you and your partner are unable to conceive or carry a pregnancy to term, using a gestational surrogate can give you the chance to parent your own biological child.
- You can be intimately involved in the details of your gestational surrogate’s pregnancy.
What are the cons of gestational surrogacy?
- In addition to the possible side effects from fertility medication, your gestational surrogate goes through the discomfort and usual risks of pregnancy.
- Using a gestational surrogate is expensive and legally complex. It involves intricate contracts and arrangements. In several states, using a gestational surrogate is illegal, which usually means that people must contract with a gestational surrogate who delivers in a surrogacy-friendly state.
- You not only experience the usual suspense and anxiety of waiting for a pregnancy to safely reach full term, you may also have to deal with friends and relatives who don’t understand why you chose gestational surrogacy.
- You might worry about legal snags and the possibility that your gestational surrogate could back out and not carry your baby. If she goes ahead with it, you might worry that she’ll have a hard time letting the baby go.
How much does gestational surrogacy cost?
The cost for gestational surrogacy depends on factors including your health insurance, the gestational surrogate’s expenses, and the cost of IVF where you live. Relatives or friends who serve as a gestational surrogate usually aren’t paid.
Most people find a gestational surrogate through an agency, and the cost can be almost $150,000. Here’s an estimated breakdown:
- Agency fee: $22,000
- Gestational surrogate fee: $25,000 to $35,000, though compensation is typically higher for a multiple pregnancy
- Health insurance: $15,000 to $30,000 for supplemental or special coverage for the gestational surrogate
- Gestational surrogate’s nonmedical expenses: $10,000 to $15,000
- Legal fees: $14,000
- Counseling services: $7,000
- IVF: Up to $20,000 (Gestational surrogacy IVF is generally more expensive than traditional IVF, which averages around $12,400.)