Trying to conceive is one big waiting game—you never know if this will be month that pregnancy test turns positive. But thankfully there are a few ways to help boost your odds of getting pregnant. Sure, you can track your cycle and follow all the baby-making tricks in the book, but sometimes what you don’t do is just as important as what you do. Here, we break down 11 foods, activities and habits to avoid when trying to conceive.
You’re probably already planning on quitting smoking once you get pregnant (and you definitely should), but avoiding cigarettes now will be a huge benefit too. According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, it takes longer for smokers to conceive, and smoking makes a woman's eggs more prone to genetic abnormalities. Smoking increases the risk of miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy. In fact, the habit wreaks so much havoc on fertility that female smokers who have in vitro fertilization have to attempt it almost twice as many times as nonsmoking women do in order to conceive. Oh, and your partner should quit smoking too— research shows that men who smoke cigarettes have lower sperm count and motility (swimming speed), and more sperm abnormalities.
2. Too Much Caffeine
Relax: You don't have to cut out your morning cup of joe. But if you consume more than 200 milligrams of caffeine—that's about one to two 8-ounce cups—per day, you should ease up. Heavy caffeine consumption has been associated with fertility problems—in fact, one study found that women who consumed more than the equivalent of one cup of coffee per day were half as likely to become pregnant, per cycle, as women who drank less. Plus, you won't want to overdo it during pregnancy (caffeine interferes with your ability to absorb iron, can dehydrate you and, in high doses, can increase miscarriage and preterm birth risk), so it's worth cutting back now.
3. Excessive Drinking
Sorry to break the news, but you might want to skip your friends' bar crawl while you're trying to conceive, or at least stick to sparkling water while you're there. That's because drinking to excess (more than two drinks each day) is linked to irregular periods, lack of ovulation and abnormal estrogen and progesterone levels, which can make it harder to conceive. Plus, if you're charting your basal body temperature, it can make it challenging to get accurate temp readings.
The other reason why you might want to nix the alcohol? Drinking during pregnancy is widely frowned upon, since it puts baby at risk for fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, and it'll take about two weeks (or more) after you conceive to know you're actually pregnant. Consider asking your partner to limit his alcohol intake too, since there's evidence that even moderate drinking (five drinks a week) can reduce his sperm quality.
4. Extremes in Weight
Do you think you might be extremely overweight or underweight? Calculate your body mass index (BMI) using this tool now. Having a low BMI (18.5 or less) or a very high BMI (over 30) could cause you to have irregular or missed periods, and being extremely underweight could make you stop ovulating altogether. Obesity can increase the risk of pregnancy complications such as gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, birth defects and the need for a c-section. So it's important to be at a healthy weight when you're trying to conceive.
If you fall into either of these categories, talk to your doctor about how to get to a healthy weight. You'll want to eat right, getting plenty of nutrients, exercise and drink plenty of water. Often, even a small weight gain or loss is enough to get your body ready to make a baby, as long as it's done healthily.
5. Skipping the Veggies
The jury's out on whether certain foods actually make you more fertile, but there's one thing the experts agree on: If your body's in a healthy state, you're more likely to conceive, so eating right is essential. The other important reason to say no to the fries and yes to the spinach salad is folic acid. This B vitamin is found in leafy greens and is important to have present in your body before and after conception to prevent birth defects. Doctors recommend you also take a vitamin with at least 400 micrograms of folic acid while you're trying to conceive.
6. Neglecting Your Teeth
If you've been lax about dental hygiene, now's the time to get back on track with your dentist appointments and make sure you're flossing. You and your partner should both get your pearly whites super-healthy before you get pregnant. Poor oral hygiene can affect a man's sperm count, and if you have gum disease, it could increase your risk of having a premature delivery and low-birth-weight baby. Yikes!
7. Being a Couch Potato
Keep making excuses not to exercise? Stop! One study found that doing regular, moderate physical activity—like brisk walking, leisurely cycling, golfing and gardening—cut down the amount of time it took women to get pregnant.
8. Extreme Exercise
You want to stay fit, but you don't want to overdo it. In the same study we mentioned above, vigorous exercise increased the amount of time it took women to get pregnant. We're not saying to skip your morning run if that's what you've always done, but working out to the point of interfering with your menstrual cycle, as some marathon runners and gymnasts experience, can mess with your fertility.
You may want to take a hard look at what your water bottle is made of. BPA, aka bisphenol A, is a chemical found in some plastic items, such as water bottles, food containers and even in the lining of aluminum cans. Some studies have led scientists to believe that high BPA exposure could mess with men's and women's fertility, potentially lowering sperm count or reducing the number of viable eggs. Limit your BPA exposure by avoiding canned foods and avoiding consuming anything from a plastic container with the recycling number 3 or 7 on it (usually on the bottom of the container).
10. Stressing Out
We've all got a little bit of stress in our lives, and experts disagree on whether stress can cause infertility. But there's evidence that chronic or intense stress can do a number on your reproductive system— one study found that women with higher levels of the stress biomarker had a two-fold increased risk of infertility. And of course, having trouble getting pregnant can cause quite a bit of stress! So if you feel that your stress levels might be affecting your health and your ability to conceive, talk to your doctor about ways to cope. Several studies have found that alternative medicines, such as yoga and acupuncture, have actually shortened the time it took for infertility patients to get pregnant.
11. High-Mercury Fish
Some fish are higher in mercury than others—most notably marlin, orange roughy, tilefish, swordfish, shark, king mackerel and bigeye tuna. High levels of mercury in the blood have been linked to fertility issues in both men and women. Plus, mercury can stay in your system for a year or more, and can harm a fetus's developing brain and nervous system, so avoiding it will increase your chances of a healthy pregnancy. Love seafood? There's plenty that's considered low-mercury, including anchovies, catfish, clams, cod, crab, crawfish, flounder, haddock, herring, oysters, salmon, sardines, scallops, shrimp, sole, squid, tilapia, trout, whitefish and more. You can have two to three four-ounce servings of low-mercury seafood per week while pregnant.
Updated November 2017