For those hoping to grow their family, there’s nothing more exciting than falling pregnant and sharing the news with your loved ones. As an obstetrician and gynaecologist at the Mater Hospital, one of Sydney’s leading private hospitals – I often get asked ‘How do I get pregnant naturally?’, ‘How do I improve my odds?’ or, the more feared question, ‘Why am I not falling pregnant?’
Firstly, every woman’s pregnancy is unique – it’s perfectly normal if it takes longer than you expected. However, when you start thinking of the process of conceiving as a chore or job, that’s when things can unravel. The build-up of anxiety can negatively affect your fertility cycle, not to mention your romantic relationship!
The best thing that you and your partner can do is to relax, take a breath and prepare for the healthiest pregnancy possible. Below are some tips for future mums and parents-to-be.
Be healthy and stay healthy
Being physically healthy is one of the best ways to increase you and your partner’s fertility. This includes making healthier food choices, monitoring your weight, exercising, and dropping unhealthy habits like smoking and drinking.
A balanced diet is critical in ensuring you’re receiving the right nutrition into pregnancy. Consider taking prenatal vitamins, like folic acid which helps with preventing birth defects, specifically in a baby’s spine and brain, and iodine which is important for your baby’s brain development.
Women who are overweight or underweight can have a higher risk of problems in fertility and pregnancy. Moderate exercise improves fertility, especially for those who are overweight.
The importance of a pre-pregnancy check-up
Be sure to visit your local GP or an obstetrician for a general medical check-up.
Your GP or obstetrician will review all medical conditions, update your vaccinations (rubella and chickenpox are of most importance at this point in time), do a general physical examination, screen for risks of chromosomal or genetic conditions and review the outcomes of any previous pregnancies to determine whether they could reduce the chance of recurrence.
Having good oversight and control of any medical conditions before you fall pregnant can improve pregnancy outcomes, and it is important to review all current medications for their appropriateness and safety for pregnancy.
It is at this stage that women should consider preconception carrier screening – one of the best ways to track your family history and identify any genetic problems which your obstetrician can help you and your baby overcome. If there is a significant risk of a chromosomal or genetic condition based on a family history or ethnic background, such as cystic fibrosis and thalassaemia, it is important to identify it early and before you fall pregnant.
Importantly, don’t be afraid of your results – this is about ensuring a healthy future for your family.
Monitor your menstrual cycle and ovulation
A woman’s egg is only fertile for up to 12-24 hours after its release and sperm can live up to five days in the female reproductive tract. It can be helpful to monitor your period to predict when you’ll next be ovulating. The best time for you to be having sex to optimise the chances of conceiving is to have sex before you ovulate, not after.
There are several ways to track this information, such as downloading an app to estimate your ‘fertility window’, ovulation predictor tests, basal body temperature charting and tracking your cervical mucus. As mentioned earlier, avoid getting hung up on timing and making this into a chore. Conceiving is made harder by stress and anxiety.
Have sex 3-4 times a week between periods
I?m often asked how often you should be having sex, but the reality is that there is no scientifically proven formula to baby-making. Aside from the optimal ‘fertility window’, do what best suits the lifestyle you and your partner lead. Having sex every other day raises your chance of getting pregnant.
Ask the professionals
The golden rule is that if you’re unsure, seek professional advice.
For first-time parents wondering what?s normal and not normal in the process of falling pregnant naturally, or couples struggling to conceive, prenatal counselling is a great idea to ask all your questions, address all your fears and receive a customised plan that works for you.
Statistically, 60% of couples end up falling pregnant after six months. For the other 40%, this doesn’t mean your journey is over. Infertility is, in its most basic form, a failure to achieve a clinical pregnancy after 12 months or more of regular unprotected sexual intercourse.
If you want to take it easy by not having regular sex, that is fine, but pregnancy may take longer and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Maintaining a healthy pregnancy
Once you have fallen pregnant (big congratulations!), it isn’t time to relax, it is equally important to maintain your and your baby’s health by continually making the best choices when it comes to diet, exercise and consulting with specialists.
If you have any more questions or are looking to book a pre-natal counselling session, the obstetricians here at the Mater are here to support you throughout all stages of your pregnancy journey. Good luck and stay positive.
Dr Karen Sheng is a certified obstetrician and gynaecologist at the Mater Private Hospital, one of Sydney’s leading hospitals. She has experience in both high- and low-risk pregnancies. https://www.svph.org.au/services/maternity/mater