Dr Michelle O'Driscoll: Advice on preparing to conceive

There are a number of ways women can support themselves in their conception journey, says Dr Michelle O'Driscoll
Dr Michelle O'Driscoll: Advice on preparing to conceive

Trying to conceive is a biological and emotional minefield. Picture: Stock

WE always imagine that once we decide the time is right to begin or expand our family, that it will happen very quickly and without any challenges.

Many women spend years trying not to get pregnant, before eventually coming to the decision to start trying to conceive. While most couples succeed in getting pregnant within the first year of trying, that time can nonetheless be fraught with anxiety and uncertainty.

And for one in six couples, there’s an even longer journey ahead. Three ways that women can support themselves in their conception journey are given below:

Look after your body

Women are born with all their eggs, and these are released throughout the course of her fertile life.

As we age, our fertility naturally declines, something that simply cannot be overcome, but what women can do is adopt key health and lifestyle choices to maximise the quality of remaining eggs.

Many of these steps are recommended for general good health as well as for improving fertility, so the benefits of adopting them are even more far-reaching than becoming pregnant.

Ditch the cigarettes. Smokers are known to reach menopause five years earlier than non- smokers, because the numbers of eggs are reduced as well as egg quality due to the toxins taken in by the body.

Alcohol intake should be limited, if not stopped entirely.

Weight is a very important factor in fertility. Being both over and underweight prevents ovulation from occurring, and therefore impedes women in their fertility journeys.

Similarly, moderate exercise is advised, without exercising excessively as this can have a negative impact on the balance of hormones in the body.

In terms of nutrition, look at increasing your amounts of green leafy vegetables, fish, nuts and wholegrains. These contain omega, vitamin D, proteins and anti-oxidants.

Keeping hydrated is also vital for your own energy and the rapid cell division that takes place in the early stages of pregnancy.

Supplements that you should be taking while trying to conceive are folic acid and Vitamin D. Otherwise, a general multivitamin with omegas DHA and EPA and micronutrients zinc, selenium and manganese are worth considering especially if you suspect that these things could be lacking from your diet. Ask your pharmacist for conception-specific products that combine the majority of these ingredients in one or two tablets or capsules daily.

Know your body

Conception obviously requires intercourse to take place at the correct time in a woman’s menstrual cycle — when the body has ovulated or released an egg.

The timeframe is tight, as an egg is viable for 24-48 hours after it has been released. It needs to be met by a sperm so that fertilization (fusing of egg and sperm) and implantation (embedding into the lining of the womb) can occur.

Cycles vary greatly in terms of length and each woman’s own cycle is unique. Knowing your own body’s unique patterns and becoming familiar with certain signs can help in pinpointing the optimum time for intercourse.

For a few months before trying to conceive, it can be helpful to document your cycle. This will inform you of how many days your cycle tends to be, and potentially where your fertile period occurs within that timeframe.

Temperature monitoring first thing when you wake up can be useful to spot the slight rise in temperature that occurs around the time of ovulation.

Discharge tends to change throughout a menstrual cycle, so being aware of it may help to indicate what stage in the cycle a woman is at.

The use of ovulation kits to measure levels of leutinisng hormone (LH) can spot the surge that occurs about one day before ovulation.

Manage your mind

Trying to conceive is a biological and emotional minefield. You suddenly become an expert on all things fertility, your senses are heightened to every possible symptom of pregnancy, and you experience the emotional rollercoaster of Googling absolutely everything related to it.

So many things in life can be timed and planned, but when trying to conceive the ultimate outcome is out of our control, which can be very difficult to cope with.

A menstrual period can be met with sadness, anger and disappointment. Here are some things to consider to support yourself mentally through this time.

Physical exercise gets the good endorphins pumping, and raises your mood at a time when you may be feeling disheartened.

Invest in yourselves as a couple, minus the trying-to-conceive part. Plan trips or events to look forward to, to break the monotony of that cyclical two-week wait.

Assign a specific time to worrying/thinking about trying to conceive. Outside of that time, don’t dwell on it too much if you can help it. Otherwise you can be sure that the worry will slowly consume your day.

Stay off the online platforms. They are full of horror stories and misleading information – rarely do the good news stories reach these sites.

Approach general stress management in whatever way suits you best, whether that’s meeting friends, meditation, journaling or something else.

Prepare yourself mentally for being patient with the process. Don’t lose hope if the first few cycles are unsuccessful. It may feel like there are pregnant women absolutely everywhere, but for the majority of couples it takes time.

Trying to conceive is a whole new chapter in life that requires you to look after yourself both physically and mentally.

Self-care is vital, until that positive pregnancy test and then beyond!

While most couples succeed in getting pregnant within the first year of trying, that time can nonetheless be fraught with anxiety and uncertainty.

Dr Michelle O’Driscoll is a pharmacist, researcher and founder of InTuition, a health and wellness education company. Her research lies in the area of mental health education, and through her company InTuition she delivers health promotion workshops to corporate and academic organisations nationally.

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