Preparing your bodies is a great place for you to both start when TTC*. To help get your body ready for conception and a healthy pregnancy, ideally you want to start thinking about preparing your body three to six months before TTC.
Women are born with all the eggs that they will ever have and there is nothing you can do to change this, but by looking after your body you can give yourself the best chance of conception.
For men, it’s important to understand that sperm production takes approximately three months. Therefore, positive lifestyle changes need to be made several months before TTC. Unfortunately, making changes to your lifestyle on Saturday will not ensure super sperm by the following Monday.
*TTC - Trying to conceive
Diet and fitness
For her: Maintaining a healthy weight, especially when you are TTC and during pregnancy, is a good place to start when preparing your body. Being underweight or overweight can affect your chances of getting pregnant or mean it can take longer for you to get pregnant. Measuring your waist circumference is also a good way to check you are not carrying too much fat around your stomach, even if you have a healthy BMI.
For him: Being overweight or having a poor diet can have an impact on male fertility too.
Action for you both: You don’t need to go on a special diet, but it is important to eat a balanced diet and increase your intake of fruit and vegetables. Aim to eat at least 5 portions a day, which will increase the intake of the nutrients that your body needs. Cut down on sugar, refined carbohydrates and saturated fats too. Exercise can be a fun activity to do together and is a great way to reduce body fat and increase your sex drive!
Keeping fit also helps women to handle the strain that pregnancy puts on their body. If you are a vegan, we would recommend talking to your doctor when TTC to ensure you are getting enough nutrients.
You can calculate your BMI and waist circumference here.
Vitamins and food supplements
Folic acid is a B vitamin that the NHS recommend is taken by all women trying to conceive and through their first 12 weeks of pregnancy alongside a balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle. Women are advised to take 400ɥg (microgram) daily before pregnancy and throughout the first 12 weeks, even if they are already eating foods fortified with folic acid or rich in folate.
The Department of Health and Social Care also advises you to consider taking a 10ɥg (microgram) vitamin D supplement.
Why should women take folic acid?
Supplementing your diet with folic acid increases something known as maternal (mother’s) folate status. Your maternal folate status is the amount of folate in the woman. Folate is a B vitamin. Folic acid is a synthetic manufactured folate.
Your growing baby needs to use folate to make healthy new cells and DNA. If you have a low maternal folate status this is a risk factor for your baby in developing something called a neural tube defect. Neural tube defects are birth defects that affect the development of your baby’s brain or spinal cord.
The beneficial effect of folic acid is obtained when a dietary supplement of folic acid 400μg (micrograms) is taken daily for at least one month before and up to three months after conception. Food supplements are not intended to replace a balanced diet, although it is difficult to get this increased amount from diet alone.
Some women have an increased risk of their pregnancy being affected by a neural tube defect. You are considered to be at greater risk if:
- you or your partner have a neural tube defect
- you have previously had a pregnancy with a neural tube defect
- there is a family history of neural tube defects
- you have a high body mass index (BMI over 30)
- you are taking medication for epilepsy
- you have diabetes
If you have any of these risk factors, it is important that you consult your doctor.
Action: As soon as you are considering TTC, start taking your daily 400ɥg (microgram) folic acid supplement, this can be either as a single supplement or as part of a fertility multivitamin. If you did not take folic acid supplements before getting pregnant, you should start taking them as soon as you find out you're pregnant. If you have any of the risk factors, please consult your doctor.
Consider taking a supplement that also contains 10ug (micrograms) of vitamin D.
Warning: Did you know that pregnant women should avoid supplements, multivitamins and even cosmetics containing vitamin A (also known as retinol) because too much vitamin A can harm your baby’s development. Please make sure you always check the label.
For him: Unfortunately, the recommendation for the men is not as clear cut as for the women. There are a range of vitamins and supplements on the market designed for men who are TTC, many containing ingredients such as selenium which contributes to the protection of cells from oxidative stress, or zinc which contributes to the maintenance of normal testosterone levels in the blood and contributes to normal fertility and reproduction.
Food supplements are typically taken on a daily basis. Always read the label to ensure you are taking the correct quantity. If you have any concerns or questions, please consult your doctor or pharmacist.
Action: If you do decide to take a vitamin or supplement, look for products that are designed for men who are TTC. Ideally, you should start taking these at least 3 months before TTC because, although new sperm are produced every day, it takes approximately 3 months for the new sperm to fully develop and mature.
For her: Drinking a lot of caffeine when TTC and during pregnancy has been linked to fertility problems and miscarriage. Caffeine can be found in lots of things such as tea, coffee, cola and chocolate.
Action: The NHS recommendation for pregnant women is to limit caffeine to 200mg (milligram) a day, which is roughly the equivalent of two mugs of instant coffee. It is widely accepted that this is also good advice to follow when trying to conceive.
For her: We hate to be the bearer of bad news but, the Chief Medical Officers for the UK recommend that if you are planning to become pregnant or are pregnant, the safest approach is to not drink at all. This is because alcohol can harm developing babies and there is currently no proven safe amount of alcohol a woman can drink during pregnancy. If you do enjoy a drink, we fully understand that this can be difficult, especially if it is taking longer to get pregnant than you thought.
For him: Drinking alcohol within the recommended limits by not exceeding 14 units a week and spreading drinking over at least 3 days, is unlikely to affect your semen quality. However, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can affect semen quality. Drinking alcohol can also affect your sex drive and even cause erectile problems. If you are going to have a drink, it is also important that you avoid saving up your units for a weekend binge and try to have some alcohol-free days each week.
Action for you both: We all know that reducing alcohol intake can only have a positive impact on your health, so why not take the opportunity to support each other and make a pledge to cut back. If either of you are struggling with the necessary changes to drinking, we would recommend that you have a chat with your doctor. For more information, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists have developed a very helpful patient information leaflet.
For her: Direct or passive smoking is likely to reduce your fertility and can also mean it might take you longer to get pregnant than a non-smoker. Smoking has a negative impact on your fallopian tubes and increases the risk of ectopic pregnancy, which is when a fertilised egg implants itself outside of the womb, usually in one of the fallopian tubes. To learn more about why smoking can affect your fertility watch our video with Kate Davies, Fertility Nurse Consultant.
For him: Apart from affecting erectile function, smoking can also reduce semen quality. The effects of smoking on sperm production are more complicated than you might think. To learn more about the impact of smoking on your swimmers, watch our video with Professor Allan Pacey.
Action for you both: It is important for both of you to stop smoking when TTC. Stopping will also improve your general health. You can talk to your pharmacist or doctor about smoking cessation programmes and the products available to help you quit. The NHS Smoking National Helpline can also provide advice and support. Contact them on: 0300 123 10 44 or visit the website: www.smokefree.nhs.uk
Did you know that some medicines bought over the counter or prescribed by your doctor, as well as recreational drugs, can affect both female and male fertility?
Prescribed and over-the-counter medication:
Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines are drugs that you can buy without a prescription from your doctor. These are available from pharmacies and some are available from other places such as supermarkets and petrol stations. Always check with a pharmacist or doctor before taking any medication bought over the counter when trying for a baby and when pregnant. It is important to let your doctor know before taking any prescribed medication if you are trying for a baby or could be pregnant.
Cannabis: The sperm of cannabis users tend to have poorer size and shape, which means they’re less able to navigate through the woman’s body to reach and fertilise the egg.
Anabolic steroids: Anabolic steroids are prescription-only medicines that are sometimes misused to build body mass and improve physical performance. These steroids have been found to disrupt the hormones that control sperm production, so any man who is taking anabolic steroids runs the risk of infertility. It is reversible, but it can take up to a year to recover and sometimes even longer.
Action for you both: If you are taking any type of medicine please seek advice from your doctor or pharmacist before TTC and during pregnancy. Always avoid any recreational drugs, including cannabis and anabolic steroids, that are known to affect fertility.
Protein shakesFor him: This one might surprise you! Our fertility expert, Professor Allan Pacey, of the University of Sheffield has claimed that poor sperm quality has been associated with men who regularly consume protein shakes. The reason for this is currently unknown but it is thought that this could be because some protein shakes are contaminated with anabolic steroid type substances which can disrupt the hormones that control sperm production.
Action: Go to the gym, sweat and work hard to build your muscle mass naturally and avoid taking protein shakes. Consider making homemade protein shakes with milk, a banana and whatever else you enjoy when you get home.
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
For both: Are you secretly worried about STIs? We understand that this can be an embarrassing topic of conversation, even if you have been with your partner a long time. These infections affect both men and women and some don’t necessarily cause you symptoms but can affect your fertility. Chlamydia, one of the most common STIs in the UK, can be a cause of fertility problems for both men and women. STIs can also cause health problems for women during pregnancy and for the baby. They can even be passed on to the baby during labour.
Action for you both: Most STIs can easily be treated but some treatments are not suitable when you are pregnant. If you have any concerns that you might have an STI, it is very important for both of you to get tested. You can find information on where your local sexual health clinic by contacting the Sexual Health Line on 0300 123 7123 or through the Family Planning Association.
Your jobFor both: It is thought that some occupations are not as fertility friendly as others, especially if they involve you being exposed to chemicals, radiation or pesticides. It is also thought that occupations that can affect the temperature of the man’s scrotum, such as driving or working in a kitchen or a bakery, can affect sperm production.
Action for you both: If you are concerned that your occupation could affect your fertility, discuss this with your doctor and your manager at work to see if any adjustments to your role could be made while you're TTC.
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Last updated 29/01/2021 Next review due 29/01/2024