There’s tons of guidance out there on the many dos and don’ts of pregnant women, from reducing caffeine intake to avoiding soft cheeses to dealing with kitty litter. But what should you do – or not do – if you are try to get pregnant?
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our website helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
Reproductive endocrinologist Stephen B. Mooney, MD, talks about the ways you can best prepare your body and mind when trying to conceive.
When to prepare for pregnancy
If you know you want to try to conceive, there is no better time to prepare your body and mind. In a perfect world, we’d all prioritize our physical and emotional health all the time – but in a busy, sometimes stressful world, it’s not uncommon to put our individual health on the back burner.
“If someone is really aware of preparing their body and mind for pregnancy, ideally, they should start as much as a year or six months before,” says Dr. Mooney, “but in reality, even three months or 90 days of preparation goes a long way.”
Where to start if you want to get pregnant
If “Having a baby” is at the top of your to-do list, there are a few things you can do to put yourself in the best possible position to conceive and carry. Dr. Mooney shares some of the steps to consider.
1. Catalog your family history
Your family’s health issues can become your health issues—or at least play a role in the way your doctor addresses your fertility questions.
Certain hereditary cancers, such as breast cancer, ovarian cancer, cervical cancer and uterine cancer, can affect fertility. “If you know you have a family history in your mother, sister, aunt or grandmother, this information is critical to share with your doctor,” says Dr. Mooney.
Other health issues can also impact your fertility care, so tell your doctor if you have a family history of hereditary conditions such as:
- Blood coagulation disorders.
“Having this information will help your doctor make more informed decisions about certain screenings, diagnostic tests, and other procedures to help prevent or reduce complications of getting pregnant,” advises Dr. Mooney on.
2. Get off your birth control
Note: You can, in theory, get pregnant within days of stopping your birth control, so don’t do it until you’re good and ready.
“There’s a common misconception that you need to be off birth control for a while before trying to get pregnant—so you can get your cycle back,” says Dr. Mooney. “But in reality, unless your birth control is masking an underlying ovulation disorder, many people can achieve pregnancy relatively quickly after using birth control.”
3. Start tracking your ovulation
You may not yet know much about your fertile window – the time of the month when you can get pregnant. Track ovulation, which can be done by several methods.
- Phone Apps: Some apps predict when you will ovulate based on data you provide about your menstrual cycle. “It’s more accurate than guessing, but not as accurate as other methods,” says Dr Mooney.
- Ovulation predictor strips: These over-the-counter strips test your urine to tell you if you’re ovulating. This is one of the most reliable ways to identify your fertile window.
- Basal body temperature mapping: By using a specialized thermometer every morning, you can monitor your body temperature to identify when you have ovulated. “This confirms that ovulation has occurred, but only after the fact,” notes Dr. Mooney up. “It’s not necessarily the best when you’re trying to get pregnant, but it can help you better understand your cycle.”
4. Start taking prenatal vitamins
The best time to get into the habit of taking a prenatal vitamin is before you are pregnant. One of their most important ingredients is folate, or folic acid, which helps your fetus’ spine close properly and prevents spina bifida.
The other vitamins and nutrients in prenatals help sustain and nourish you as well as, ultimately, the little life growing inside you. “When you’re pregnant, nutrients are transferred from you to the fetus, so it’s important to have a continuous supply of vital nutrients for fetal growth,” says Dr. Mooney.
5. Get a handle on your stress
Stress reduction is not directly correlated with improved pregnancy rates, but there is a lot of value in it can impact on your general well-being, which can affect your fertility.
“Reducing stress can help you think more clearly, make life decisions with confidence, weigh options rationally and improve your relationships at work, at home and beyond,” says Dr. Mooney.
High stress levels can also have a direct impact on your menstrual cycle, causing you to stop having a period or even get your period too often, which can affect your ability to conceive.
6. Exercise regularly
Get moving! Dr. Mooney recommends 30 minutes of exercise a day, at least five times a week.
“Exercise improves cardiovascular health, helps with weight management, and relieves stress,” he says—all positive things in general, but especially when you’re trying to conceive.
7. Achieve a healthy weight
Your weight can affect your ability to conceive, so talk to your doctor or dietitian to learn about proper calorie intake, exercise, and other healthy habits while you’re trying to conceive.
If you are underweight…
Some people who are underweight, especially those with eating disorders, such as anorexia or bulimia, may not ovulate or may have irregular periods.
“Even those who are underweight without eating disorders can have problems related to ovulation, cycle management, implantation of pregnancy and preterm delivery once they conceive,” says Dr. Mooney.
If you are overweight…
Obesity can also affect your menstrual cycle, including the quality of your eggs. And people who are overweight are at greater risk for:
- Chronic hypertension.
- Gestational diabetes.
“I encourage obese patients to try to maintain their weight first, and then we can get a plan in place to begin losing weight,” advises Dr. Mooney on. “Start slow, with just five pounds, then 10 or 12, and we go from there.”
8. Optimize your diet
If you want to improve your eating habits, now is the time to revamp them. Try embracing a diet that leans toward:
- Lower carbohydrate intake.
- Increased intake of protein and healthy fats.
- Lots of fruits and vegetables.
“We usually recommend a low-carbohydrate, Mediterranean-style diet, with lots of leafy greens,” says Dr Mooney. “Essentially, anything that’s brightly colored in the produce aisle is likely to have a lot of good nutrients in it.”
There are also a variety of foods that you should not eat when you are pregnant. If you’re currently consuming a lot of them, you might want to try cutting them out before you get pregnant, just to make things easier on yourself when the time comes. In particular, scale back on predatory fish, such as tuna, which can expose you to elevated levels of heavy metals, including mercury and cadmium.
9. Stop smoking
Smoking is a known risk factor for infertility.
“Our lung cells are separated from the blood vessels in the lungs by only one cell layer, so anything we ingest, such as cigarettes or marijuana, enters the bloodstream and passes through the body,” explains Dr. Mooney.
“All the compounds in cigarette smoke are eventually deposited throughout the body – including the ovaries. And so cigarette smoke can have a profound, detrimental impact on ovarian function, egg quality and egg number.”
It is better to never start smoking. But if you currently have a habit of lifting, try to quit smoking to boost your chances of a healthy pregnancy.
10. Cut back on caffeine
You don’t have to give up coffee when you’re trying to conceive. But if you typically have a few morning cups, you might want to cut back.
“Having 500 milligrams or more of caffeine a day—the equivalent of five or six cups of coffee—has been shown to impact fertility and miscarriage,” says Dr. Mooney.
Try to limit yourself to no more than two caffeinated drinks (including coffee, tea and soft drinks) a day when you are trying to conceive.
11. Talk to your doctor about your medication
A range of medications can affect your ability to conceive and can have an impact on your fetus once you conceive.
“If you’re trying to get pregnant, review your prescription medication list with your doctor and ask, ‘Do any of these have an impact on pregnancy?'” advises Dr. Mooney on.
Some common medications that can affect fetal development include:
- Methotrexate, used to treat arthritis.
- Isotretinoin, which is used to treat acne.
- Valproic acid, which is used to treat seizures.
- Warfarin and other blood-thinning medications.
- ACE inhibitors, which are used to lower blood pressure and treat other cardiac conditions.
- Some antibiotics, including doxycycline and tetracycline.
- Some antidepressants and anti-anxiety medicines, including alprazolam, diazepam, lithium and paroxetine.
Before you panic about stopping a medicine that is an integral part of your own well-being, there is good news: Dr. Mooney says that in many cases, your doctor can guide you to a safer exchange.
However, if no alternative is available, your doctor will work closely with you to discuss the risks of pregnancy while taking the medication and determine the best and safest course of action for you and your fetus.
When to start discussing infertility
It can be frustrating—and even devastating—to try to get pregnant and keep seeing only one line on repeated pregnancy tests. If you’ve been trying for six months to a year without success, it may be time to see a doctor.
Infertility is defined as one year of unprotected intercourse without achieving pregnancy. However, if you are 35 years of age or older, that time frame is shortened to six months.
“Start the dialogue with your partner and your healthcare provider sooner rather than later,” says Dr. Mooney, “So you can feel prepared and confident about getting the care you need.”