Thinking of starting a family? Whether you've just made that decision or have been trying for a while, you'll know it's not always quite as simple as doing the deed and waiting for the miracle of life to happen - so it's best to lay the foundations and give yourself the best chance of conceiving. We chatted to experts Dr Geeta Nargund and Dr Sally Norton to get their top fertility-boosting tips...
Review your diet
"Ultimately a diet that is nutritionally balanced can be very beneficial for both men and women looking to conceive," says Dr Geeta Nargund, who is medical director at Create Fertility. "Where possible, choose slow-release carbs (like whole grains, fruit and vegetables) over fast-release carbohydrates like white bread and rice, avoid trans fats and refined sugars, and top up your omega-3 levels with plenty of fish. If you're vegetarian, include mango, walnuts, flax seed and hemp seed in your diet," she says. "Opt for healthy-fat rather than low-fat products too, in order to get the beneficial hormones that are attached to fat."
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And your partner's, too
"Deficiency in selenium, an essential mineral, has been found to be a risk factor for infertility; it is particularly important in sperm development, so your partner may like to consider upping his selenium intake too," says Dr Sally Norton, an NHS consultant and surgeon. "Selenium-rich foods include Brazil nuts (just one per day is enough!), seafood, egg yolk, meat and mushrooms."
Assess your weight
"One of the many reasons that women - and occasionally men - come to see me for weight loss advice is because they want to start a family, but are struggling," continues Dr Norton. "Research shows that being overweight can contribute to period problems, hormonal imbalances, lack of ovulation, resistance to fertility treatment and therefore fertility problems - particularly in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). In women with PCOS who have infertility due to problems with ovulation, even a 10 per cent loss in weight can result in return to normal ovulation. As such, losing weight before trying to conceive will improve the likelihood of ovulation, improve fertility and reduce the risk of problems in pregnancy and improve the chance of having a healthy baby."
It's also worth noting that being underweight can also be a contributing factor to fertility problems - so check your BMI to make sure you are within the healthy range. "The single most important lifestyle factor for fertility is keeping your weight within the optimal BMI range of 20-24," adds Dr Nargund. "If you make only one change it should be ensuring that your weight is within this. Too much or too little body fat can make your periods irregular or stop them completely, which can affect your ovulation and ability to conceive. If men are overweight, it can negatively affect their sperm function too."
Look at your alcohol consumption
"The Department of Health advise women trying to get pregnant to avoid alcohol altogether - but if you are still drinking, stick to just one to two units (one unit is equivalent to a 175ml glass wine), up to twice a week," says Dr Norton. "A study conducted at Harvard University found that if undergoing IVF treatment, women who drank more than six units per week (which equates to less than 175ml wine per day) were 18 per cent less likely to conceive and men were 14 per cent less likely to conceive."
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Cut the habit
"The most damaging lifestyle factor that affects fertility, apart from being under or over weight, is smoking," says Dr Nargund. "Research shows that smoking can be linked to early menopause in women, and damaged sperm in men. The advice is, therefore, to stop smoking as soon as possible if you are looking to conceive. Seek help and stub out that cigarette!"
Up your calcium and vitamin D
"We get most of our vitamin D from the sun touching our skin, so between the months of April and September, 20 minutes of sun per day is ideal," says Dr Norton. "It may also be worth going for a vitamin D supplement to boost your levels, especially in winter - aim for 10 micrograms per day. You should also up your vitamin D-rich foods such as fortified breakfast cereals and dairy, or eggs and oily fish." You can pick up vitamin D supplements at any good pharmacy but always consult your docter first before beginning a course.
Try and de-stress
"This can be much easier to say than to do, however a healthy mind promotes a healthy body, so aim to de-stress and relax," adds Dr Nargund. "Take part in activities which promote positive thinking and could help to relieve any worries. Try increasing the amount of relaxing activities you incorporate in your day-to-day existence, from taking up yoga or meditation, through to walking rather than taking the tube if possible. Try to unwind and reduce your stress levels." If, however, you find that trying to relax is actually making things more stressful, aim to do something that will distract you from your worries like an art class, a sports session or turning your attention to something like a great book. These will help you to calm down, even if you don't realise it.
Consider expert advice
Dr Nargund also recommends using some spare time, or perhaps any time you have off work, to see a professional for advice on fertility. "'Fertility MOTs' are used by lots of fertility clinics to offer an overall review of your fertility health and give advice on how to improve it. These are short, painless appointments lasting around an hour, often with results delivered in the same day," she says. "For women and couples who need help to start a family immediately, the initial consultation and scan is more appropriate as a fertility specialist will devise a personalised treatment plan for you during this appointment. Semen analysis can be done and results can be discussed in the same visit."