By Tracy Ring
Trying for a baby can be one of the most fun yet challenging seasons of life. As a writer, once I began my journey into starting a family, I was excited to use my background as a researcher to understand best practices. However, I soon realized the sheer amount of conflicting advice out there. It can be overwhelming in our digital age, with a plethora of fertility-related apps and TTC content at our fingertips. Not to mention, I understand how much content is written for other purposes (promotional, affiliate links, etc.)—what’s really giving me the best advice?
Moreover, there are so many pregnancy rules and guidelines; do those also apply when you’re trying? What about those ambiguous 2 – 3 weeks during your cycle when you’re unsure if you’re pregnant?
When it comes to lifestyle and health choices when TTC, I soon realized you have to dive a little deeper. So I’m breaking down five common myths to clear up the confusion.
1. Nutrition Myth: “There are certain foods that will increase my fertility.” or conversely, “I’ll just take a prenatal vitamin, and I’ll be fine.”
The first thing your doctor will tell you when TTC is to start taking a prenatal vitamin. Which, of course, is important, but all of your nutritional choices also impact your health, not just a once-a-day vitamin. But then a quick Google search will bombard you with the foods you “need to eat” to conceive.
So which side of the spectrum is correct? A recent Harvard Health article explains that the answer lies in the middle. When naturally conceiving, the best diet to help your fertility is an overall healthy one (for example, the Mediterranean diet) combined with a prenatal vitamin. In contrast, traditional unhealthy choices (trans fats, saturated fats, red and processed meats, sweets, and sweetened beverages) can negatively impact fertility.
The article confirms the same is also true for males—semen quality can increase with a generally healthy diet and decrease with an unhealthy one.
Reality: You should focus on eating healthy foods when TTC with a prenatal vitamin, but there aren’t miracle diets that can definitively boost fertility.
2. Working Out Myth: “Exercising more or being more active will improve my fertility.”
Many of us can relate to being on-again, off-again “exerciser.” However, when TTC, with digital advice fueling you, you might feel like you need to get on a structured regiment and work out more than usual to increase your chances. A recent VeryWell Family article does a great job explaining the conflicting nature of the studies on exercising and fertility.
If you’re of a healthy weight, the best exercise is moderate and consistent. Strenuous or excessive working out can lead to conception issues or impair ovulation. This, of course, varies for women who are overweight or obese, and in that case, it’s best to speak to your healthcare provider to discuss the best options.
Like so many other TTC myths, it’s all about moderation. For example, In The Benefits of Yoga and Its Types, HealthMarkets explains that yoga can be especially beneficial for physical strength, flexibility, and stress reduction (an essential factor when TTC), plus there’s a yoga type for every fitness level. However, they don’t recommend rigorous classes, explaining “[Bikram] is not for everyone. Some people should avoid hot yoga sessions, including pregnant women.”
Reality: If you’re already active, continue with your normal workout regimen but minimize very rigorous options. If you’re just beginning a workout program, start slow. Don’t go overboard by significantly upping your exercise time or doing strenuous workouts (think cross-fit, HIIT, or excessive running). No matter your goals or current activity level, be sure to discuss your physical activity with your healthcare provider.
3. Coffee Myth: “I need to switch to decaf.”
Coffee while TTC is another contentious topic. A review from BMJ breaks down the contradictory research and mixed messaging. Essentially, all signs point to being able to have a cup of coffee when you’re trying. However, much more than that can lead to issues, but it’s not 100 percent clear why. For instance, women who drink significant amounts of coffee (several cups a day) typically have other harmful habits like smoking, so there’s no clear-cut way to tell which causes issues.
Reality: To be safe, aim for a cup of coffee or caffeinated beverage per day. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists confirm that 200mg of caffeine per day is the sweet spot for pregnant women (also applies to those TTC). Check out this chart to understand how much caffeine is in your fave drinks. Additionally, you could look for lower-caffeine options, even coffee-lover favorite, Nespresso offers half-caffeinated pods.
4. Drinking Myth: “I can stop drinking once I’m pregnant.”
When it comes to drinking alcohol, the research can, unfortunately, also be a bit ambiguous. (Refer to this article that condenses several studies). While an occasional drink is likely okay, heavy drinking could harm your fertility. Moreover, there’s no definitive research on this because doctors can’t ethically ask women to drink during pregnancy then see how it impacts their child (to compare to those who don’t).
Reality: The consensus seems to be if you have a few drinks before you know you’re pregnant, it shouldn’t have serious impacts, but if you’re knowingly trying, you shouldn’t be drinking. It’s best to hold off on imbibing during your fertile period and taking a pregnancy test. The good news is, if you have a regular cycle that you accurately track, you could enjoy a glass of wine or another favorite in between your period and fertile cycle. (Of course, always confirm with your health care provider).
5. Guy Myth: “My partner’s lifestyle choices do not affect our chances of TTC.”
Women likely understand the importance of their own health when trying for a baby. However, they might be surprised that their male partner’s health plays an equally essential role in conceiving. For instance, when diving into research, I found certain studies show that my cycling-loving partner might need to lay off the bike during my fertile period. (Who knew!?)
Here are just a few research-based ways that men’s lifestyle choices can affect their fertility:
- Obesity is linked to lower sperm count and quality.
- Strenuous physical labor is known to reduce sperm count.
- Body-building supplements with androgens can affect sperm formation.
- Substance use (tobacco products, heaving drinking, and illegal drugs) reduces fertility.
- High blood pressure changes the shape and motility of sperm.
While your male partner may need to adjust some lifestyle choices, he’ll likely be excited to know that underwear choice does not affect his fertility—the myth that boxers are better than briefs was debunked by a Boston University study.
Reality: Just like with you, it’s important for your male partner also to follow healthy lifestyle routines when TTC.
Understand the Best TTC Lifestyle For You
As you and your partner think about growing your family, turn your attention towards your lifestyle and health. Do the research but don’t get overwhelmed. It’s so easy to fall down a rabbit hole and become anxious (research shows that stress does impact fertility). All the myths, realities, and science behind them show that it’s important to lead an overall healthy life.
Most of all, remember to have fun! TTC gives your carte blanche to prioritize your wellness and enjoy a close and wonderful time with your partner.
Tracy Ring is a long-time remote worker, freelance writer, and content marketer. She loves to write about the intersection of mental health and workplace trends. Tracy brings a real-life perspective to her writing from 10+ years of diverse experience. Connect with her on LinkedIn or Twitter.