When couples come to see me for counseling, one of the major issues they deal with is the stress they face while trying to conceive a child. Most have focused on their careers as a priority and decided to wait to build families. When they realize they are trying to become parents late in the game, this becomes a stressful time because the odds of conceiving are lower.
The longer a woman waits to get pregnant, the less likely she is to conceive without undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF)1. Research suggests that her chances of having one child without IVF drop from 90 percent if she begins trying at age 32, to 50 percent if she begins trying at age 41. If two or more kids are desired, then she should get started no later than age 27.In today's world, having a child before the age of 30 is less common than it was 45 years ago. In 1970, the average age of first-time new moms was 21.42. As of 2014, it's reached a record high of 26.33. Demographers attribute the rise to birth control as well as the incursion of women into the workforce and post-secondary educational system4.
This doesn't mean that natural conception is not possible for couples who have postponed parenthood as they gave priority to their careers or relationships. There are still natural options they can explore that can help them enhance their fertility.
Avoid Unnecessary Stress
It has been proven5 that stress decreases the probability of conception-even throughout the most fertile days of a woman's monthly cycle. Therefore, eliminating stress as much as possible is one of the most important things that couples need to focus on when they are trying to get pregnant the natural way.
Research supports that couples should try alternative approaches to treating infertility-from acupuncture and supplements to yoga and meditation- these methods have shown to increase a woman's chances of conceiving: Primarily, according to a 2010 paper published in MCN, The American Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing6, by reducing oxidative stress. Cognitive-behavioral therapy has also proven itself as a powerful tool to lower inflammation and reduce cellular stress by helping to resolve emotional turmoil.7
No matter how long the couple has been trying to get pregnant, the strongest advice I give to couples is to take control over their anxiety with these tips:
- Develop a Plan
Strategizing a plan A, B or C takes out the anxiety of not knowing what to do next. Couples need to discuss the alternatives and think: adoption, surrogacy or IVF. This approach grounds couples in a step-by-step blueprint. The very act of having a game plan can enhance the communication between partners8 and foster a satisfying sense of connectedness that buffers them from stress even further.9
- Get Checked
There are many issues that can complicate the fertility process such as, low sperm count and slowness of the speed at which a man's reproductive cells swim. Women tend to go through hormonal changes or they may have issues with key endocrine glands like the thyroid10, even complications from conditions like endometriosis.
It is important to go to identify if there are any present conditions that can be addressed with a treatment plan. Getting the adequate medical attention will help get rid of worries that can become major stressors.
- Make Adjustments
There are many approaches men and women can take to increase fertility, such as changes in diet and lifestyle. Some important lifestyle changes are eliminating alcohol, quitting smoking and increasing physical activity, and eating healthier foods.
Proper supplementation is also helpful for couples trying to conceive. vitamins C, E, B12, folic acid, selenium, iron, magnesium, and zinc have been shown to increase women's fertility11. For men, vitamins C and E have also been found to help, as has carnitine, selenium, folate, carotenoids, and Coenzyme Q1012.
- Know Your Window
Research confirms that the five-day stretch before ovulation is crucial for getting pregnant13. The exact start date of the fertile window is different for every woman. But it usually begins 14 days after the start of the last menstrual cycle.
Even though some partners may find this prospect exciting, because they are encouraged to have as much sex as they can, busy professionals may consider this an obligation, which will put more stress in the relationship, thus taking the romance factor out.
Luckily, they can outsource some of this effort to technology. Many programs help women predict when their fertile window falls in a given month. But one app in particular, which I've consulted with, called Fruitful Way goes a step further. Not only does Fruitful Way alleviate the burden on women to know when the time is right to get romantic, it invites both partners to participate in the endeavor by giving them nudges as that fertility window nears. A friendly ping on a man's smartphone offers him suggestions for date scheduling date night while a similar update on the woman's tips her off that she may want to get her hair done over the next day or so.
Fruitful Way (www.fruitfulway.com) also offers customized supplement suggestions, fertility-boosting recipes and throws in some additional stress management tips that all couples can benefit from. With that much less to worry about, hopeful future parents can better relax into the process of getting pregnant- without one feeling hounded by the other - and for those still entrenched in demanding careers, they'll at least know when not to schedule a business trip!
Believe it will Happen
We can't ignore the reality that the longer a woman waits to get pregnant, the lower the odds of conceiving naturally, but plenty of parents who've waited until later in their lives to conceive have healthy, happy children.
Trying a cognitive-behavioral approach to couples therapy, creating a step-by-step plan, and alleviating the pressure of tracking fertile days with technology, reduces the anxiety for couples trying to get pregnant.
- Bennington, LK. Can complementary/alternative medicine be used to treat infertility? MCN Am J Matern Child Nurs. 2010 May-Jun;35(3):140-7, p. 145. doi: 10.1097/NMC.0b013e3181d76594.
- Hung-Yuan Chen, I-Chih Cheng, Yi-Ju Pan, et al. Cognitive-behavioral therapy for sleep disturbance decreases inflammatory cytokines and oxidative stress in hemodialysis patients. Kidney International (2011) 80, 415-422. doi:10.1038/ki.2011.151.
- Doss, B. D., Thum, Y. M., Sevier, M., Atkins, D. C., & Christensen, A. (2005). Improving relationships: Mechanisms of change in couple therapy. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 73, 624-633.
- Doss, B. D., Mitchell, A., Georgia, E. J., Biesen, J. N., & Rowe, L. S. (2015). Improvements in closeness, communication, and psychological distress mediate effects of couple therapy for veterans. Journal Of Consulting And Clinical Psychology, 83(2), 405-415. doi:10.1037/a0038541
- Schlegel, P.M. Biennial Review of Infertility. pp. 3-7. [http://ow.ly/Yj5L8]
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Chloe Carmichael, PhD
Chloe Carmichael, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist and runs a successful private practice, known as Dr. Chloe, in New York City that focuses primarily on relationship issues and stress management as well as career coaching. Carmichael is a member in good standing of the American Psychological Association and the National Register of Health Psychologists, an elite membership for psychologists with the highest standards of education and board scores. She is an expert in anxiety, and has taught stress management techniques at Fortune 500 companies as well as in her own private practice. Her holistic approach integrates a special blend of techniques that has been shown to help people overcome anxiety.
Dr. Carmichael attended Columbia University for a BA in Psychology, and graduated summa cum laude with Departmental Honors in Psychology. She completed her doctorate in Clinical Psychology at Long Island University.