Congratulations! If you are here you have likely made the decision that you are ready to start trying, or at least thinking about starting to try, to have a baby. Trying to conceive is an exciting time but can often be filled with some frustrations and confusion. How exactly do you track ovulation? When can you take the pregnancy test? What does your body need to promote fertility and grow a healthy baby? We had the same questions when we were going through it! We have compiled nine tips which will hopefully remove some of the confusion and help you be better prepared to conceive and set you on the path for a healthy and happy pregnancy.
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Before you start trying to conceive:
1. Get on a good prenatal pill before trying to conceive
Folic acid is very important when the baby is developing, and studies show it is most needed during the weeks that you might not even know you are pregnant. Additionally, a lot of diseases (including autism) can be linked to nutrient deficiencies in-utero, so by starting on a prenatal before you even start trying to conceive will allow you to ensure your nutrient levels are good to go for when you do become pregnant.
2. Fish oil is important too
Recent studies have shown that DHA (which is now in most prenatal pills) is massively important for baby’s development both while in-utero, and as a baby/toddler. DHA is the building block of the brain and if the pregnant mother does not have enough in their diet, their body will literally break down their brain to produce DHA to give to the baby. Anyone ever heard of prego-brain? It’s actually true and this is why.
An awesome reason to nurse is that breastmilk is chock full of DHA, so stay on a fish oil supplement during breastfeeding as well. The quality of DHA matters so don’t just rely on the prenatal DHA pill (which you should also take), but also get a high-quality fish oil supplement. The ratio of omega 3 and 6 matters because you want high omega-3 and low omega-6 (which is inflammatory). Nordic Naturals is a great brand that has high quality fish oil and an excellent ratio of omega 3 and 6.
3. Start eating yogurt or get on a probiotic if you want to avoid morning sickness
During my first pregnancy, I was so SICK. I literally wanted to never get off the floor. It was the only place I felt “okay”. I wore sea sick bands, which did help, 24/7 for the first 13 weeks. Luckily for me, my morning sickness ended after the first trimester. Interestingly enough, during my second pregnancy (which you can follow here), I still had morning sickness but it’s like 50% of what it was for my first. Now, I know every pregnancy is different, but I changed something in my diet, I now make yogurt and have it almost every day. I found that when I skipped it, I started to feel sick, so I decided to research it. Sure enough, there is a lot of research that shows a correlation between the number of probiotics you get and the amount of morning sickness you have.
If you want to go the yogurt route because it’s quite delicious. I highly recommend making your own yogurt or buying high quality yogurt that contains only lactobacillus acidophilus, lactobacillus bulgaricus and streptococcus thermophilus. Don’t like plain yogurt? I always flavor my yogurt with crushed nuts, frozen berries, and honey. It’s heavenly and so good for you. I make my own yogurt with a Yogurt Maker. I save roughly $3 dollars on each batch of yogurt I make myself (it’s literally just 8 cups of whole milk and a ½ cup of yogurt) so this Yogurt Maker quickly paid itself off.
If you think that you may have a hormonal imbalance, read about Alli’s experience in point 6, it may be to your benefit to skip that yogurt (at least until you conceive) and opt to take probiotics orally instead.
4. Check all of your medicine (and your partner’s)
Not only can medicine (anything natural, over the counter, and prescriptions) result in birth defects and/or miscarriages, medicine can also cause infertility and prevent you from conceiving. For example, Finasteride, a hair-loss prevention prescription commonly taken by men, can cause low sperm count (yes, we know that example from personal experience).
5. Be strategic about when you get off birth control
For some women, the first few months off birth control can result in increased fertility. However, for other women, stopping birth control means they must give their body a few months to figure its cycle out. When you are trying to conceive, most women start to track their ovulation. You can only do this when you’re off the pill because the pill regulates your cycle, and you’ll need to track your cycle when it isn’t being regulated by birth control. If you want to track, it might be better to get off birth control a few months before trying to get pregnant, so you can start tracking. But, you might also want to try to conceive during those months as well because they might be your most fertile.
6. Regulate Ovulation and Balancing Hormones through Diet
If you are coming off of birth control pills and find that your cycle is extremely irregular, or maybe you have no period at all, your hormones may be ‘out of whack’ so to speak. Maybe you are not coming off the pill, but have an irregular cycle or absent periods due to PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) or another hormone-related obstacle. Whatever the case may be, diet can go a long way in getting your cycle regular for more accurate ovulation tracking. Before going any further, if you do think that a more serious hormonal imbalance is in play like PCOS, or really if you are making any major changes to your diet to promote ovulation, definitely discuss this with your healthcare provider.
Alli’s Experience with PCOS:
My experience was specifically dealing with absent periods associated with PCOS. I went on birth control as a means of “balancing” hormones, when in fact I was just masking the problem for years. Patrick and I knew that we wanted children and because I knew that my body didn’t ovulate naturally I decided to get off the pill and start to learn as much as I could about helping my body heal. At this point in my life I had begun making a lot of lifestyle changes associated with clean eating, and better choices in general. I wanted to help my body gain fertility and begin ovulating through diet and exercise before attempting other interventions and possible fertility treatments.
Because I am not a registered dietician, nutritionist, or doctor, please use my story simply as inspiration and a starting point to learning more. You can see resources at the end of this article. The basic goal of a diet is to promote hormonal balance and ovulation. I had success by eliminating all processed foods, most sugars, and all refined carbohydrates and gluten. I also removed dairy because I have an inflammatory response which can trigger hormonal imbalance as well.
Remember, I wasn’t ovulating AT ALL, so as someone who wanted a baby, it was worth this intense dietary change. In the end, my husband and I grew to love many of these recipes and still eat almost exclusively “clean” but are more lax on our dairy intake these days. If you are having irregular periods it is very likely that your body’s hormones are imbalanced. Estrogen levels that are too high or too low can impact ovulation, as can increased levels of testosterone in women.
Ways to combat increased testosterone levels with diet is to be aware of insulin levels (avoid blood sugar spikes), because increased insulin production is associated with increased testosterone production in women with PCOS and other hormonal imbalances. The best way to do this in your diet is to get rid of sugars and refined carbohydrates like white bread, pasta, and baked goods. Replace these with whole wheat options. If your situation is more extreme, or as a way to experiment with how much your body can tolerate and still ovulate, it may be beneficial to remove all gluten-containing carbohydrates because of their association with blood sugar spikes, which leads to more testosterone being produced.
Instead opt for quinoa, and brown rice as your grains. Another thing to keep in mind is that eating a protein with your carbohydrate can help lower your body’s increased insulin production thus keeping testosterone production low in your body as well. Over time, once your period regulates, you can increase carbohydrates or try adding back in other carbohydrate options while tracking your ovulation to see what your body can tolerate. Dairy, specifically cow’s milk is also recommended to be avoided, especially if you have PCOS because it is known to increase testosterone production in the body.
As for estrogen levels, it is beneficial to be aware of estrogen containing foods and their effects on ovulation. I recommend eliminating any soy-based products from your diet because if you are prone to hormonal imbalances eating soy will cause estrogen spikes. This is also true for women in menopause, their symptoms are magnified with higher amounts of soy in their diet. Instead of soymilk or tofu, opt for almond milk.
I personally went from not ovulating to having a nearly “textbook” 28 day cycle in four months of a diligent diet and an active lifestyle. While I cannot speak about how quickly, or if it will definitely work for you, there is no doubt that diet had a huge impact on my body’s ability to regulate my hormones. I should say that once I was pregnant, I listened to my body’s cravings and re-introduced dairy because of the importance of calcium during pregnancy. I tolerated the dairy with zero issues or inflammation. I’ve heard other stories anecdotally about women’s food intolerances reversing during and even after pregnancy.
Above all, whether you have a hormonal imbalance or not, a diet that is free of processed foods, full of fruits and vegetables, and high in folic acid and Omega 3s is best for anyone trying to get pregnant. Providing your body with the right fuel signals to your reproductive system that it is prepared and ready to sustain a full term, healthy pregnancy. Additionally, being at your healthiest weight also promotes fertility.
When you’re trying to conceive
7. There is a secret to tracking your ovulation
If you aren’t trying to get pregnant, you have probably never tried to track ovulation. Luckily there are two awesome resources that make this easy: ovulation calculators online and ovulation tests. For the ovulation calculator you need to know these three items (off birth control): first day of last period, how long your period is, and how long your cycle is. When your period starts, write down the first day of your period and how long it lasts. Until you have a second period, you can’t tell the calculator how long your cycle is. Your cycle is the length of time between the first day of your period till the first day of your next period. So just guess until you have this data. Every month, keep track of this data. The calculator will give you a range of around 4 days that are considered your most fertile days and when your next period is expected. During one of those days, you will ovulate for 24-48 hours and can conceive.
The second resource are ovulation tests. You use these during that four-day window (I started taking the ovulation tests a day or two before the calculator said to be safe), and when it turns positive, it means you have an LH surge. The LH surge happens right before ovulation, so you should be trying to get pregnant that day and during at least the next 3-4 days. You can continue to test and when the LH surge isn’t positive anymore, try that day, and one more day after before taking a much-needed break. Don’t buy ovulation tests at a drug store, get them online in bulk, they are so much cheaper.
8. Do not have sex just during ovulation
I won’t go into the nitty gritty details here as this article does a really good job of it, but the long and short of it is that more regular sex increases a male’s fertility better than abstinence.
9. When can you test if you’re pregnant?
This depends on the type of test you get. I really loved the pregnancy tests that came in my ovulation kit because they were inexpensive and gave me a positive when the digital response (expensive) test told me I wasn’t pregnant (even though I actually was). To give you an idea of what to expect from a test, here is an example from my current pregnancy:
October 19th: 1st day of last period. I used my calculators: I like the Babycenter Ovulation Calculator and the Kotex Period Calculator (both do the same thing), November 15th was my next expected period.
October 28th – Nov 2nd: Most fertile days based on ovulation calculators and LH positive test (Oct 29th). Do not take an ovulation test with your first pee as the LH hormone builds up during the day.
Nov 5th – Nov 6th: I swear I had morning sickness since this is my second pregnancy and I swear I know that feeling anywhere. I thought it was too early to have morning sickness, but morning sickness can show up as early as 2-3 weeks. Week 1 is counted as the week of your last period. At this point, I would have been 2 weeks pregnant, so I was pretty sure I was pregnant but it was too early to test.
Nov 10th: Took my first test 5 days before expected period. The line was so faint that I had to hold the stick in just the right light to see the line, so I wasn’t convinced yet.
Nov 12th: Took an expensive (~$10) digital response test that is supposed to detect pregnancy four days before a missed period. It said not pregnant.
Nov 15th: No period in the morning or all day. I didn’t take a pregnancy test this day because you are supposed to test with your first pee of the day, when the hCG hormone will be most concentrated.
Nov 16th: Took a test and the line was still very light but I was pretty sure it was a line.
Nov 17th: The test on this day was not as dark as the control line but was definitely positive.
Nov 19th: At this point, I knew I was pregnant as I had no period and positive, but faint, pregnancy tests. The test I took on this day was very dark.
All of this is to say that early tests may or may not be accurate, but remember that hCG hormones will be most concentrated in the morning so try to take your test right when you wake up and that even the faintest line may indicate that you are pregnant! The most accurate test will be on the day of, or in the few days after your missed period.
Whether you are actively trying to conceive or looking into how to best strategize as you take the plunge into trying to get pregnant you now know where to start. If you are looking for specific advice or have any questions about our experiences with trying to conceive please comment below.
As you continue your journey towards motherhood, check out our expecting section for every resource imaginable to help you prepare.
You will find a wealth of information about ways I wish I’d prepared for baby in 17 Ways I Wish I’d Prepared for Baby. And of course, you can follow along with my weekly pregnancy updates to read about how I’m preparing, what I’m missing, and what pregnancy symptoms I’m experiencing each week.
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Hormonal Imbalance and PCOS