My boyfriend, Scott and I had been together for three years before we had the talk. The “I think we should try to have a baby" talk. Growing up, I knew that I always wanted to be a mom and Scott always wanted to be a dad. We decided that we would try for six months and if it happened, it was meant to be, and if it didn’t happen, we were OK with that too. Fertility can be challenging for some, easy for others and everyone is different. It seems like some people can get pregnant just thinking about sex, and for others, it’s a life-long struggle. I didn’t really know how my journey into trying for a baby would go, but I can tell you that the universe did. Scott and I were very blessed. We had the conversation about trying for a baby and several weeks later, we found out we were pregnant with our daughter. I wanted to talk with my friends at The Christ Hospital Health Network about fertility because I read that December is the most fertile of all of the calendar months. What a great time to talk about fertility and trying to get pregnant! I chatted with Dena Costa, MD, from The Christ Hospital Physicians - Obstetrics & Gynecology
, to get the facts.
I read that December is the most fertile of all of the months. Is that true?Dr. Costa:
This is an interesting question, and one I quite honestly had to look up myself! The short answer is… sort of. The long answer is more complicated. This statistic is calculated by taking the most common month to be born and counting back to when those babies would have been conceived. However, since not all babies are born on their due date, calculating conception date based on when they were born isn’t an exact science. It also doesn’t mean people are any more fertile that month, just that more people get pregnant, which could be due to all kinds of reasons. The most common month to be born also depends on what year you look at and which area of the world you are studying. A December conception usually means a due date sometime in September, and it is true that September often wins out as having the most births per year.
Regardless, it seems like dropping temperatures and a little holiday spirit does translate to more pregnancies!
Is there anything a man and/or woman can do to become more fertile?Dr. Costa:
For women, the most important thing is to be as healthy as possible before trying to get pregnant. This not only optimizes the changes of getting pregnant, but also decreases the chance of complications during pregnancy. Specifically, maintaining a normal weight is crucial. Being overweight increases the chances of PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), which impacts your body’s ability to ovulate (make an egg) regularly. Being underweight can be a problem too, as women who are too thin are at risk for fertility problems as well. Other healthy lifestyle changes that have been shown to increase fertility are stopping smoking, limiting alcohol and caffeine use, and doing moderate exercise. Don’t forget to start taking a prenatal vitamin as well; while not associated with fertility, it’s important to be on a prenatal vitamin even before you get pregnant.
And men, you’re not off the hook here either! Obesity and smoking are associated with decreased fertility in men as well. It’s also important to avoid any drug use - both marijuana and performance-enhancing drugs (like testosterone or anabolic steroids) are associated with decreased sperm counts. There is some evidence that high temperatures in the scrotum can affect sperm quantity and quality too, so avoiding things like hot tubs or frequent use of a computer on your lap might help. Vitamins E and C (which are found in most multi-vitamins) can slightly increase sperm function.
Many commercial lubricants can affect sperm motility, so it is also important to avoid lubricants that aren’t water-based and specifically labeled as “fertility-friendly”. One good brand is Pre-Seed, which is easy to find at most pharmacies. Lastly, there are a lot of things people may tell you to do that don’t actually impact fertility! There is no evidence that position during intercourse, orgasm, or prolonged rest after sex increase the chances of pregnancy.
How long does it usually take to become pregnant after I stop using contraception?Dr. Costa:
Healthy, fertile couples have about a 20% chance each month of becoming pregnant. By six months, the chance is about 75%, and 90% by one year. Of those couples who do not conceive in the first year, ~50% will conceive in the second year. These chances are affected by many things, however; one of the biggest factors is age. The chances of pregnancy each month decrease after age 35, and by age 40 the chance is only 5% every month.
Is there such a thing as a “pregnancy window” after I start trying? How much time should pass before I should think I might be having trouble getting pregnant?Dr. Costa:
For most couples experts recommend a year of trying before starting an evaluation for infertility. This doesn’t just mean one year off birth control, but truly “trying”, meaning with frequent, well-timed intercourse. If you’re not sure how to tell when your most fertile window is, talk with your doctor about different ways to predict this.
Sooner evaluation is recommended for certain groups. In women over the age of 35, it is recommended to see your doctor after just 6 months of trying. Over age 40, some women may choose to be seen even sooner than that to check their fertility potential. If there are any signs of possible issues you should see your doctor sooner as well, such as irregular periods or history of severe endometriosis or pelvic infection.
Am I more fertile after I have a baby? Is it easier to get pregnant with baby #2?Dr. Costa:
This is a commonly-held belief. Everyone knows someone, or maybe it's yourself, who has gotten pregnant quicker after giving birth, often unexpectedly! But, there isn’t much actual data to back this up. For every story of it being easier the second time around, there is another person who is struggling with conception; they might just be less likely to talk about it. Every couple is unique, and there are a variety of reasons why in individual cases it may be easier or harder the second time around.
It may be easier for patients with endometriosis, as we know this can be a cause of infertility and it usually improves after a pregnancy. People may be less stressed the second time knowing they’ve had one successful pregnancy before, or are more adept at knowing how to track cycles and time intercourse. They also might be less likely to be reliable with using their birth control method due to all those sleepless nights!
However, other factors can make it more difficult. Women are older and often a few pounds heavier when trying for baby #2. New medical issues, medications, or surgeries could have impacted fertility since the first baby. Though unusual, complications from delivery itself can even cause difficulty with conceiving.
The bottom line is - it’s really hard to predict when you’re going to get pregnant with #2! So if you’re not ready for another little bundle of joy, make sure you talk with your doctor about appropriate methods of birth control in the post-partum period.
There you have it! The fertility facts. If you’re on the fertility journey, I am sending you all of the positive vibes in the world. Who knows? Maybe December will be a lucky month for you. Add in a little holiday cheer like Dr. Costa suggested, and see what happens. If you’re trying to get pregnant and have additional questions about fertility, schedule an appointment with one of The Christ Hospital's women's health experts near you! Or click to learn more about The Christ Hospital Birthing Centers.