Who knew spending time in the dark can up your baby-making odds?

By Catherine DiBenedetto
August 31, 2015
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If you are trying to get pregnant (or thinking about it), you're probably familiar with the standard advice: Maintain a healthy weight. Go easy on the coffee and booze. And avoid stress (if only!). But there are a handful of other things that may help boost your baby-making odds, from changing your sushi order to mixing up your workouts. Read on for six tips to consider.

Cut back on long-distance runs

"Exercise is a good thing," says James Grifo, MD, PhD, the program director of the NYU Langone Fertility Center. But it's like anything else: If you cross the red line, you're going to burn out your engine. In his book, The Whole Life Fertility Plan ($26, amazon.com), he points to a large Danish study published in 2012 that found that normal-weight women who did vigorous workouts (such as running, swimming, or fast cycling) for at least five hours a week experienced a delay getting pregnant. The researchers also found that women who stuck to low-key exercise (think brisk walking or leisurely cycling) had slightly higher odds of conceiving. Dr. Grifo recommends seeking balance and moderation: "Vary your routine with cardio and light weights, yoga, and Pilates-type workouts," he suggests. "And here and there, give yourself a day off."

Skip the spicy tuna rolls

And avoid eating other large predatory fish, like swordfish, mackerel, and shark. Ocean-dwellers at the top of the food chain tend to have high levels of mercury contamination. "An accumulation of mercury in the bloodstream over time has been associated with infertility," says Shruti Malik, MD, an ob-gyn at Shady Grove Fertility Center in Fair Oaks, Va. "I tell women who are trying to conceive to avoid or limit consumption of those fish."

Make breakfast your biggest meal

A 2013 study published in Clinical Science found that eating a hearty a.m. meal may improve fertility for some women who have irregular periods. The Israeli researchers recruited 60 women with polycystic ovary syndrome, a hormone imbalance that affects up to 10 percent of women of childbearing age, and interferes with the development and release of eggs. The study subjects were divided into two groups: One group had a little more than half their daily calories (980) at breakfast, and the other consumed the same amount at dinner. After three months, the breakfast group had a much higher rate of ovulating women.

Go beyond missionary

There's a myth that doing the deed with your partner on top will result in optimal sperm placement. Nonsense, Dr. Malik says. "There's no evidence that position has any effect on fertility." So go ahead and try whatever positions feel right. What really matters is when you do it, and how often, Dr. Malik says. During your fertile window (the five days leading up to ovulation plus the day of ovulation), she recommends having sex every one to two days. (Sometimes daily intercourse can be stressful, she explains.) The last two to three days of that window offer your greatest odds of getting pregnant. Worried about predicting the dates? An ovulation predictor kit might be helpful, Dr. Malik says. (A month's supply of test sticks costs around $20.)

Switch your lube

Some popular brands (including KY Jelly) may actually impede your efforts, says Dr. Malik. "Certain components of water-based lubricants can make it more difficult for sperm to make their way into the cervical canal," she explains. A better option: Pre-seed, a product designed to mimic natural fluids for couples who are trying to conceive ($19, amazon.com). Or if you prefer a more natural lube, try mineral oil, Dr. Malik says.

Sleep in total darkness

You know that artificial light at night—like the glow from your iPad or TV screen, even a streetlamp outside—can mess with the quality of your Z's. But it could interfere with your ability to conceive, as well, according to a review of studies published in the journal Fertility and Sterility. Late-night light exposure suppresses production of the sleep hormone melatonin, which also happens to play a key role in protecting a woman's eggs from corrosive free radicals, especially during ovulation. Even turning on a bathroom light could impact melatonin levels, study author Russel J. Reiter, PhD, told LiveScience. "If women are trying to get pregnant, [they should] maintain at least eight hours of a dark period at night," he urged.