How to Keep Calm About Your Fertility

It can be so hard to be ready to be pregnant and not be. If you’re trying to get pregnant and it’s not happening, you might be starting to freak out. In this post, we’ll discuss some reassuring statistics about fertility and some mental and physical things you can do to calm down about when you might be able to conceive.

In her book Expecting Better, economist Emily Oster discusses her conception journey. As she got older, she worried that everything she’d heard about fertility decreasing with age was going to make it hard for her to conceive. But as she explains in the book, even so-called “advanced maternal age,” usually considered to be 35 years old, is not a hard cutoff and that fertility declines gradually.

Oster shares statistics from the 1800s, when people started trying to conceive as soon as they got married. Trying to get pregnant between 20 and 35 years old gives about the same chance of having a baby, while people between 35 and 39 are about 90 percent as likely as those younger than 35 to have a child. People between 40 and 45 are about 62 percent as likely as under 35s to have a child. These data, she explains, show that a major drop in fertility doesn’t happen until at least after age 40 and maybe after that. So if you’re younger than 40 and want to get pregnant, it’s likely that you’ll be able to. Today, about two thirds of women under age 35 will be pregnant within a year of trying.

If you’ve been trying for more than a year (or at least six months if you’re older than 35 years old), it’s a good idea to talk to your care provider and see about a referral to a doctor who specializes in fertility. But if not, there are a few physical things you can try.

First, consider your diet. The Fertility Diet was developed by Jorge E. Chavarro and Walter C. Willett based on findings from the Nurse’s Health Study II, an ongoing prospective cohort study in which researchers have collected food frequency questionnaires from more than 100,000 single and married nurses every four years since 1989. The researchers followed 17,544 of these nurses as they tried to become or became pregnant over an eight-year period. They found that women who ate a higher proportion of monounsaturated fats instead of trans fats, more vegetable than animal protein, iron from plants and supplements, low-glycemic, high-fiber carbohydrates (such as whole grains), multivitamins, and full fat dairy had a lower relative risk of infertility that could be attributed to problems with ovulation—when the ovaries fail to release an egg.

In a more recent study, Chavarro and colleagues discuss an updated “pro-fertility diet,” that includes many of the same ideas from the fertility diet, but puts emphasis on the ratio of seafood to total meat eaten, high and low pesticide fruits and vegetables, and vitamins D, B12, and folic acid. In women undergoing assisted reproductive technologies in an attempt to conceive, the rate of live births was higher for subjects that ate a diet most like the pro-fertility diet than in those that ate in either a more fertility diet-like or Mediterranean diet-like way.

Neither of these studies are randomized controlled trials; therefore, it’s not clear that following either the fertility or pro-fertility diets will make someone more likely to conceive, especially if they’re not a woman with issues with ovulation. But the recommendations—in particular choosing monounsaturated fats instead of trans fats and whole grains—are mostly in line with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and therefore would be appropriate for most people. And if you’re worried about fertility, diet is definitely something that you can work on that just might help.

Taking good care of yourself via your diet is just one way that you can take care of yourself emotionally, as well as physically. Being anxious is unlikely to help you conceive, but there are things you can do to worry less. Yoga, meditation, keeping a gratitude journal, and setting phone reminders or writing sticky notes with positive messages for yourself are all things that can help. If you find yourself really spiraling, don’t be afraid to seek mental health help. Many therapists specialize in issues around the childbearing years, including fertility, and talking to a professional who can help you heal might be just what you need.

Abby Olena
Dr. Abby Olena has a PhD in Biological Sciences from Vanderbilt University. She lives with her husband and children in North Carolina, where she writes about science and parenting, produces a conversational podcast, and teaches prenatal yoga.

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