As easy as the thought may sound of couples conceiving due to having a lot more free time at home together — it’s not that simple. Not only do one in eight couples face challenges in getting pregnant but when you factor in the physical, emotional, psychological and mental toll of infertility and trying to conceive during a global pandemic, the thought (and the practice) can seem almost unbearable. 

But there’s hope for many women after all. 

For ESSENCE, Mary Jane Minkin, Clinical Professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology at Yale University shares tips below on trying to conceive through a crisis, what to consider if you have been trying to conceive without luck, and when to consult with a doctor. It’s important to also remember that no single strategy can guarantee success, these tips can go a long way towards getting the getting the happily ever after that you’ve always dreamed of.

Are there proactive steps women can take before trying to become pregnant to improve their chances of conception and a healthy pregnancy?

Absolutely. Try to be as healthy as you can! (Always, but it’s especially good for trying to conceive — in advance). If you are a smoker, do try to cut down as best you can; same thing to do with drinking. Women have an easier time conceiving if they are close to their ideal body weight — being significantly overweight or underweight can interfere with ovulation. And if you are in a relationship (before you are trying to conceive) that is not mutually monogamous, always use condoms, because sexually transmitted infections can lead to blocked Fallopian tubes) — and you don’t want that to happen. And if you are planning to conceive, do start taking a prenatal vitamin with extra folic acid, actually taking the vitamins before you conceive can help you decrease your chances of having a baby with neural tube defects like spina bifida, and probably other abnormalities. One easy way to do this is to start taking a gummy vitamin like Vitafusion, and you don’t need a doctor’s prescription, they are over the counter.

Diet and lifestyle changes are important. What are some natural or holistic ways that women — Black women — can improve their fertility wellness?

Again, trying to achieve a body weight close to ideal is helpful, but basic good nutrition is helpful — you want to get in a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Even adding in some fish, 2-3 helpings a week will get you some extra Omega 3 fatty acids. And getting in some dairy products daily will get you the extra calcium that you want for pregnancy.

What are the first steps someone should take if they’re unable to conceive and do those steps differ based on a woman’s age?

Women can do some easy testing on their own, if they haven’t had luck in conceiving. One of the easiest tests women can do is to see if they are ovulating, and when — if you have sex right when you are ovulating — you will maximize your chances. An at-home ovulation predicter kit is quite accurate and will let you know when to time sex for the best results, and also will let you know if you are ovulating and you can test for pregnancy six days sooner with a First Response Early Result test. Women who are under the age of 35 should consult their gynecology provider if they haven’t conceived in one year of trying; if they are 35 and older, if they haven’t conceived after six months of trying should seek medical advice and evaluations. And one other bit of advice: trying to have sex at a certain time can itself be stressful (and women may not lubricate well on that basis)-so if you need to use a lubricant, make sure it’s sperm friendly (and most lubricants are not)- so get Pre-Seed, which is a sperm friendly lubricant.

What are the psychological effects of trying to conceive through crisis?

Trying to conceive at any time can be very stressful, if it isn’t happening promptly (and really, only 15-20% of women will conceive their first month of trying-so don’t give up if it doesn’t happen right away) — and of course currently with all the COVID stress, it’s extra stressful. Even if you cannot be with your friends and relatives physically, talk with them, they can help cheer you on. And don’t be afraid of calling your OB-GYN provider. Fertility discussions are very amenable to being held through telehealth and your provider may be able to give you guidance on helping you to conceive. And a bit of cheerful news: women who are pregnant do not seem to be at risk of any extra complications being pregnant, and we do not to date know of any problems being passed on to the baby because of COVID (unlike something like the ZIKA virus). Now, many women are holding off trying to conceive until we get more information, which is certainly understandable. And of course, we will have a vaccine, we hope as soon as possible.

What factors should someone consider when choosing a fertility specialist?

Now of course many women speak with friends as to whom they have worked with for infertility, and certainly your gynecology provider can help give you guidance, and indeed, much of the basic testing can be done by your gynecologist you may not need a fancy infertility specialist. A reliable source for overall infertility information is ASRM.org, which is the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. Another site dealing with IVF issues is SART.org, which is the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology — and both have lots of helpful information.

What are the most current, effective treatment options for infertility?

As far as interventions, there are lots of them. First of all your providers will help figure out why you aren’t conceiving: actually about half the time the issue is with the men, and half the time with the women. If there is what we call male factor infertility, a urologist will often be consulted to help get more and more vigorous sperm. With “female factor” the two major issues are “Are you ovulating?” and “are the tubes open to get the egg and sperm together?” and there are quite standard tests to investigate (and fix!) these problems.

But the good news is that the significant majority of couples faced with infertility will become parents — so stay healthy, and if pregnancy is not happening, talk with your providers to help get you there!

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