Maximizing fertility: What to avoid

To improve your odds of conceiving, also keep important "don'ts" in mind:

  • Don't smoke. Smoking ages your ovaries and depletes your eggs prematurely. If you smoke, ask your health care provider to help you quit before conception.
  • Don't drink alcohol. Research suggests that drinking alcohol appears to decrease fertility and can harm a developing baby. Generally, it's best to avoid alcohol if you're hoping to conceive.
  • Don't take medication without your health care provider's OK. Certain medications — even those available without a prescription — can make it difficult to conceive. Others might not be safe once you're pregnant.
  • Don't depend on vaginal lubricants. Various over-the-counter vaginal lubricants can decrease fertility. Saliva can have the same effect. If you need a lubricant, consider mineral oil or canola oil — or ask your doctor for other suggestions.
  • Don't overdo strenuous exercise. Although moderate physical activity can help promote fertility, going overboard might have the opposite effect. Some research suggests that five or more hours a week of vigorous aerobic activity can actually impair the fertility of a woman who isn't overweight.

When to consult a doctor

With frequent unprotected sex, most healthy couples conceive within one year. Others need a bit of help.

If you're in your early 30s or younger and you and your partner are in good health, try it on your own for one year before consulting a doctor. Consider seeking help sooner if you're age 35 or older, or you or your partner has known or suspected fertility issues.

Infertility affects both men and women — and treatment is available. Depending on the source of the problem, your gynecologist, your partner's urologist or your family doctor might be able to help. In some cases, a fertility specialist offers the best hope.

Feb. 14, 2014 See more In-depth