The one thing that can be more frustrating than being a parent is trying to become one with no success. For one in seven couples, conceiving a child can be a long and difficult process-it can take at least one year and sometimes requires several.
Some "trying" couples are infertile because of physical problems. But most couples are simply "underfertile" --they are physically able to conceive but have to nudge the stork just a bit more than usual. Here's what experts recommend for them.
Take cough syrup. "Before we had high-tech measures, a lot of doctors would recommend that women take cough syrup containing guaifenesin about four times a day around the time of ovulation," according to Arthur L. Wisot, M.D., a fertility specialist who is affiliated with the Center for Advanced Reproductive Care in Redondo Beach, California. "And that's still sound advice, because guaifenesin thins the cervical mucus, making it easier for sperm to swim through to meet the egg."
Don't lubricate with commercial products. When intercourse needs a helping hand, couples sometimes use a commercial lubricant like K-Y Jelly. But that can hurt your chances of conceiving. That's because these products can impair sperm, making them less able to reach the egg, says John Willems, M.D., associate clinical professor of obstetrics/gynecolo gy at the University of California, San Diego, and a researcher at the Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation in LaJolla. "A woman's natural lubricants should be all you need."
But egg white may help. If you need a lubricant during intercourse, try using egg white instead of a pharmaceutical lubricant, suggests Andrew Toledo, M.D., a fertility specialist and reproductive endocrinologist who is assistant clinical professor of medicine in the Department of Gynecology and Obstetrics at Emory University in Atlanta. Because the egg white lubricant is pure protein--as are sperm--it makes a better "carrier" than lubricants made from nonprotein substances.
If dryness is a problem, Dr. Toledo recommends using the egg white lubricant during the days when a woman is fertile and a regular lubricant the rest of the time. But don't use egg white if you're allergic to it, and be sure to separate the white from the yolk before applying it to either the penis or the vagina.
Take more vitamin C. Studies by researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston show that large doses of vitamin C can reverse some cases of male infertility. The team there, headed by Earl B. Dawson, Ph.D., reported that men who increased their vitamin C intake to 1,000 milligrams daily (the Recommended Dietary Allowance is 60 milligrams) showed increased sperm count, motility and longevity.
Stub out cigarettes. Smokers' alert: Women who smoke have more difficulty getting pregnant, according to studies by researchers at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. "But we don't yet understand the biological reason why," says Allen Wilcox, M.D., Ph.D., chief of the Epidemiology Branch at the institute. So if you smoke, you may better your chances of conception by giving it up.
Practice clean living. Smoking isn't the only vice that hurts your chances of conceiving. Studies at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences showed that women who drink just one cup of coffee daily may halve their chances of becoming pregnant each menstrual cycle (compared with those who don't get any caffeine). "Cutting out caffeine seems to help some women, but not others. It may be worth a try," says Dr. Wilcox.
And there are other factors to consider as well. "You need to get your act together--don' t use drugs, stop drinking, and avoid all unnecessary medications, " says Dr. Wisot. To add to their healthy lifestyle, he also recommends that women start taking prenatal vitamins.
Wear boxer shorts. For some men, fashionable underwear styles may be the shortcut to fatherhood. Tight-fitting jockey shorts pull the testicles close to the body, and body heat impairs sperm, according to Dr. Wisot. He recommends wearing looser-fitting boxer shorts.
Don't soak in a hot tub, guys. High-temperature water can also lower sperm count and motility, says Dr. Wisot, so the man who wants to be Dad should stay away from hot tubs.
Go missionary. Although sexual position usually has no bearing on conception, "the missionary position assures better contact of the semen with the cervix--and may make the difference in marginal cases," says Dr. Wisot.
Keep a calendar. Most fertility specialists say that you and your partner should try to conceive for at least one year before assuming you have a conception problem."Generally, if a woman has an average 28-day cycle, she will begin ovulating on the 14th day," says Dr. Wisot. "If she's on an irregular cycle, ovulation usually occurs 14 days before her next expected menstrual cycle." Keeping track on a calendar for a few months is a good way to see your pattern.
Get help from a kit. "There are several ovulation kits that you can buy over the counter that help tell a woman when she's ovulating," adds Dr. Wisot. "Starting on the 16th or 17th day before your period, you should test your urine each evening with these kits. When you get a positive test, have intercourse the next day."
Go for the gold the second time around. Probably the biggest mistake couples make is assuming that a man's first ejaculation is his best. Actually, a woman is more likely to get pregnant when a man ejaculates two days before she starts ovulation and then they wait until she is ovulating before they try to conceive. "Usually that second specimen is better, both in sperm count and motility," says Dr. Wisot.