tricks to optimize your chances of getting pregnant

1. Pull the goalie

As always, let’s start with the obvious: If you are on birth control, get off it. Work with your doctor to take you off birth control and ask her when you can expect to begin ovulating again, which has a great deal to do with the type of birth control you were taking. You might begin to ovulate immediately, or it could take several months for your body to adjust and produce its own monthly cycle. (If you were using Depo-Provera, it could be even longer—but not necessarily. Don’t assume anything!) If you are using an IUD for contraception, you will have to have it removed by your doctor, and as soon as it’s taken out, your body is ready to conceive. If you have been using some type of barrier method (condoms, diaphragm, or spermicide), the presumption is that you are fertile as long as you don’t use them.

Many people come off their longer-term contraceptives and use barrier methods until they’re truly ready to conceive.

No matter which goalie you’d previously employed, don’t panic if you don’t get pregnant right away. Just gives you more time to prepare your body!

2. Quit smoking. NOW.

Seriously. If you smoke or your partner smokes, stop immediately. I know, easier said than done, but I don’t care. Get it done. Dying isn’t easy, either. If by some miracle you did manage to get pregnant as a smoker (amazingly, it happens), you do not want your little one subjected to the hideous toxins in womb or out. And if you are thinking, “I’ll smoke up till I get pregnant and then stop,” smoking seriously impacts your fertility as well as your partner’s. There is no debate about this. In men, nicotine damages sperm DNA. In women, smoking cigarettes while trying to conceive radically decreases your chances of getting pregnant while also increasing your risk of ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage, decreased follicle count, and potential damage to DNA in the follicle.

Dr. Suzanne Gilberg-Lenz, an ob-gyn in private practice in Beverly Hills, says that smoking also causes fetal growth restriction and placental dysfunction—yikes! Some estimate that every year you smoke 10 or more cigarettes a day ages your ovaries 4 years. Smokers are more than 50 percent more likely to wait a year or longer to get pregnant than non-smokers. Thankfully, some of these effects can partially reverse themselves once you stop smoking. Did I say STOP NOW yet? Well, I’m saying it again!

Honestly, my friend—you just need to cold turkey this one. Sorry to be so blunt about it, but all that crap is really bad for you. Ask yourself what’s more important—your life and your kid or your smokes? Thought so. Now quit and let’s move on.

3. Cut back on caffeine

If you typically have one or two cups of coffee or tea every day, you are okay. But if you are a heavy caffeine imbiber (through coffee, tea, or yuck, soda, or even worse, diet soda!), you’re going to need to cut back to about 150 milligrams a day, or about one cup of brewed coffee, to improve your fertility. Research has linked excessive caffeine consumption (above 500 mg to 1,000 mg, or four to six strong cups daily) to miscarriage or stillbirth. Other research shows no link, but I suggest erring on the side of caution here. That much caffeine is terrible for you, pregnant or otherwise. Why risk it either way?

What I can say for sure is that caffeine is a diuretic that washes calcium and other key pregnancy nutrients out of your system before they can be completely absorbed. Caffeine is also a stimulant, so it raises your heart rate and can cause insomnia and contribute to heartburn (which is zero fun). None of this is necessary for you right now, and especially not for your baby.

4. Skip the booze

I know, this one really sucks. I hate to be a stickler, but plenty of current research suggests alcohol can affect your fertility. Your partner should take heed on this as well. I know, I read the research that says alcohol in moderation is okay, and I have heard many women talk about how they were drinking up until the day they knew they were pregnant and had no complications with conception or pregnancy whatsoever. I’ve heard the stories about the women who had a beer every night or whose European moms drank wine. Sure, it doesn’t always cause a problem for every person, but some people are more affected by alcohol than others.

5. Get to a healthy weight

Sorry to sound like an insensitive jerk, but your body weight has a direct effect on your ability to conceive, the safety of your pregnancy, and the health of your baby. If you are overweight or obese, now is the time to deal, not after you are already pregnant. I know this isn’t easy. For some people, it seems like an impossibility. However, if you never had the motivation before, this could be what finally helps you make it happen for yourself.