Unlike unclogging the sink or visiting your in laws, baby-making sex is one necessary task that seems like it should be straightforward and fun. But then out come the ovulation charts and the pressure to succeed, and then it ends up becoming a minefield of whether or not you're doing the right thing. (The sex, that is, not having a baby).
11 December is apparently the most popular day in the year to conceive, so fertility expert and midwife Zita West who is also the expert for First Response Early Result Pregnancy Tests, has 10 top tips on key concerns and sex questions you may feel a bit nervous asking your GP about.
1. No orgasm? No worries!
“Many couples enjoy a great sex life - even though the woman doesn’t necessarily orgasm every time, or even at all,” says midwife and fertility expert Zita. “But when it comes to getting pregnant they wrongly worry this could be the reason it’s not happening.”
Luckily, according to Zita, a woman can easily get pregnant without orgasm, although the odds may be slightly better if she does. Avoid putting too much pressure on either of you.” If you become too obsessed with the end goal, it can lead to performance anxiety and even loss of erection. Remember to enjoy the sex, rather than seeing it a chore!
2. Avoid him performing oral sex during your fertile time.
Many couples worry that oral sex could lower fertility or damage sperm. “There could be a slight impact with oral sex on
fertility” explains Zita. “This is because saliva contains digestive enzymes and other agents which can damage the sperm.”
So does this mean taking a break from oral activities if you’re trying to get pregnant? “Not at all,” says Zita. “Being engaged and aroused during sex is very important to fertility for both partners. So if oral sex is something you enjoy as a couple, then by all means keep doing it, but may be best to avoid the fertile window.”
Story continues below the slideshow:
The common household chemical bisphenol A (BPA) can lower sperm counts and motility, according to<a href="http://www.rodale.com/bpa-and-unexplained-infertility"> a study</a> in Reproductive Toxicology. Food packaging is a major source of BPA, which can seep into the food. Most food cans are <a href="http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/41025571/ns/health-sexual_health/t/shooting-blanks-surprising-sperm-killers/#.ULaH2WmMF9R">coated with BPA resin</a>, and acidic canned foods are especially risky.
Certain plastics, including vinyl used in some sex toys, release phthalates — plastic-softening chemicals that have been <a href="http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/2003/05.22/18-semen.html">tied to lower reduced sperm count and quality</a>. Glass, silicone and green sex toys are a safer bet.
Phthalates are found in many shampoos, soaps, deodorants and shaving creams. Look for natural, phthlate-free products instead.
It's not surprising that smoking cigarettes is bad for sperm, but smoking weed isn't much better. Heavy marijuana smokers have been found to have <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/3186686.stm">significantly lower sperm counts and sperm with bad swimming strategies</a>.
Stress can cut sperm count dramatically by <a href="http://scienceblog.com/community/older/1997/B/199701021.html">inhibiting the production of testosterone</a>.
Women aren't the only ones who should slow down on drinking while trying to conceive. Alcohol can <a href="http://menshealth.about.com/cs/stds/a/healthy_sperm.htm">inhibit sperm production</a> and lower sperm counts.
BPA is found on about 40 percent of cash register receipts, according to <a href="http://www.sccma-mcms.org/full+article/bisphenol+a+in+cash+register+receipts/">a 2010 University of Missouri study</a>. The chemical can penetrate skin or be passed from hand to mouth to the digestive track. Skip the receipt or wash your hands after signing.
Isoflavones found in soy products <a href="http://www.isoflavones.info/">mimic estrogen</a>, and a <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/07/25/AR2008072502985.html">2008 study</a> linked soy consumption to significantly lower sperm counts. The soy food industry <a href="http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,303160,00.html">disputed the study's findings</a>.
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are a group of toxic chemicals that have been banned but have accumulated in certain fish — especially predator fish and bottom-feeders. They are associated with <a href="http://www.epa.gov/teach/chem_summ/PCB_summary100809.pdf">decreased sperm counts and integrity</a>. Smaller, younger fish <a href="http://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/eh/hlthhaz/fs/pcblink.htm#Which fish are safer to eat?">are considered safer</a>.
Chemicals called perfluoroalkyl acids are used in the manufacturing of nonstick products such as Teflon, Gore-Tex and wax paper and can significantly lower sperm counts, according to <a href="http://www.rodale.com/male-infertility-and-nonstick-chemicals">a Danish study</a>.
Of course not having sex at all won't help, but some couples abstain for days or weeks in hopes of saving sperm until the woman is ovulating. This doesn't work. Researchers have found that while it does take a day or two for sperm to replenish themselves after ejaculation, waiting any longer than that <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2003/jun/30/highereducation.sciencenews">can cause them to lose motility and change shape</a>.
3. Go with his natural rhythm
If, like many men, he’s at his most aroused first thing in the morning when testosterone levels are typically higher, then that’s a great time for baby sex! “Testosterone is the ‘hormone of desire’ and studies show the more testosterone in his body, may improve the quality of his sperm,”explains Zita.
4. If you use lube, choose carefully
Couples are embarrassed to admit they use lubricants, and wonder if it affects their chance of conceiving.“Some lubricants create conditions which are less favourable for sperm, so make sure it is sperm friendly” says Zita. “Saliva is a lubricant which is best avoided as it can damage sperm. A natural lubricant which won’t alter the acid balance of the vagina is best. There are sperm-friendly lubricants on the market.
A recent study has shown that lubricants are commonly used by couples who are trying to conceive and it does not appear to reduce the chances of conceiving. [Steiner 2012, Obs & Gynae 120: 44-51] However couples who were having difficulties conceiving were not included in the study.
5. There’s no such thing as too much baby sex
Many women think that too much sex might lower their chances of getting pregnant. “It’s commonly thought by women that too much sex might lessen the amount of sperm, or the quality of it,” says Zita.
Luckily for couples trying for a baby, the opposite is true. “I often find with couples all of the sex is limited to the fertile window. Many couples don’t have sex at all after ovulation for two or more weeks, and start sex again when they are close to ovulation. This means that much of the sperm will be dead. It is so important to keep the sperm moving so that it is fresh and healthy when required ” says Zita.
Plenty of sex also releases fertility hormones in men and women, so if you’re trying for a family, more is better. Don’t just focus on your ovulation window though, bear in mind sperm survive inside your body for 3-5 days or even longer so aim to have sex at least three times a week, which will provide a constant flow of sperm inside the fallopian tubes.
6. Forget the bicycle myth
Many women worry about losing precious sperm through ‘flow-back’ – where fluid comes out of the vagina after sex – but it’s completely normal. “Women can become anxious that flow-back means the sperm is coming out of them,” explains Zita. “But only a small part of ejaculation is sperm. The rest flows back out after sex and is perfectly normal – even if there seems to be quite a lot of it.”
There’s no need to keep your legs in the air after sex – or perform a bicycling motion! – but Zita does advise women to ideally lay flat for 15 minutes after sex which will give the sperm time to swim through the cervical canal - the first leg of their journey to reach the egg.
7. Mind your tubes
Before you get down to the business of baby sex, it’s a good idea for you both to have a routine STI test. “Some STIs like Chlamydia can cause blocked fallopian tubes and affect your chances of conception,” says Zita.
8. Sunshine is good for making babies
“Studies show women lacking in Vitamin D take longer to get pregnant and a lack of vitamin D is linked to poorer outcomes with IVF, so try to get as much winter sunshine as you can, when trying for a baby,” advises Zita. Once you’re pregnant(and while you are breast-feeding) take a Vitamin D supplement to provide your baby with enough vitamin D for the first few months of her life. Do a health MOT and look at your weight and lifestyle habits. Remember also if you are planning a baby take folic acid, and get your rubella checked.
9. A quickie is just as good as slow sex
‘Often men have pent-up anxieties they’re too embarrassed to ask,” says Zita. ‘How long they last, what size they are – none of this affects his chances of making a healthy baby. I see lots of couples with issues around sex and performance in men. Don’t bottle it up.” say Zita.
10. Have plenty of sex as soon as you stop the contraceptive pill
“Many women have this idea that they should ‘wait’ a couple of months for the pill to leave their system, but this is a myth and completely unnecessary,” says Zita. In fact, your body may be more fertile in the first two months after you come off the pill, so take the opportunity for lots of baby sex! But be patient - 85 % of couples will conceive within a year of trying if they have regular sex.*