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11 Things to Avoid When Trying to Conceive

No one enjoys giving up the things they know and love (like that Trenta latte!), but to have a baby, it’s worth it, right?

Photo: Thinkstock

Smoking

You’re probably already planning on quitting smoking once you get pregnant (and you definitely should), but avoiding cigarettes now will be a huge benefit too. According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, it takes longer for smokers to conceive, and smoking makes a woman's eggs more prone to genetic abnormalities. Smoking increases the risk of miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy. In fact, the habit wreaks so much havoc on fertility that female smokers who have in vitro fertilization have to attempt it almost twice as many times as nonsmoking women do in order to conceive. Oh, and your partner should quit smoking too. Men who smoke cigarettes have lower sperm count and motility (swimming speed), and more sperm abnormalities.

Too much caffeine

Relax: You don't have to cut out your morning cup of joe. But if you consume more than 200 milligrams of caffeine -- that's about one to two eight-ounce cups -- per day, you should ease up. Heavy caffeine consumption has been associated with fertility problems. Plus, you won't want to overdo it during pregnancy (caffeine interferes with your ability to absorb iron, can dehydrate you and, in high doses, can increase miscarriage and preterm birth risk), so it's worth cutting back now.

Binge drinking

Sorry to break the news, but you should skip your friends' bar crawl while you're trying to conceive, or at least stick to sparkling water while you're there. That's because drinking to excess (more than two drinks each day) is linked to irregular periods, lack of ovulation, and abnormal estrogen and progesterone levels, which can make it harder to conceive. Plus, if you're charting, it can make it challenging to temp accurately.

The other reason why you might want to nix the alcohol is because, well, you'll have to anyhow once you get pregnant, to eliminate the possibility of fetal alcohol syndrome, and it will take about two weeks (or more) after you conceive to know that you're actually pregnant. Tell your partner to limit his alcohol intake too. There's evidence that drinking can affect his fertility as well.

Extremes in weight

Do you think you might be extremely overweight or underweight? Calculate your body mass index (BMI) using this tool now. Having a low BMI (18.5 or less) or a very high BMI (over 30) could cause you to have irregular or missed periods. And being extremely underweight could make you stop ovulating altogether. Obesity can increase the risk of pregnancy complications such as gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, birth defects and the need for a c-section. So it's important to be at a healthy weight when you're trying to conceive.

If you fall into either of these categories, talk to your doctor about how to get to a healthy weight. You'll want to eat right, getting plenty of nutrients; exercise; and drink plenty of water. Often, even a small weight gain or loss is enough to get your body ready to make a baby, as long as it's done healthily.

Passing on the veggies

The jury's out on whether certain foods actually make you more fertile, but there's one thing the experts agree on: If your body's in a healthy state, you're more likely to conceive, so eating right is essential. The other important reason to say no to the fries and yes to the spinach salad is folic acid. This B vitamin is found in leafy greens and is important to have present in your body before and after conception to prevent birth defects. Doctors recommend you also take a vitamin with at least 400 micrograms of folic acid while you're trying to conceive.

Neglecting your teeth

If you've been lax, now's the time to get back on track with your dentist appointments -- and make sure you're flossing. You and your partner should both get your pearly whites super-healthy before you get pregnant. Poor oral hygiene can affect a man's sperm, and if you have gum disease, it could increase your risk of having a premature delivery and low-birth-weight baby. Yikes!

Being a couch potato

Keep making excuses not to exercise? Stop! One study found that doing regular, moderate physical activity -- brisk walking, leisurely cycling, golfing and gardening -- cut the amount of time it took women to get pregnant.

Extreme exercise

You want to stay fit, but you don't want to overdo it. In the same study we mentioned above, vigorous exercise increased the amount of time it took women to get pregnant. We're not saying to skip your morning run if that's what you've always done, but working out to the point of interfering with your menstrual cycle, as some marathon runners and gymnasts experience, can mess with your fertility.

BPA

Time to invest in a metal water bottle -- BPA, aka bisphenol A, is a chemical found in plastic items, such as water bottles, food containers and even in the lining of aluminum cans. Some studies have led scientists to believe that high BPA exposure could mess with men's and women's fertility, potentially lowering sperm count or reducing the number of viable eggs. There's virtually no way to prevent BPA exposure altogether, but you can limit yours by avoiding canned foods and avoiding consuming anything from a plastic container with the recycling number 3 or 7 on it (usually on the bottom of the container).

Stressing out

We've all got a little bit of stress in our lives, and experts disagree on whether stress can cause infertility. But there's evidence that chronic or intense stress can do a number on your reproductive system, and, well, having trouble getting pregnant can cause quite a bit of stress! So if you feel that your stress levels might be affecting your health and your ability to conceive, talk to your doctor about ways to cope. Several studies have found that alternative medicines, such as yoga and acupuncture, have actually shortened the time it took for infertility patients to get pregnant.

High-mercury fish

Some fish are higher in mercury than others -- most notably marlin, orange roughy, tilefish, swordfish, shark, king mackerel, and ahi and bigeye tuna. High levels of mercury in the blood have been linked to fertility issues in both men and women. Plus, mercury can stay in your system for a year or more, and can harm a fetus's developing brain and nervous system, so avoiding it will increase your chances of a healthy pregnancy. Love seafood? There's plenty that's considered low-mercury, including anchovies, catfish, clams, crab, crawfish, flounder, haddock, herring, mackerel, oysters, salmon, sardines, scallops, shrimp, sole, squid, tilapia, trout and whitefish. You can have two six-ounce servings of low-mercury seafood per week while pregnant.

Plus, more from The Bump:

6 Ways to Naturally Boost Your Fertility

10 Common Fertility Mistakes

Timing Sex to Get Pregnant Faster

-- Elena Donovan Mauer

See More: Fertility and Ovulation , Fertility Concerns , Pregnancy Health