We often get letters from readers asking about their chances of getting pregnant after coming off the pill, and the changes they need to make to their lives to make their body most fertile. We ask Zita West to give us some advice.
I’ve been on the contraceptive pill for 15 years. Will this mean it will take me longer to get pregnant once stopping?
It’s not unusual for me to see so many women that went on the pill at 15 and have come off at 34. Delays to your cycle are not uncommon. The most important thing is to try immediately for a baby when you first come off, as research shows that you can be more fertile in the first few months. Initially, when you come off the pill, you may experience irregularities in your cycle, including cycles that are longer than 35 days. Also there may be delays in ovulation when you first come off the pill you may not ovulate on all cycles. It’s really important that you start to understand your fertility by looking out for the fertile signs. There may be disruptions to secretions when you first come off the pill.
For most women, fertility returns immediately after the pill (or even with missed pills), but other women may experience a delay. The women we see are really concerned that if their cycles are not regular, or if they have concerns that they are not ovulating they will never conceive (there are blood tests that can be done during your cycle to check this). Some simple lifestyle changes which to help get regularity back into your cycles over a three month period can really help. When trying to regulate your cycle, consider how often you are having sex. Three to four times a week is great. Because of the irregular cycles, it is obviously harder to pinpoint ovulation. Having frequent sex ensures that there is a constant supply of fresh healthy sperm in the woman’s reproductive tract waiting for the egg to be released. Being overweight or underweight will greatly affect the regularity of a cycle.
How long will it take to get pregnant after coming off the pill?
Everybody’s different – age is the biggest factor and also if there are any underlying medical conditions that can affect your fertility and if your cycles are regular. Many women do get pregnant very soon after coming off the pill. It is not at all unusual to take up to a year or more to conceive naturally if you’re older and have been trying for six months or more, it’s best to get checked with your GP to make sure there are no underlying issues for either of you.
What are the guidelines for trying to get pregnant and alcohol intake?
This is a difficult one. The studies show that if you don’t drink at all, it’s a quicker time to conceive and in an ideal world if it only took three months to get pregnant you could stop altogether. But the reality is for many couples is that it takes up to a year, and this is a long time to go without a glass of wine if you enjoy wine and it relaxes you. Alcohol has a different effect on different people, so what’s safe for one may not be safe for another. Also it depends on your personality type. Many of the couples I see are of the ‘all or nothing’ type. The most important thing is to keep it to as low a level as you can and don’t binge drink. Below 6 units we say per week.
What supplements should I be taking and ideally when should I start these? What happens if I find I’m pregnant before I’ve started taking any supplements, is it too late to start?
It’s important that you take a good multivitamin and mineral prior to getting pregnant, at least three months before you start to try. It needs to contain folic acid, and also a separate supplement with Omega 3. Once you are pregnant, the first twelve weeks are laying the foundations for your pregnancy, when all of your baby’s organs are developing and there are windows of opportunity when key organs need specific nutrients to reach their full potential, so building up your stores of vital vitamins and minerals in the lead up to pregnancy will give your baby a really good start.
8 out of 10 women are deficient in omega 3 (DHA). This is found in fish, but you have to consume a lot of fish to be able to meet the demands of a pregnancy. That’s why I think a supplement is better. Your baby doesn’t rely on what you eat in any one day; it relies on your stores of nutrients.