There are many steps that individuals can take to improve their odds of getting pregnant. While we often focus on the things that we can add to our lifestyle to make things better, there are many things that we eliminate from our lives that can be just as important and even more impactful.

Most research studies show that consistent alcohol consumption has been associated with a higher chance of infertility and miscarriage (in both women and men).  For women, the rate of infertility may be 60% higher when >2 drinks per week are consumed. The exact amount of alcohol that is problematic is unclear, so it is truly best to minimize alcohol intake when trying to conceive.  

Smoking has a negative effect on the ability to conceive for both women and men, and has also been associated with increased chance of miscarriage. Women who smoke go through menopause 1-4 years earlier than women who do not, which suggests that smoking can decrease the number of eggs a woman has in her ovaries.  The negative effects of smoking are so significant in women that smokers are believed to have around a 60% higher chance of infertility compared to non-smokers.  Even one cigarette a day has been shown to increase the chance of miscarriage by 1%. It is safe to say that smoking in general is toxic and should be avoided in any amount. Vaping, in any form, is extremely toxic as the carcinogens and irritants found in vape juice may be just as harmful as cigarettes. 

The effect of marijuana on reproduction is not as well studied as alcohol or cigarettes. Receptors for THC are located in the reproductive systems of both men and women so there is plausible reason that marijuana consumption could impact fertility and miscarriage. There is some evidence in men that suggests marijuana intake prolongs time to conception and possibly increases miscarriage rates and in women increases the chance of infertility. Marijuana intake is not advised when trying to conceive.

Caffeine can be enjoyed when trying to conceive but in moderation.  Increased caffeine consumption around 5 cups of coffee or more has been associated with infertility.  Excess caffeine has also been linked to miscarriage, therefore it is recommended to keep caffeine intake to less than 2-3 cups a day.  Although the exact level of caffeine that is considered too much is not known, a small amount of coffee each day should be safe.

Consuming a healthy diet is important, however there is not one particular diet that has been proven to be more beneficial to improve the chance of pregnancy. No matter the diet used, it is important to note that rapid shifts in weight can interfere with normal hormone production and therefore disrupt the normal menstrual cycle.  Extremes of weight, both underweight (BMI < 19) and overweight (BMI > 35) have been associated with a longer time to conception.  

Though there is not one particular diet that is problematic, there are some foods that should be limited when trying to conceive.  Having elevated mercury levels from heavy consumption of seafood has been linked with infertility in men and women.  Fish are exposed to mercury from byproducts of industrial waste that are dumped into bodies of water.  Fish that are known to have the highest levels of mercury are Swordfish, Shark, Big-Eye Tuna and King Mackeral.  It is important to remember that fish can be a wonderful source of omega 3s and protein, so small amounts of fish with low mercury levels are healthy.

Pesticide exposure in both women and men has been associated with decreased fertility and has been associated with lower sperm counts in men.  Pesticide exposure has also been linked to an increase in pregnancy complications and can cause issues for the health of the baby. Therefore when possible it is preferred to eat organic fruits and vegetables, if that is not possible then do a thorough job rinsing your produce before you use them. 

There are many environmental toxins that can be harmful for pregnancy and fertility.  Men exposed to heavy metals may have lower sperm counts.  Toxins like the solvents used in the dry cleaning industry have been associated with infertility in women.  Cadmium is a toxin that is found in rechargeable batteries and has been linked to abnormalities in male sperm parameters and may interfere with the menstrual cycles in women.  Lead is a neurotoxin and has been found in old paint and plumbing pipes containing lead have been known to contaminate water and soil.  Increased exposure to cadmium and lead has been associated with worse reproductive outcomes, like poor fertilization and poor embryo implantation. 

Certain environmental toxins are considered endocrine disruptors because they can interfere with the function of endogenous reproductive hormones.  Many of these compounds are ubiquitous in our everyday lives and the compounds themselves have been found in over 90% of urine samples of adult men and women.  

Bisphenol A (BPA) is one of these endocrine disruptors.  It is a compound found in many plastics, liners of metal cans, and thermal paper receipts.  Elevated BPA exposure has multiple negative effects on reproduction including a decrease in egg quality and an increase in abnormal embryos and an increased risk of miscarriage.  Many plastic products are now BPA free, however in many instances BPA has just been replaced with Bisphenol S that is quite possibly just as toxic. The best way to avoid BPA is to avoid using plastic water bottles and reusable plastic containers and don’t touch thermal paper receipts.  If you can’t avoid plastics, then don’t expose the plastic to high heat in the microwave or dishwasher.  

Phthalates, like BPA, are found in plastics (it softens plastics), but can also be found in IV tubing, adhesives, lubricants, body lotions, perfumes, soaps and makeup. Phthalates have been shown to increase DNA damage to sperm, decrease egg yield and success with IVF, and increase miscarriage and pregnancy loss rates. Avoiding plastics or handling plastics appropriately, just like for BPA is important. In addition you can choose beauty products wisely by looking at the ingredients and avoiding products containing phthalates. 

Parabens are toxins found in many beauty and makeup products as parabens can extend the shelf life of these products.  Parabens have been linked to ovarian aging and abnormal sperm parameters.  Monitor your purchases like shampoo, lotion, toothpaste, eyeshadow, deodorant and bodywash to check if they contain parabens.  Parabens are used as a preservative in some foods such as pickles, sauces, jam, dried meats and desserts.  

Although it may seem that the amount of environmental toxins is overwhelming and hard to avoid.  Taking a few simple steps to eliminate these toxins from your daily lifestyle could have significant effects on your general health, reproductive health and your ability to have a baby.  Keeping your body healthy is about avoiding toxic environmental and lifestyle factors as well as actively pursuing a healthy lifestyle with good eating habits, exercise, and balanced mental wellbeing.  

Dr. Kristin Bendikson
Dr. Kristin Bendikson
Dr. Bendikson has been recognized for many years as one of LA’s Top Doctors by Los Angeles Magazine. She completed her residency training in OB/GYN at Harvard and completed her reproductive endocrine and infertility fellowship training at Cornell. She is a California native, having graduated from UCLA with honors. After first leaving Los Angeles for NYU Medical School, she finally returned after training to become an assistant professor at the USC Keck School of Medicine. It is her goal to provide the highest quality care for her patients and to help them fulfill their desire of having a healthy baby, whether that be now or in the future. In addition, she strives to guide her patients through what can be a trying and difficult journey by providing them with the support and personal attention they need and deserve.