11 tricks to optimize your chances of getting pregnant

Adapted from Yeah Baby!

It's kind of ironic, isn't it? As younger women, we spend a considerable amount of effort trying not to get pregnant. Then, when the time comes to completely reverse that mind-set, it can be a little disorienting. Please don't let me be pregnant somehow turns into Please let me be pregnant! The average woman in the United States spends 3 decades of her life (not necessarily all in a row) trying to avoid pregnancy and about 5 years trying to get pregnant, being pregnant, and going through the postpartum period, to get the two children most women say they want.

More: 6 Myths About Exercising During Pregnancy

However, during those five precious years (for you it may be only one or it could be a decade), how you live your life can help in big ways to determine how easily you will become a future mom. Although not everyone does it, planning and prepping your body appropriately for fertility and a healthy pregnancy are essential—both for you and for your baby.

If you've taken all of the medical steps toward pregnancy, you will find yourself firmly planted in my wheelhouse—diet, fitness, and lifestyle strategies to optimize your health and thereby your body's ability to conceive!

Here's your to-do list:

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.

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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.

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One Danish study showed drinking between one and five drinks a week can reduce a woman's chances of conceiving, and 10 drinks or more decreases the likelihood of conception even further. A 2009 study done at Harvard University of couples undergoing IVF showed that women who drank more than six drinks per week were 18 percent less likely to conceive, while men were 14 percent less likely. The fact is that alcohol can mess with estrogen and other reproductive hormones, lengthening your monthly cycle and increasing the chances that you won't ovulate at all. No ovulation, no egg. No egg, no baby!

5. Avoid illegal drugs

Do I have to tell you this? You are an adult, and what you do to your own body is your deal. Obviously they impact your ability to conceive, but more worrisome is if you get pregnant while still partaking and don't know it. Drugs like marijuana, cocaine, Molly, and whatever else the kids are doing these days are all horrible things for a gestating baby, and no, I am not exaggerating. Drugs do all the bad things you might imagine to babies—developmental delays, lowered IQ, mental retardation . . . need I go on? If getting pregnant and having the healthiest kiddo possible is your primary objective, it's time to walk the straight and narrow.

6. Reduce environmental hazards

Time to do a whole-house overhaul. You won't believe how many pollutants exist in your own home. For now, just know that when it comes to what you put on your skin, release into your air, or use in your yard, natural is better. Trust me: You're going to want to do this now, before you get pregnant. We didn't, and I nearly had a heart attack when I learned of all the toxins in our home while Heidi was pregnant.

More: 9 Everyday Chemicals That Could Be Screwing with Your Fertility

From off-gassing of toxic chemicals in our furniture to the biohazards in our hygiene products, I realized we were surrounded by chemicals. Start on this project now to give yourself some more time to deal with it all.

7. 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.

8. Take your prenatal vitamins

This naturally brings me to the subject of prenatal vitamins. While food is the ideal way to get the vitamins and minerals you need, the sad truth is that nowadays, a healthy diet doesn't always cut it. There are many different reasons for this, ranging from a lack of variety in our overprocessed diet to overfarmed soil that has been depleted of its nutrients (thus robbing our food of its innate nutritional power). To prevent deficiency, your doctor will recommend a prenatal vitamin.

9. Eat optimally

Just because you are supplementing doesn't mean you shouldn't concern yourself with getting proper nutrition from your foods. Nothing can replace a nutrient-dense diet.

10. Relax

I know, you are laughing at me right now because you don't think there is any way you can possibly relax. I am sure that you, like almost everyone else, run around all day long trying to make ends meet, take care of your loved ones, excel at your job, and so on, and now you've got this other giant project going—trying to get pregnant! But just about any doctor you talk to will tell you that this step is one of the most important. Stress and tension, whether related to getting pregnant or life in general, can make getting pregnant literally twice as hard.

In a study published in the journal Human Reproduction, scientists found that, among women who were trying to get pregnant, those with the highest levels of alpha-amylase (a protein in saliva that researchers use as a biomarker for long-standing stress) had more than double the risk of infertility compared with those with the lowest levels. My best proof for this is the journey many of my own friends and family have undergone with conception. My own mom tried for a year to get pregnant. The minute she and my dad decided to "stop trying," just enjoy married life, and do a little traveling, she immediately got knocked up with me.

11. Consider alternative medicine

It took Heidi three tries before she became pregnant with our son, and while neither of us wanted her taking fertility drugs unless it was an absolute necessity (which it was not), I was open to alternative, holistic therapies, as was she. To be truthful, I think this is what made all the difference.

Ultimately, if you have the means, I would definitely consider finding an herbalist and acupuncturist who specializes in pregnancy, if that feels right to you. Or consider other forms of alternative medicine if they are more your style, like chiropractic care, massage therapy, or an Ayurvedic doctor. If you already regularly go to a chiropractor, acupuncturist, massage therapist, herbalist, Ayurvedic doctor, or any other kind of integrative health practitioner, you should also tell them about your pregnancy plans. While you can continue to see these health professionals as you try to get pregnant, there may be important ways they adjust your treatment, not just for safety but even to enhance your fertility.

This article originally appeared on RodaleWellness.com.