What does Behavior Have to do With Conception?

By Alice Domar, PhD
Executive Director
The Domar Center for Mind/Body Health at Boston IVF


Apparently, all sorts of behaviors can have an impact on how easily one can get pregnant. We have known for a while that things like nicotine, alcohol, vigorous exercise, and a high intake of caffeine are associated with longer time to conception in women trying on their own, and lower pregnancy rates in women receiving treatment.  But two recent studies add more to our knowledge.

In one study, women who exercised moderately were able to conceive more quickly than women who were either couch potatoes or who had a very vigorous routine. The authors recommended that women wishing to get pregnant maintain a regular but modest exercise habit. The second study, believe it or not, looked at the relationship between dental health and conception. They found that the women who had healthy teeth took 5 months on average to get pregnant, while the women who had cavities took 7 months on average. 

The authors hypothesized that the bacteria that causes cavities increases inflammation elsewhere in the body, which could impact a woman’s chance of conceiving as well as carrying a pregnancy to term.

So although the last thing anyone going through infertility wants to hear is yet another thing added to their list of what they “should” be doing to increase the odds, here is a list of the ideal parameters:

  1. Limit alcohol consumption to no more than 1-2 drinks per week maximum (some research advocates no alcohol at all)
  2. Keep caffeine consumption to 50 mg/day
  3. Avoid all exposure to nicotine, even second hand smoke
  4. Limit exercise but don’t eliminate it. Walking daily is ideal. Slowly. Rent a basset hound if you need pacing.
  5. Brush and floss daily.

The funny thing about this list is that these are basically the same recommendations that pregnant women receive (other than no alcohol at all) so if you incorporate them now, once you are pregnant you won’t have to make as many lifestyle modifications. Remember, practice makes perfect!


Alice D. Domar, PhD is a pioneer in the application of mind/body medicine to men’s and women’s health issues. She not only established the first Mind/Body Center for Women’s Health, but also conducts ongoing ground-breaking research in the field. Her research focuses on the relationship between stress and different women’s health conditions, and creating innovative programs to help women decrease physical and psychological symptoms.

Dr. Domar received her M.A. and Ph.D. in Health Psychology from Albert Einstein College of Medicine/Ferkauf School of Professional Psychology of Yeshiva University. Her post-doctoral training was at Beth Israel Hospital, Deaconess Hospital, and Children’s Hospital, all in Boston.

She has conducted research on infertility, breast cancer, menopausal symptoms, ovarian cancer, and premenstrual syndrome. Dr. Domar has earned an international reputation as one of the country’s top women’s health experts.

She is currently the Executive Director of the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health, and the Director of Mind/Body Services at Boston IVF. She is an assistant professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Biology at Harvard Medical School, and a senior staff psychologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Dr. Domar has compiled an impressive list of accomplishments as a best-selling author, media authority and sought-after public speaker. She is the author of numerous books, on the advisory board for Parents Magazine, Health Magazine, Conceive Magazine, and Resolve, and on the Board of Experts for LLuminari. Two of her books have been finalists for the Books for a Better Life Award. She was also the Series Editor for a series of mind/body books by Harvard Medical Publications/Simon and Schuster. She is the narrator of the DVD’s “Stress and Relaxation Explained” and “Infertility Explained”, both of which won silver Telly Awards.  Dr. Domar has appeared on the Today Show, Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, Dateline NBC, CNN, PBS, and the CBS and NBC Evening News, to name a few. She presents lectures and conducts workshops throughout the US and around the world and went on tour with Oprah in the spring of 2004 and 2005 with the LLuminari team. Dr. Domar was named to the prestigious list of 15 “Women to Watch in 2004″ by Lifetime TV. Her newest book is “Be Happy Without Being Perfect” (Three Rivers Press, March, 2009) and she is currently working on a new book, co-authored with Dr. Susan Love, called “Live a Little” (Crown, December, 2009). She is also a featured expert on the new online social health network BeWell.com.