Trying to Conceive: Is Your Lube Getting In Your Way?

When you’re trying to conceive (TTC) there are already so many things you’re told you can’t do. And things no one tells you that could be getting in your way. And then on top of that you’re not supposed to stress out about it!

If you’ve been diagnosed with unexplained infertility, you’re trying to figure out what you could do to improve your chances of conceiving. Whether you’re continuing to try naturally or as you add in assisted reproductive technologies like medicated cycles with Clomid or Letrozole, IUI, or IVF, make sure these simple tips are on your list:

Make sure you’re using a lubricant that doesn’t harm sperm.

Believe it or not, your lubricant could be a culprit in your fertility struggles. This is beyond frustrating when you’ve already had at least one sperm test and gone through the battery of blood tests, pelvic ultrasound, and HSG (hysterosalpingogram) and everything’s showing up normal. Some experts advise to forego lubricant, but as someone who still occasionally struggles with vestibulitis (a form of painful intercourse) myself, I find that wildly unrealistic.

What you want to look for as you evaluate lubricants are pH and osmolality.

You probably remember pH from science class.

A low pH is acidic (0 – below 7) and a high pH is basic (above 7 – 14). A pH of 7 is neutral. What you’re normally looking for in a lubricant is a pH that suits the vaginal environment (at or just below 4.5 according to the World Health Organization). This is what you should have on hand for general use, especially if you have a history of pelvic pain or other imbalances like yeast infections or UTIs.

However, for conception, healthy sperm has a pH around 7 (according to the World Health Organization). This matches the pH of our fertile cervical mucus as well. That’s a big shift! Aren’t our bodies amazing? So if you’re having challenges getting pregnant, you may find you have success by changing to a different lubricant with a neutral pH. Note that a lot of great lubricants advertise as “pH balanced neutral,” but find out (resource below) if that’s balanced neutral for the vaginal environment (pH around 4.5) or truly pH neutral (7).

Now what on earth is osmolality?

“Osmolality refers to a substance’s ability to draw moisture out of tissues and cells. Exposure to a lubricant with a higher osmolality than normal vaginal secretions can result in vaginal tissue which literally shrivels up because the moisture in those cells is pulled out. This process leads to irritation and a breakdown of the mucous membrane barrier which protects the vagina from infection. Disrupted vaginal mucous membranes have been associated not only with irritation and discomfort but also with increased risks of sexually transmitted infections such as HIV.  Unfortunately, many currently marketed lubricants have high osmolalities which are detrimental to vaginal tissue.” https://www.womensvoices.org/lubricants-womens-health/

Clearly just choosing a lube with the right pH for your needs (whether trying to conceive or not) is only half the issue. Your lubricant shouldn’t be sucking the moisture out of your tissues to do its job (that’s cheating). You want one that’s adding more lubrication! So you want a lower osmolality (below 1200 mOsm/kg is the general recommendation).

What lube should I be using?

If you’ve been using drugstore lubricants, do yourself a favor and hop into a local Good Vibrations (not a sponsored mention, I just love them for how knowledgeable and supportive their staff is). They also have an online store if you can’t make it in person to one of their San Francisco locations.

Here’s a handy chart so you can check pH and osmolality for your current lubricant and get ideas for others that may suit you better. You’re looking for an osmolality below 1200 mOsm/kg and, for conception, a pH of 7.0 (a pH of 4.5 for general vaginal usage).

For a tested fertility lubricant that meets these criteria, one that I hear over and over is BabyDance (sold various places in stores and online from Walgreens to Amazon). It’s not the only one that could work for you, but it is fairly available. Slippery Stuff and Organic Sliquid are other options that make the cut by the criteria above.

Of course plenty of people get pregnant using a wide variety of lubricants, but if you’re having trouble conceiving, a pH 7 lube with low osmolality is one thing you can try adjusting and you may find you have more success!

What else can you do to improve your fertility?

Don’t give up exercise completely.

Movement is so good for you! True, you may need to bring down the intensity a bit depending on the type of activity you’re doing and the challenges you’re having conceiving, but you absolutely don’t have to commit yourself to bedrest! When in doubt, go for walks in your neighborhood or a slow-paced hike in nature. Yin yoga is also wonderful, though you should skip the twists during the two week wait (earlier if you’re doing stimulated cycles to avoid ovarian torsion). There are a bunch of great videos on YouTube if you search for “yoga for conception” or “yoga two week wait.” We can also discuss customized qigong (gentle movement and breathing) exercises for you in your session. Which brings me to:

Come in for acupuncture!

Acupuncture is often recommended by gynecologists and fertility clinics because of its calming effects on the stress and anxiety that you feel while TTC. In addition, acupuncture, supplemented as needed with herbal medicine and moxibustion, has been shown to increase bloodflow to the uterus and ovaries, assisting in the development and release of healthy follicles, increasing the thickness and health of the endometrium, which provides a hospitable environment for implantation, and regulating the desired hormone levels in fertility cycles and early pregnancy. If sperm quality, motility, and/or quantity are concerns, acupuncture and herbal medicine are helpful for addressing those concerns as well.

Trying to conceive can be incredibly challenging and can feel lonely as it’s not an easy subject to discuss, sometimes even with close friends. Adding an acupuncturist to your team means you have a supportive ear and an expert in your corner.

ABOUT SHAWNA

Shawna Seth, L.Ac., Dipl. Ac. is a California state licensed and nationally certified acupuncturist whose areas of specialty include promoting women’s health, especially surrounding menstrual health and fertility. She uses the gentlest effective methods possible to guide her patients to balance. Shawna sees patients in her private practice on Sutter St in San Francisco. Make your appointments online or email contact@shawnaseth.com. To learn more about Japanese medicine and the world of acupuncture, follow her blog A Cuppa Qi.

Photo by Sharon Pittaway on Unsplash