There are many factors that can make conception more difficult.
Conception requires healthy sperm, regular intercourse around the time of ovulation, good quality eggs, and a healthy pelvic environment. Sometimes a problem in just one of these areas can lead to a delay getting pregnant.
Up to one in six couples worldwide have difficulty conceiving in their first 12 months. Many people believe that once they stop taking contraception, they will fall pregnant quickly. However, there is only a very short time period each month where conception is possible, and there are many factors that affect both female and male fertility. Most people would be aware that a woman’s fertility decreases as she gets older but may not realise that even during her most fertile years, lifestyle choices and external factors can affect the chances of both falling pregnant and having a healthy baby. So what are some of the factors that affect fertility and what can be done to assist you in being as ready as possible when embarking on your fertility journey?
The most important factor in fertility is age. Woman are born with all the eggs they will ever have and with age both the number and the quality of those eggs declines. For most women, periods will not stop until their early 50s but fertility begins to decline sharply around the age of 35. While age is the most important factor, it is also the one element that we cannot change. Age also plays a role in male fertility: while men make millions of sperm every day, over the age of 45 men see a drop in sperm count and semen quality.
There are some lifestyle changes to help to boost your fertility:
- Healthy weight range. Couples can enhance their fertility and chances of a healthy pregnancy by ensuring they are within a healthy weight range. We know that being a healthy weight can improve the health of the couple and help prevent imbalances in men’s and women’s hormones. Weight can affect a woman’s menstrual cycle and the quality of her eggs. Being overweight or obese will also reduce sperm quality and cause erection problems. Eating healthy, appropriately portioned meals and moving your body more can help assist most people reach a healthy weight.
- Balanced diet. A well-balanced diet means incorporating the following five food groups into the everyday diet: vegetables and legumes, fruit, grains and cereals, lean meats and dairy sources. Your foods should be organic where possible. Foods high in added sugar should also be limited or avoided. As well as ensuring the correct balance of macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins and fats) it is also essential that micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) are also being covered for optimal function. This is best achieved by a healthy well-balanced diet, but it is recommended that women who are planning a pregnancy should supplement their diet with folate and that particularly vitamin d and iodine needs are being met.
- Quit smoking. Smoking can cause problems for all areas of the body, including the reproductive systems. Women who smoke are more likely to have difficulties falling pregnant, may not respond well to treatments and are at increased risk of miscarriage, complications during birth and having a baby with a low birth weight. Similarly, for men, smoking can affect the development and quality of sperm, decreasing the number and motility of sperm. Information and advice on smoking cessation can be obtained from your doctor and by visiting www.quitnow.gov.au.
- Restrict alcohol intake to recommended levels. Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol may affect sperm count and increase the risk of miscarriage and birth abnormalities. It is recommended that males reduced the amount of alcohol consumed to one standard drink per day and females not drink alcohol at all whilst trying to get pregnant.
- Similarly, other ‘recreational’ drugs should be eliminated from a couple’s lifestyle when trying to enhance fertility and conceive. This includes performance-enhancing substances such as steroids.
- Environmental toxins. Contact with an abundance of environmental chemicals is unavoidable. These compounds are in the household products we use, the food we eat and the air around us. There is an increasing number of studies that show that some chemicals, known as endocrine disrupting chemicals, can reduce the quality of sperm and eggs and therefore affect the chance of falling pregnant. Some studies suggest that people who are struggling with fertility have higher levels of chemicals in their systems. To minimise these exposures, reducing the number of plastics in everyday life. Just look at the plastic containers for food storage or heating leftovers, the plastic bottle you have sitting on your desk and the clingwrap you have wrapped your half used tomato in! Wash fruit and vegetables well – even when you are going to cook them. Drink from glass or hard plastic bottles rather than soft bottles and cups. Avoid smoke, heavily scented product and fumes. Allow fresh air to circulate your home and work environment. Be aware of the content of the products you regularly use (read the labels) and opt for ‘green’ alternatives. More information can be found on www.yourfertility.org.au
Finally, it is important to remember that there is not just one factor that affects your fertility. Many factors can affect the chances of a healthy pregnancy, but with your specialist team at Eve Health, we can work towards optimising your chances to a healthier you and a healthy future family.