Many of us probably didn’t consider our fertility when we were younger. More often we spent time thinking about how we could AVOID pregnancy rather than achieving it!
And then boom, when it comes time to consider baby-making, it may not be as straightforward, easy or immediate as you once thought.
Understanding the factors that influence your fertility can help to maximise your chances of conception. Not all of these factors are totally within our control, but we can definitely exert a positive influence over many of them.
Age is the most important factor affecting female fertility, and it’s also pretty significant for males.
Age matters so much for female fertility because of the way our egg reserve works. A woman is born with all the eggs she will ever have in her lifetime. As we age, the quantity and the quality of the eggs declines, reducing our chances of conception. This is more noticeable over the age of 35, approximately.
Men are also affected by an age-related decline in fertility, though it is more gradual. Although men make millions of new sperm daily, the quality, activity and total amount of sperm produced declines as men get older. Men older than 40 years old have fewer healthy sperm than younger men.
Some genetic conditions can affect fertility. For example, conditions such as cystic fibrosis or chromosomal abnormalities make it more difficult to conceive, as they affect egg reserve and sperm counts.
Although we don’t yet have a clear understanding, some reproductive conditions that affect fertility such as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) may have a genetic element too.
Some medical conditions can affect reproductive hormones and reproductive organs, such as PCOS and endometriosis. PCOS affects reproductive hormones and can interfere with ovulation and egg quality. Endometriosis can cause pelvic inflammation, impair egg quality, and might sometimes cause physical issues like damage to the fallopian tubes.
Although these conditions can make it more difficult to conceive, there are treatment options, and not everyone will experience issues falling pregnant!
Other conditions that can affect fertility include cancer treatments, thyroid disorders and diabetes. If you have a pre-existing medical condition, it’s worth chatting to your doctor about the potential impact on fertility so you know your options.
Did you know that certain dietary patterns have been associated with improved fertility, whereas other foods can have a negative effect?
Following a fertility-friendly diet including high fibre carbohydrates, foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids such salmon, plenty of fruits and vegetables and sources of healthy fats like nuts, seeds and extra virgin olive oil can improve your chances of conception.
Processed meats, saturated and trans fats, excessive coffee and alcohol, high amounts of added sugars and high-mercury rich fish can negatively impact your fertility.
Additionally, there are specific micronutrients that can support fertility and reduce birth defects such as folate, choline, iodine, zinc, B vitamins and selenium. Some of these can be supplemented, but you should seek professional advice before supplementing.
Diet and lifestyle go hand in hand as two of the factors we can most significantly influence when it comes to our fertility!
It’s probably stating the obvious, but the use of recreational drugs and/or smoking can negatively affect your fertility, as well as the health of your future child. If you are having difficulty breaking up with these habits, don’t be afraid to seek help.
On a positive note, lifestyle choices such as regular exercise can have a positive impact not only on your fertility but also your emotional wellbeing, which makes the fertility journey that much easier. Regular, moderate-intensity exercise is generally recommended; excessive high-intensity exercise can potentially have detrimental effects so there’s no need to turn into an iron man.
Being overweight and being underweight (less spoken about, but equally an issue) can affect fertility. Nutrition and lifestyle strategies can really help to manage this fertility risk factor!
In women, being overweight or being underweight can affect reproductive hormones and ovulation, meaning that you won’t release an egg from your ovaries. In both situations, there is also an increased risk of a poor response to fertility treatments, too. In men, weight issues have been associated with increased susceptibility to erectile dysfunction and reduced sperm quality.
It is difficult to completely avoid chemicals in the environment, however there many ways to reduce your exposure.
Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) can mimic or block male and female sex hormones, disrupting reproductive function. High levels of EDCs in the body can cause:
- Changes in hormone levels
- Decreased sperm and egg quality
- Longer menstrual cycles, meaning it may take longer to fall pregnant
- Increased risk of miscarriage
In order to reduce your exposure, look out for products that contain Bisphenols (BPA, BPS, BPF), phthalates, parabens, pesticides, herbicides and insecticides as well as heavy metals such as aluminium. For more ways on how to avoid them read Xenoestrogens and EDCs: What are they and how to avoid them?