12th Feb, 2016
Whether actively trying for a baby or planning a family at a later stage in life, reproductive health is hugely important for both men and women. Simple things like lifestyle choices, exercise habits and medical history all play an important role in fertility. Here are 15 ways to become fertility aware, from Mary McAuliffe, Head of Clinical Services at Waterstone Clinic
1. Educate yourself about the link between age and fertility.
Fertility is age related and knowing how your fertility changes with age is so important, especially for women. Women’s fertility rate begins to decline from age 32, with a more pronounced decline from 35 and a sharp decline from 40 onwards. Men’s sperm can start declining in quantity and quality from 40 years. The key to fulfilling your desire to have a family is to take charge of your reproductive health and plan accordingly.
2. Maintain a healthy weight.
Being underweight or overweight can have a negative impact on fertility for both men and women. If you are actively trying for baby, it’s a good idea to calculate your BMI. Aim for a healthy weight; a BMI of between 20 and 24.9 is ideal. Optimising your weight will help regulate your menstrual cycle and increase your chances of conceiving. The key message is to get active and engage in an exercise that you enjoy.
3. Eat a healthy and balanced diet.
It’s as important for your fertility health as for your physical health. Maintain a balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruit and veg., avoid processed foods, junk food and fizzy drinks and reduce your caffeine intake as much as possible. Omega 3 essential fatty acids found in fish oils and good-quality flaxseed oils are not only recommended for healthy cell development, but also play an important role during pregnancy
4. Quit smoking.
As well as being beneficial for your overall health, research shows that it takes longer for smokers than non-smokers to become pregnant. Smoking can cause damage to the ovaries and fallopian tubes and alter the hormone levels required for pregnancy. Smoking also increases the risk of miscarriage within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Men who smoke have a lower sperm count that those who don’t and there is some association with increased sperm DNA damage.
5. Reduce alcohol intake.
Heavy alcohol intake in men has been linked to reduced testosterone production and reduced sperm quality. It has also been linked to ovulatory problems in women. It is not known how much alcohol you need to drink before fertility is affected, so it is best to reduce alcohol intake or try to cut it out completely while trying to conceive.
6. Folic acid.
Women should start taking 400mcg folic acid before trying to conceive and during the first three months of pregnancy. Folate is an essential ingredient in cell division and a baby starts out as a single cell that divides again and again. It can also be beneficial for men to take folic acid while trying to conceive. Taking a folic acid supplement can help improve sperm quality and reduce sperm abnormalities. Foods rich in folic acid include spinach, brussels sprouts, asparagus and avocado.
7. Up your supplements.
Increase your Vitamin D intake; this is important for bone health and also for normal embryo development. Vitamin C and CoQ10 are beneficial for healthy egg and sperm development.
8. Understand your fertile period – especially after time on the pill.
Take note of your menstrual cycle; keep a record so that you have a good understanding of your cycle length. For example, when women stop taking the contraceptive pill, it can take a while for menstruation to regulate. so it is especially important to stay tuned into any changes. Usually, ovulation occurs on day 14 of a 28 day cycle, so your best chance of becoming pregnant is between day 12 and day 16, sometimes known as the fertile window.
9. Chat to your Mum.
Ask your mum when she started the menopause as this can give you a good indication of when you may expect to start. If your Mum had early menopause, then you should be aware that this may narrow your fertility window.
10. Get to grips with your medical history.
For women who have had surgery for problems such as appendicitis or removal of an ovarian cyst, becoming pregnant can be more challenging as the surgery can sometimes cause blockages in the fallopian tubes. If you have had any medical concerns, or have a history of a sexually transmitted disease, book yourself in for a quick fertility assessment to see if there are any issues you may need to address. Men who have had surgery for undescended testes, have had mumps (this can affect sperm production) or trauma to the groin region, should seek an early fertility assessment.
11. Keep it cool.
It is important not to overheat sperm. Avoid resting laptops on your lap, using heated car seats and keeping your mobile phone in your pocket. Avoid wearing too-tight underwear or jeans for prolonged periods.
12. Don’t over-exercise.
If you are trying to conceive, avoid vigorous exercise or long cycles as these activities can compress or potentially overheat the testicles. Also avoid hot baths, saunas and Jacuzzis as they can temporarily decrease sperm production.
13. Get amorous.
New research from Indiana University suggests that the more times a woman has intercourse outside of her fertile window, the more her immune system is primed for pregnancy when she has intercourse while ovulating. While this research is novel (September 2015), it is recommended to have intercourse two to three times per week when trying to conceive. Take care of your relationship, communicate with one another and remember to have sex for fun!
14. Don’t stress out.
Take time out to listen to relaxing music, meet with friends or download apps for mindfulness to keep those stress levels in check.
15. Take a positive approach, book a fertility assessment.
It’s becoming ever more convenient to have a fertility assessment. Self-referral services where you book online or over the phone are hassle free and fertility centres will usually offer a discounted rate for a couple having a fertility assessment together. Ensure that you always discuss your results with a fertility expert.