It’s not always possible for a woman to have children early on in her fertile life. Other things like a career, studying, travelling or your financial situation get in the way. Sometimes, you simply have not yet found the right partner. However in today’s ‘full on’ society it has never been more relevant than it is now to consider preserving fertility. If you are not quite ready to start a family just yet but maybe thinking of doing so in the next 1‐5 years. Then read on……
Fertility – the hard facts
A woman’s egg is exactly as old as she is, so in essence as we age so do our supply of eggs. If you are in your 20’s then it is likely that your body is functioning pretty well and therefore so are your eggs, however as you reach your 30’s and 40’s you might start to notice that your joints aren’t quite as good as they used to be and the mirror may be showing a few more wrinkles and grey hairs. As your body is showing signs of aging so too are your eggs. They may not be as healthy as they once were.
A woman is born with her full supply of eggs, millions of them. However these naturally decline and we lose many each month and remarkably, unlike how men manufacture sperm on a daily basis, we don’t make anymore.
So we really need to look after the ones we’ve got and preserve our fertility for the future!
Unfortunately, approximately one-tenth of women experience premature ovarian ageing, meaning that their ovarian reserve is found to be lower than their age. Genetic factors are most likely responsible for this, however other environmental and lifestyle factors play a part too. If you decide to delay trying for a baby, it is vital that you do all you can to delay the ageing of your eggs and preserve your ovarian reserve for the future, because crossing your fingers just isn’t enough!
Here are some simple steps you can take now to preserve your fertility for the future.
1. Get a health check
See you Doctor or Nurse for a general health check. Most clinics offer them. As well as checking your weight and blood pressure you can also have a general blood test to look for conditions that might affect your fertility such as diabetes or thyroid problems. You may also want to discuss checking your ovarian reserve with simple blood tests such as Follicle Stimulating Hormone test (known as FSH). You may choose to pay privately for an Anti-Mullerian Hormone (AMH) test which is best done in conjunction with an antral follicle count scan.
2. Go for a Sexual Health Screen
Contact your local sexual health clinic and go and get a full sexual health screen. The most common sexually transmitted infection is Chlamydia. This infection is often silent, meaning that you might not notice any symptoms and if left untreated can cause problems in conceiving. It is really easily tested for, by generally a swab that you take yourself and the treatment is often one dose of antibiotic tablets. So make this a priority in preserving fertility.
3. Stop smoking
Yes, it’s true smoking really does age your eggs. Smoking can age your fertility by about 10 years. Research shows that cigarette smoking is responsible for approximately 13% of infertility worldwide and on average smokers require twice the number of IVF cycles before they conceive. If you only do one of these steps to preserve your fertility (and I would recommend that you do them all) then stopping smoking is without doubt the most crucial change you could make. Ditch those cigarettes today to make a huge impact on preserving fertility.
4. Maintain a healthy weight to help in preserving fertility
Carrying too much weight or being underweight both can affect your fertility. If you are overweight oestrogen is stored in your excess fat. This extra supply of oestrogen fools the body into suppressing essential hormones and the ideal balance of hormones is disrupted, making it difficult to conceive. On the other-‐hand, if you are underweight your levels of oestrogen fall and you may stop ovulating completely. To determine whether your weight is in the healthy range, work out your Body Mass Index ratio. For an online BMI calculator, click here. A healthy BMI is between 18-‐24.
5. Eat to conceive
Giving careful consideration to what you eat and making changes where necessary will really help to
preserve your ovarian reserve. Avoid ‘bad’ carbohydrates such as refined foods, sugary drinks and sweet foods. If you suffer from Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) maintaining a healthy weight can really help in reducing the degree to which you are affected but also help with the symptoms. A balanced diet high in fresh fruit and vegetables is the key building block for preserving your fertility. More recently ‘superfoods’ have become popular – foods like pomegranates, bananas and pineapple are said to have fertility boosting properties. Look out for my blog on superfoods coming soon.
6. Do you need a vitamin boost?
If you feel that your diet isn’t totally balanced add in some vitamins. Indeed if you are planning to get pregnant in the next 12 months it is advisable that you start taking folic acid and vitamin D supplements now. Both folic acid and vitamin D help prevent the developing embryo against spina bifida and other disorders, however, more recent research has shown that taking vitamin D actively helps you to conceive.
7. Get your trainers on
Exercising 2-‐3 times per week has so many health benefits and will help in preserving fertility. Without a doubt that leading a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise will prevent you developing any illness that may impact on your future fertility. Exercising will also help you keep in a healthy BMI range. Be careful not to excessively exercise though as this can lead to menstrual irregularities and therefore affect ovulation.
8. Check your Mother’s fertility
Ask your Mum how old she was when she went through the menopause. This will give you a good indication of your own fertility preservation. If she went through the menopause in her early 40’s then it’s likely that her egg quality was declining for a good few years prior to then. However, if she started having menopausal symptoms in her late 40’s and early 50’s then you have a little more time to play with. If you are considering conceiving in the next year do all the steps above but also add in the following 5 steps.
9. Reconsider your method of contraception
Some hormonal methods of contraception, once stopped, can result in it taking a number of months for your fertility to return to normal again. This is particularly so with the injection but may also occur with the implant and the combined method of oral contraception (the pill). I advise that you stop this method of contraception approximately 9-‐12 months before you want to conceive and switch to a non-hormonal method of contraception such as the non-hormonal IUD, condoms or natural contraception. Natural contraceptive methods if taught and used correctly are up to 99% effective and help in preserving fertility. 10. Reduce your alcohol and caffeine intake
Excessive alcohol intake disrupts the functioning of and damages the egg. It also impairs the body’s ability to absorb essential vitamins and minerals. Reducing alcohol intake and definitely avoiding binge drinking will help to preserve your fertility. Binge drinking damages your blood sugar and we are beginning to see that high blood sugar levels may be a precursor to PCOS. Caffeine as a stimulant affects the body in many ways, which leads to ovarian ageing. Try substituting some of your caffeinated drinks for teas, coffees (and not to forget carbonated drinks which are high in caffeine) for green tea, herbal teas and fruit juices.
11. Are you stressed?
Recent research has shown a direct correlation between stress and infertility. Studies measuring levels of the stress hormone cortisol, show that time to conception is doubled when a woman is suffering from high levels of stress. If you are constantly under work or emotional stress it is likely that your body is suffering. You are more inclined to suffer from high blood pressure and difficulty in sleeping, both of which can increase you risk of suffering from chronic conditions which in turn may impact on your fertility reserve. If you are under stress, talk to your Doctor and consider action that you can take or lifestyle changes to help reduce your stress levels.
12. Reduce your exposure to toxins
This is an area that really interests me, mainly because the last 100 years has seen dramatic changes in our environment and this appears to have a direct correlation with the increase in infertility rates worldwide. Try and eat organically if you can. Consider changing to natural products in the home. Unwrap foods bought wrapped in plastic as soon as you get home from the shops. Some specialists are concerned about the levels of mercury found in fish like tuna and salmon. I worry less about this as the beneficial properties of eating the occasional fish and getting a good supply of Omega3 in your diet, out way the risks. The important thing is to be informed about toxins and make small changes that fit in with your lifestyle.
Get educated on how to identify your fertility indicators, know when you ovulate and check that your cycle is in good working order for the future. A fertility practitioner can help you with this, can diagnose any problems early and help you get in tip-‐top condition for the future.
You’ve now read all the steps you can take to help preserve fertility for the future. You may choose to try all or you may just want to make one or two changes to your lifestyle. Whatever you decide and whatever small changes you make will definitely help in preserving fertility – just incase you really need it to last just that bit longer.