Female Fertility Guide
Women who have already been pregnant don’t expect to have problems conceiving again, but in fact as many as a third of all the patients at fertility clinics will have had a child, or a pregnancy, in the past. This is known as secondary infertility. Some conditions which affect fertility can develop after a first pregnancy, and an untreated infection after a delivery can sometimes cause problems. In other cases, secondary infertility is just down to age. If a couple have relatively minor fertility problems and start trying for a first child when they are fairly young, they may still manage to conceive, but if the minor problems are combined with age, it can make all the difference. In some cases, secondary infertility will remain unexplained. It is important not to assume you cannot possibly have a fertility problem just because you’ve already conceived before. If you’ve been trying unsuccessfully for another baby for more than a year, it is worth having some basic tests carried out.
Boosting your fertility naturally We may be able to influence our fertility, and improve the chances of success of any fertility treatment, by making some quite simple changes to our lives. How much attention we pay to what we eat and drink, and what we do at work and in our spare time can all make a difference.
Smoking ? If you are a smoker, giving up is one of the most important things you can do to help increase your chances of getting pregnant and improve your fertility. Women who smoke often take longer to conceive, and smoking can affect your ovarian reserve, reducing egg quality and quantity. Women smokers are twice as likely to have fertility problems as non-smokers. On average, women who smoke reach the menopause two years earlier than non-smokers, and they are more likely to have an early menopause. One study has suggested smoking can shorten a woman’s reproductive life by ten years. What’s more, it’s not just your own smoking that can affect your fertility – if your partner smokes, that can cause problems too. Women who live with a smoker have been shown to take longer to get pregnant.
Drinking ? Moderation here, as in all things, is the key. You should certainly be drinking less than the recommended upper limit of 14 units a week for women, and it is often advised that women who are trying to conceive should give up alcohol altogether. Research suggests that women who drink more than five units of alcohol a week take longer to get pregnant, and the general advice if you’re trying to conceive is to limit yourself to one or two units once or twice a week.
Caffeine ? It has been claimed that just one cup of coffee a day can reduce your fertility by half, but the evidence is not consistent when it comes to the link between caffeine consumption and infertility. Consuming very large quantities of caffeine is not a good idea anyway, and the crucial level seems to be around 300mg a day, which means your caffeine intake could possibly cause problems if you drink more than three or four cups of coffee, six cups of tea or eight cans of cola in a day. One study found that women who drink more than five cups of coffee a day were at greater risk of miscarriage. Despite the conflicting evidence, it makes sense not to drink too many caffeinated drinks if you are trying to lead a healthy lifestyle.
Prescription drugs ? You should check whether any prescription or over-the-counter drugs that you use on a regular basis might have an effect on your fertility. Some non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as Ibuprofen, can affect ovulation. Thyroid replacement hormones, antidepressants, tranquilisers and asthma medication have all been linked to fertility problems. For men, some antibiotics, anti-histamines, antimalarial drugs, blood-pressure tablets and arthritis drugs may cause problems. If you, or your partner, are taking any medication on a regular basis, it is worth checking that it isn’t going to affect your chances of getting pregnant.
Weight ? Female fertility is affected by extremes of weight, but there is a wide scale in the middle where both slim and curvy women fall within perfectly healthy weight ranges. However, when a woman has too little body fat, it can cause her periods to stop and you can’t get pregnant if you aren’t ovulating. It will also be much harder to conceive if your body is deprived of vital minerals, vitamins and nutrients. ? At the other end of the scale, obesity also has an impact on ovulation. Fat cells produce oestrogen, and excess weight can lead to raised oestrogen levels, which may prevent ovulation. Women who are overweight are also more likely to have polycystic ovary syndrome, which can affect fertility. If your partner is very overweight, this could reduce his fertility by affecting his sperm quality.
Exercise ? Apparently, most of us don’t get enough exercise. It helps maintain our bodies in good working order, as well as increasing fitness and strength. It has just as important a role in keeping us emotionally balanced, reducing stress and making us feel relaxed. It is often beneficial for those who suffer from depression, anxiety or insomnia. There are long-term benefits too, as it can help prevent high blood pressure and heart problems. As always, you can have too much of a good thing, and women who do huge amounts of exercise can have problems with ovulation. We are talking about extremely vigorous exercise here, and it isn’t an excuse to avoid a brisk walk around the park, as this problem mainly affects female athletes who are in regular training.
Diet ? With diet, as with everything, a balance is essential, You will come across lots of advice about food and fertility, which may involve cutting out all kinds of things entirely, from dairy produce and red meat to sugar and wheat, but for most of us this would not be a particularly enjoyable experience. What’s more important, we probably wouldn’t stick with it for very long. It is far better to make less dramatic changes to your diet that you know you will be able to live with. ? The food many of us eat is full of additives, and you may want to try to cut down the amount of processed convenience foods you consume and consider using organic produce. If you’re not sure about something, read the label. Sometimes surprisingly few of the ingredients listed on ready-meals are actually recognisable as food. ? Eating properly means your body gets the fuel it needs to function at its best. We’re all pretty well versed in the rules of healthy eating now – a balanced diet with lots of fruit and vegetables, making sure you have sufficient protein, carbohydrate and unsaturated fat (that’s the sort you get in olive oil, seeds and fish rather than in meat and dairy products).
Environmental hazards ? Every day we are exposed to chemicals and toxins, but there is little clear evidence as to how they may affect our reproductive systems. Part of the problem is that there are just so many potentially damaging substances in everyday products like household cleaners and pesticides, solvent-based paints, additives and preservatives. Although individual chemicals or toxins may have been tested and declared safe, we don’t know the cumulative effects of being exposed to so many all at once. It is clearly impossible in the twenty-first century to lead a life free from pollutants and chemicals, but you can try to limit your exposure by cutting back on your use of these products in your home. ? There may be more specific hazards in the workplace. We know that exposure to radiation and pesticides can have a harmful effect on the human reproductive system and there are suggestions that other substances could inhibit fertility, although there is not always clear scientific evidence. If you have concerns that chemicals you use at work may be affecting your fertility, you should talk to your doctor.