Choosing to start a family is exciting and being well informed will give you the best chance of conceiving. Lifestyle choices can have a significant effect on your fertility and the health of your baby. There are a number of factors that have the potential to boost your fertility and your general health.
Experts have identified the five most important factors that can have an impact on your fertility:
We’re born with all the eggs we will ever have. As we get older, our eggs age too, diminishing in quantity and quality. We can’t control our age but we can sometimes control when we choose to start a family. The older we get, the longer it takes to conceive and the risk of not falling pregnant increases: at 30, the chance of conceiving each month is about 20 per cent; at 40 it’s around five per cent.
The age of the father at the time of conception is also an important factor. Assisted reproductive methods such as in vitro fertilisation (IVF) can help, but often cannot overcome the effects of age.
Women who are overweight or obese have a reduced chance of getting pregnant. Obesity can affect fertility by causing hormonal imbalances and problems with ovulation, particularly for obese women having their first baby. If you are overweight and planning to get pregnant, committing to healthy eating and regular exercise is the solution – even losing a few kilos can make a difference.
Your partner’s weight can also affect your chances of conceiving.
For those who are overweight, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common cause of infertility. It affects up to one in five women of reproductive age. One way to measure whether you are overweight is to work out your BMI. You calculate your BMI by dividing your weight in kg by the square of your height in metres – or use Health Hub’s BMI calculator.
A healthy BMI is considered to be between 18.5 and 24.9. Having a BMI between 25 and 29.9 is considered ‘overweight’ and a BMI over 30 is considered ‘obese’.
IF YOU’RE UNDERWEIGHT
Being underweight can also reduce a woman’s fertility because it affects ovulation. Compared to women of a healthy weight, underweight women are more than twice as likely to take more than a year to get pregnant. A BMI under 18.5 is considered underweight.
Women who smoke or are exposed to other people’s smoke have a higher risk of infertility. Passive smoking is only slightly less harmful to fertility than smoking.
Smoking affects each stage of reproduction, including egg and sperm maturation, hormone production, embryo transport and the uterus. It can also damage the DNA in both eggs and sperm. If you and your partner smoke, quitting together is a great way to boost your fertility.
Heavy drinking can cause irregular or heavy periods and increase the length of time it takes to get pregnant. If you’re pregnant or planning a pregnancy, not drinking is the safest option.
The five days before ovulation through to the day of ovulation is the only time you can get pregnant. These six days are the fertile window in a woman’s cycle. If you have sex six or more days before you ovulate, the chance of pregnancy is virtually zero. If you have sex five days before ovulation, the likelihood of pregnancy is about 10 per cent.
The probability rises until the two days before and including the day of ovulation. At the end of the fertile window, the chance of pregnancy declines rapidly.
By 12-24 hours after ovulation, you’re no longer able to get pregnant in that cycle. If you’re unsure when you ovulate, having sex every two or three days will boost your chances of conceiving.
How to work out the length of your average menstrual cycle:
Day one is the first day of your period and the last day is the day before the next period begins.
If you have 28 days between periods, ovulation typically happens on day 14, and the most fertile days are days 12, 13, and 14.
If you have longer cycles, say 35 days between periods, ovulation happens on day 21 and the most fertile days are 19, 20, 21.
If you have shorter cycles, say 21 days between periods, ovulation happens on day 7 and the most fertile days are 5, 6, and 7.
2 more must-know fertility facts:
Around 30 per cent of fertility problems in couples originate in the woman. Another 30 per cent originate in the man. No cause is found in around one in 10 couples; this is referred to as ‘unexplained’ infertility.
The odds of conceiving by having sexual intercourse around the time of ovulation are about one in five every month for a young couple. A couple isn’t suspected of fertility problems until they have tried and failed to conceive for one year.
Not everyone experiences fertility problems, but if you do, you are often left dealing with feelings of worry, sadness, distress and anger. Having fertility treatments like IVF can add to the stress.
You may end up being diagnosed with a condition like PCOS, endometriosis or premature menopause, which can add to your distress. Talking to a doctor, counsellor or a psychologist can help you cope with these emotions.
If you choose to undergo a fertility treatment like IVF, consider having fertility counselling, preferably before starting the treatment to prepare you for the emotional time ahead and to cope with any unsuccessful treatments or issues.
There’s lots of advice about what to eat in pregnancy, but your diet pre-conception is equally important to boost your fertility and your partner’s. Stick to a well-balanced diet with a focus on fresh foods. Here are 7 key sources of nutrients:
Antioxidants: Research shows sufficient intake of antioxidants aids female and male reproductive function. Eat lots of fruit and veg in a range of colours.
Better fats: Avoid trans fats, found in store-bought cakes, sweets, potato chips, fast food, powdered soups and margarine. Opt for extra-virgin olive oil, avocado and coconut oil.
Folate: Spinach, asparagus and broccoli are high in B vitamin folate, which can help prevent neural tube defects like spinal bifida. It’s also been found to reduce the risk of ovulation problems.
Zinc and selenium: These are both important minerals for female and male fertility. Sunflower seeds are packed with zinc. Brazil nuts are one of the best sources of selenium.
Low GI: Reducing the glycaemic load may boost fertility. Replace white foods like rice, pasta, bread and sugar with wholegrain options.
Less animal product: Choose more plant sources of protein, eg. nuts, beans and seeds, with occasional, high quality animal protein.
Vitamin B12: It’s been linked with prevention of early miscarriage. A B12 deficiency can be an issue for vegans. In this case, consider a supplement to boost your levels.
Vitamin D: Recent studies suggest vitamin D supplementation could be beneficial for couples who are undergoing IVF. Vitamin D is also important for egg cell maturation and sperm quality.
While the evidence isn’t conclusive, studies show high levels of caffeine consumption might prolong the time it takes to get pregnant. One study showed women who drank more than 500mg of caffeine daily took 11 per cent longer to conceive than those who drank less.
The average amount of caffeine in a cup of coffee is 85mg but it can be up to 175mg depending on how the coffee is prepared and the beans are used. Professor Robert Norman, an expert in reproductive medicine at the University of Adelaide, says if you’re trying for a baby consider cutting out coffee and caffeinated drinks.
General note: This is intended as a general introduction to the topic and in no way should be seen as substitute for your own doctor’s or health professional’s advice. All care is taken to ensure the information contained here is free from error and/or omissions, however, no responsibility can be accepted by the publishers, author, editor or any person involved in the preparation of the material for loss occasioned to any person acting or refraining from action as a result of the published information. Before commencing any health treatment, you should always consult your doctor.