Fertility is not often considered until the time comes to start a family. The journey into parenthood can joyous milestone, but for some, the struggle can be heartbreaking. Individual fertility regulation is complex, but several modifiable risk factors for infertility are within your control.
Evaluating your modifiable risk factors can increase your chances to achieve pregnancy naturally.
Weight control and physical activity can impact your reproductive hormones and ability to conceive.
The standard American diet can have a significant negative impact on fertility.
Stress, depression, and anxiety can have consequences for your fertility.
If you have been trying to conceive unsuccessfully for 12 months, it may be time to visit a fertility specialist.
Maintaining a healthy weight, getting enough physical activity, proper nutrition, and managing stress could increase your chance of getting pregnant naturally.
1. Maintain a healthy weight
Weight or Body Mass Index (BMI) is directly related to fertility. The fertility of overweight and underweight individuals is impacted by several factors, many rooted in hormonal imbalances. Being over or underweight can impact the hormones that regulate monthly periods and ovulation. This can lead to ovulatory infertility in up to 12% of underweight individuals and 25% of overweight individuals.
If you are overweight, you can have increased risk of:
- Lack of ovulation;
- Lack of monthly menses;
- Higher conception time and lower conception rates;
- Miscarriage rates;
- Pregnancy complications.
Obesity and higher BMI’s are also associated with insulin resistance. The body’s cells will not respond well to insulin, a hormone that helps regulate blood sugar. Insulin resistance is associated with disorders such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) which can greatly impact fertility.
Being underweight or having a low BMI affects your reproductive hormones as well. Individuals at risk for being underweight include those who suffer from anorexia nervosa, elite athletes, and those taking medications that can result in excessive weight loss and other disorders or diseases.
If you are underweight, you can experience infertility due to:
- Lack of fat tissue;
- Lack of ovulation;
- Sexual dysfunction;
2. Stay physically active
Physical activity has an impact on fertility. The relationship is complex and despite numerous studies, there is no official recommendation for physical activity for those trying to conceive.
A large study from Norway evaluated the relationship between fertility and physical activity. In this study, moderate exercise examples included brisk walking, gardening, or leisurely cycling. Vigorous exercise examples included running, aerobics, gymnastic, or swimming.
The study revealed that people participating in a moderate exercise of up to 60 minutes a day had a decreased risk of infertility compared to those who participated in less activity. The same study also found that those participating in vigorous exercise of greater than 60 minutes a day had higher rates of infertility, except if those individuals were overweight or obese. In those cases, vigorous exercise increased fertility.
The results of this study concluded that any type of physical activity would improve fertility among those individuals who are overweight or obese. Individuals with an appropriate BMI may improve their fertility if they transition from vigorous exercise to moderate physical activity.
3. Balance nutrition
The standard American diet is high in trans fats, refined carbohydrates, and sugars and low in fresh, whole nutrition. This diet harms fertility. A “fertility diet” may be worthwhile for those looking to conceive. A large group of infertile women was prescribed a fertility diet that included consuming:
- Higher amounts of monounsaturated fat;
- Higher amounts of vegetable protein instead of animal-based protein;
- Low glycemic carbohydrates;
- Full-fat dairy;
- Increased iron intake from plants and supplements;
Amazingly, this diet, along with weight control and exercise accounted for a 69% lower risk of ovulatory infertility. Some studies have also shown that supplementation of folic acid, vitamin B-6, and vitamin B-12 may increase fertility.
Vitamin D also appears to be an important component of fertility. Vitamin D is involved in sex hormone creation and regulation. Vitamin D is an important part of glucose metabolism and insulin secretion, making it an important consideration for those suffering from infertility due to PCOS.
4. Reduce stress, depression, and anxiety
Day-to-day life can carry many stressors. Work, relationships, life circumstances, children, and health are just a few examples that can cause undue stress and a release of stress hormones within the body. The struggle to conceive can breed feelings of stress and anxiety. Unfortunately, many suffering from infertility live in a silent struggle, reluctant to share their journey with others. This isolation can worsen feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression.
Up to 60% of individuals suffering from infertility have reported feelings of anxiety and depression. Please seek emotional support if you are struggling with infertility or currently receiving infertility treatment. Support systems and programs are available to help you. There are many online communities for those desiring support and the freedom to share their journey with an empathetic audience.
Fertility problems – when to seek help?
Clinically, infertility is defined as the inability to conceive a baby within 12 months with unprotected and frequent intercourse. This is the reality for 7% to 8% of American women. It is after these 12 months that many begin to discuss infertility treatment with their obstetrician or midwife and may be referred to a fertility specialist.
What happens when you see a fertility doctor?
The ability to conceive a child begins with ovulation when you release a healthy egg from the ovaries. In addition to a complete health history, and physical and gynecological exam, a fertility specialist may conduct:
- Ovulation blood testing and ovulation reserve testing. These tests measure your ovulation hormone levels and determine the number of eggs within the ovaries;
- Imaging testing. Such as x-ray or ultrasound that evaluate the anatomy of the reproductive organs;
- Hysteroscopy or Laparoscopy. Minimally invasive procedures that use a small camera to visually inspect the interior of your uterus or the exterior of your ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus.
After completing a full evaluation, your fertility specialist will be able to discuss infertility treatment options which may include medications, assistive reproductive technology (ART), or both.
Positive lifestyle changes can have a significant impact on fertility and the ability to become pregnant naturally before seeking specialist care. Your body is a vessel for creating new life and your body needs to be functioning optimally. Appropriate weight, physical activity, nutrition, and stress management play a vital role in the function of your body function and your ability to conceive.