Infertility can affect anyone, with around 9-15% of couples in the UK experiencing issues in conceiving at some point during their journey to potential parenthood.
With around 9-15% of couples in the UK experiencing issues in conceiving, infertility can affect anyone during their journey to potential parenthood. And while some factors can be beyond an individual’s control, there are measures would-be parents can take to help improve their chances of getting pregnant.
So, if you are thinking of becoming a parent, here are six lifestyle choices that might be affecting your fertility.
What is infertility?
Defined as the failure to conceive after 12 months (or more) of regular, unprotected sex, infertility affects both men and women. In women, it can be due to problems with the ovaries as well as ovulation, blockages within the fallopian tubes or problems with the uterus (or womb). For men, infertility is typically due to poor sperm quality, too few sperm or sperm that cannot move properly or inability to ejaculate. For both men and women, it is also possible for infertility to be as a result of an unknown cause.
Infertility treatment typically involves In vitro fertilisation (IVF) for women, and Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection – ICSI treatment – for men.
However, addressing certain lifestyle choices can also help boost your chances of conceiving, including:
Weight and diet
Your body mass index (BMI) can affect your fertility level as being over or underweight can impact on ovulation. Too much body fat affects the amount of oestrogen in a woman’s body and prevent ovulation, while being underweight can stop oestrogen production, leading to irregular periods. For men, having a high BMI can lower testosterone levels, increasing the risk of impaired sperm production and quality.
This all means that maintaining a healthy weight is essential for your fertility, as does eating a healthy, balanced diet which includes good fats as well as plenty of fibre, fresh fruit and vegetables.
Regular, moderate exercise is essential for a healthy body but too much exercise can actually be detrimental to your fertility. Vigorous exercise can interrupt ovulation and reduce the production of the hormone progesterone, which thickens the uterus so an egg can implant. As a guide, 30-60 minutes of moderate exercise, 3-4 times a week is a good level of exercise to support a healthy body prepare for pregnancy.
If you smoke, quitting is one of the most important things you can do if you are wanting to have a baby. And this is because tobacco, which contains among other toxins, cadmium and cotinine, can reduce both egg production and sperm quality. Smoking also prematurely ages the ovaries and is associated with miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies too.
Too much alcohol increases a woman’s risk of ovulation disorders by reducing the levels of sex hormones needed for a normal menstrual cycle. Sperm quality can also be significantly affected by excessive drinking. Booze can also impair the foetus, so the best advice if you are trying to conceive is to not drink any alcohol at all.
We all know the health benefits of a good night’s sleep, but did you know that your body balances your hormone production while you are slumbering? And this includes a key hormone called leptin, which is essential for regulating ovulation. But irregular or insufficient sleep can disrupt hormone production, potentially affecting your fertility. And poor sleep can also increase levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, which can inhibit the menstrual cycle. For balanced hormone levels, aim to get around eight hours sleep a night.
If you are hoping for babies at some point, then practising safe sex is essential. Sexually transmitted diseases (STIs) such as gonorrhoea and chlamydia can both cause infertility in women by damaging the uterus and fallopian tubes. The best way to prevent developing an STI – or passing one onto the partner you are eventually going to try have a child with – is to always use condoms and, if necessary, get regularly tested.