There are many factors that influence one’s ability to conceive. Some we have no control over, such as certain genetic disorders and medical conditions. Others may be able to be influenced: for example, the age we start trying to conceive and optimisation of medical conditions. There remain many factors that we have a certain amount of control over, such as weight, general health and lifestyle.
So let us look at the fertility factors we can influence:
Age: Start younger if you can.
A female’s age when trying to conceive is still the strongest influencer of pregnancy success. Put simply, the younger you are, the higher the number of good-quality eggs. The older you are, the lower are the quality and numbers of eggs. To demonstrate this fact, by the age of 40, it is estimated a female’s natural conception rate is only 8-10 per cent a month and 36 per cent a year. The male’s age also plays a role, although a more subtle one. Research has found that sperm from an older man is less potent than that of a younger man.
Medical Conditions: Ensure medical conditions are correctly diagnosed and treated.
Some of the more common conditions that impact on female fertility are polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and endometriosis. With correct diagnosis and treatment, the effects of these conditions can be minimised or managed, thus allowing conception to occur more easily. Other medical conditions also play a role in fertility success and need to be optimised before trying for pregnancy. Examples are diabetes and thyroid disease. Remember that these conditions will also influence outcomes during pregnancy.
Weight: Ensure your weight is within the healthy range.
Being overweight or underweight can impact on your ability to conceive as hormonal imbalances, ovulation and sperm quality can be affected. For females, being overweight also increases risk factors in pregnancy, such as pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, miscarriage and increased birth weight of the baby. Overweight or obese women are more likely to take more than a year to fall pregnant and then have the associated risks mentioned.
For men, studies have consistently linked obesity to a lower sperm count or poor-quality sperm, as testosterone levels drop while estrogen levels rise.
Health: Fill your body with nutritious food and minimise unhealthy foods.
Healthy eating habits with minimisation or elimination of toxins, such as caffeine, alcohol, smoking and drugs, are highly recommended for successful conception. Harmful habits can damage the DNA within eggs and sperm.
A woman’s eggs are all created before 16 weeks’ gestation while they are still a fetus. They remain dormant for many years but start to mature, in readiness for ovulation, about 100 days prior to ovulation. Sperm, on the other hand, are created from stem cells all the time but take 70 to 90 days to mature and be ready for ejaculation. Couples need to ensure their health is on track well before they try to conceive, giving the best chance of success.
Vitamin supplements are also important. For women, folic acid assists with the healthy development of the fetus, in particular the neural tube. It is recommended that women use a folic acid supplement for at least three months before conception. Other vitamins and minerals may also be lacking and should be assessed by your local doctor. A pre-pregnancy assessment is always recommended. Also, ensure your vaccinations and Pap smear are up to date.
Zinc deficiencies in men can reduce testosterone levels and semen production. Taking an antioxidant and zinc supplement up to three months prior to conception may improve the DNA quality in sperm.
Stress: Minimise stress levels.
The process of trying to conceive can be stressful and research shows that women under stress produce prolactin, which can interfere with regular ovulation. Women relax in different ways, and choosing a technique that works for you is very important. Relaxation methods may include regular exercise, yoga, Pilates, meditation, aromatherapy, massage, acupuncture, a holiday or simply having someone to talk to. Visiting a psychologist is often helpful to teach you new stress-relieving techniques.
A male’s semen quality can also decline during periods of stress so the methods mentioned above also apply to men.
Environmental Factors: Eliminate or take safety measures with toxins.
We are faced with a wide variety of environmental toxins on a daily basis. These pollutants can cause DNA damage to sperm and eggs. If you work with paints, dyes, petrochemicals or pesticides, you need to avoid these or wear protective masks and clothing. Certain body-building powders and other products are hormonally active and can have a drastic negative effect on sperm and eggs. Talk with your doctor or specialist if you have any concerns.
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