All posts by Adrian Lower
Potential titles: What can women do to maximise their chances of conceiving?/Lifestyle factors affecting fertility in women
Women who become pregnant are encouraged to adapt their lifestyle to minimise risks to the pregnancy; however it is becoming increasingly apparent that lifestyle factors also have a significant on a woman’s chances of conceiving in the first place. Research has shown that for both men and women, making positive changes to nutrition and lifestyle is associated with increased chances of pregnancy.
Here are some of the key lifestyle factors that may have an impact on women’s fertility:
It is well known that pregnant women should avoid drinking alcohol, but there is also evidence that women trying to conceive can boost their chances of pregnancy by cutting it out. It is thought that alcohol may cause hormonal fluctuations that interfere with ovulation, as well as increasing the risk of miscarriage in early pregnancy.
Studies suggest that women who smoke are less fertile than non-smokers, possibly due to the impact of toxic chemicals on the balance of hormones in the body and the function of the ovaries. Moreover, quitting should be a priority for anyone hoping to conceive due to the significant risks to the baby of exposure to smoking in the womb.
Drugs and medication
Recreational drugs are an obvious no-no, but some prescription and over the counter medications can also interfere with your chances of conception. If you take any medications, it is worth checking with your doctor or pharmacist whether you should continue to do so when you are trying to conceive.
It is thought that stress may affect hormone levels in the body, impacting on fertility. Research suggests that women suffering from anxiety who receive support and counselling have an increased chance of becoming pregnant, so it is worth seeking help if you are feeling anxious, especially if struggling to conceive itself is causing stress.
Weight, diet and exercise
You can maximise your chances of conceiving by maintaining a healthy weight, with a body mass index of between twenty and twenty-five, because being overweight or underweight may cause problems with ovulation. A balanced diet and regular exercise are important for maintaining a healthy weight, and these lifestyle factors are also associated with better fertility outcomes.
As well as ensuring you eat a range of healthy foods and keep processed foods to a minimum, it is also recommended that you begin taking a folic acid supplement as soon as you begin trying to conceive. Regular, moderate exercise is better than frequent high-intensity workouts as these may cause hormonal disruption, impacting on fertility.
Looking after yourself and your body is more important than ever as you embark on your fertility journey, and the right lifestyle choices may help to speed you on your way. Most importantly, don’t forget to make time to look after yourself, rest and relax as you prepare for pregnancy.
References and Further Information
The lifestyle changes that women are encouraged to make when planning a pregnancy, such as quitting smoking and cutting out alcohol, are well known these days. In the past, less thought was given to the effect of men’s lifestyle choices on the chances of conception, but research has gradually cast more light on this issue. Evidence is mounting that for men, as well as for women, choices around nutrition and lifestyle can have an impact on fertility.
Here are six key areas where simple changes may increase men’s chances of conceiving:
Studies suggest that a healthy, balanced diet is associated with increased fertility among men, so those trying to conceive should ensure they eat plenty of fruit and vegetables alongside fish, poultry, wholegrain cereals and dairy products, and avoid highly processed food.
Taking regular exercise
Being overweight or obese may mean you are less likely to conceive, so taking sensible steps to lose excess weight is a sensible lifestyle choice for men wishing to become fathers. Regular exercise plays a key role in a healthy lifestyle and has been found to boost sperm quality. But it is important to note that moderate exercise is preferable to high-intensity workouts, which have been associated with a decrease in sperm quality.
Cutting down alcohol
Drinking too much alcohol may negatively affect sperm quality. While it is not thought to be necessary for men trying to conceive to cut out alcohol altogether, the NHS recommends sticking to a maximum of fourteen units of alcohol per week, spread evenly over at least three days.
Cutting out smoking
Current research strongly suggests that smoking has a negative effect on sperm quality and may affect sperm count, so giving up is a key lifestyle change for men who wish to conceive. Recreational drugs may also reduce male fertility and therefore should be avoided, as should muscle-building steroids.
Sperm fares best at a temperature of around 34.5C, a little cooler than the rest of the body. Therefore it is a good idea to keep testicles cool by avoiding tight underwear and taking regular breaks to move around if your work involves sitting for long periods.
Finally, it is important to recognise that stress may have an impact on sperm production, and can also reduce your libido and create strain within your relationship. Trying to conceive can be stressful in itself, of course, so it is even more important to take time out to do the activities that you enjoy and which help you to relax, as well as spending quality time with your partner, family and friends.
So if you are a man trying to conceive, it is clearly worth taking some time to reflect on your lifestyle and consider making positive changes. As well as potentially boosting your chances of conceiving, changing your habits can have a lasting impact on your overall health.
References and Further Information
Today is International Women’s Day and the occasion has been marked by a number of articles calling for equality of opportunity and reward for women in business and in the work place.
Consultant Gynaecologist and Fertility Expert Adrian Lower argues that egg freezing may have a bigger impact on the emancipation of women that the oral contraceptive pill did in the 1960’s.
The survival rates and potential pregnancy rates following egg freezing using the rapid freezing vitrification technique are such that women now have a very real chance of competing on an equal footing with men in those industries where their maximum potential and earning capacity occurs in the mid thirties, sadly coinciding with diminishing fertility and what has previously been regarded as the last chance to have a family. This coupled with the difficulties some career minded women have in establishing lasting relationships has meant that many women have had to choose between career and family in the past.
Providing they freeze eggs early enough, they can delay child birth by an important 5-10 years or have a higher chance of conceiving a second child if they are lucky enough to conceive spontaneously in their late 30’s or early 40’s.
Egg freezing is most successful when eggs are frozen before the age of 35, and probably even better before the age of 30. Unfortunately all too few women have had the foresight to freeze eggs at these young ages and egg freezing has earned an unfairly poor reputation because the majority of women freeze their eggs too late.
Although the survival rates of the eggs are better, when eggs are frozen at a younger age, fewer women will use their eggs because their focus changes or they may meet the man with whom they wish to raise a family before their fertility disappears. However if the real facts about fertility are appreciated most women would be happy to pay for egg freezing as an insurance policy that they hope they will never have to use. At a cost of £5-10,000, depending on how many cycles of stimulation are required, it puts the cost in the same bracket as a luxury holiday and rather less than the ultimate cost educating a child privately when they do conceive.
Egg Freezing – The facts
The earlier you freeze your eggs, the more chance they will survive freezing and the better the chance of a live birth, and a second or third child.
You need around 20 eggs to be frozen to have an 80% chance of at least one child when you decide to use them if you freeze between the ages of 30-34. Women freezing 20 eggs between 41 and 42 only have a 40% chance of a successful pregnancy with their eggs.
Egg freezing is safe, both for the woman, both in terms of procedure related complications and long term effects. The major risk factor for IVF – the Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome – is virtually abolished by avoiding implantation at the time of collection with egg freezing. A recent study published in JAMA reported a 21 year follow up of 25,000 women who had undergone ovarian stimulation for IVF. Breast cancer rates were the same in the stimulated group as for the general population.
Egg freezing does not appear to be deleterious to the health of children. There is no increase in birth defects in children conceived using frozen-thawed eggs.