By Dr Sally Reid :: Fertility SA
By the time you start planning a pregnancy, it can feel like you’ve spent your whole life trying to avoid falling pregnant! So it’s often extremely frustrating when there are significant delays. On average, 1 in 6 couples in Australia struggle to conceive – so know that you are not alone and there is help available.
Whether or not fertility problems are on the rise is a question that I am asked on a fairly regular basis. It’s difficult to say, but certainly as a society we are having our children at a later age and that is a major risk factor for infertility. These days, there are so many opportunities in the world – travel, career, study and lifestyle choices – which make it harder to settle down and start a family. Women and men can both find themselves in this position, which seems to make it more difficult to find a long-term partner to actually have children with!
People also appear to be more open about their fertility struggles, so the stigma that used to be attached to infertility is not there to the same degree, which is of course a great thing. We are talking about fertility issues more and definitely women are accessing treatment earlier and more often. Couples, including same-sex couples, as well as single women, are often not willing to put up with infertility – as opposed to past generations. We are a generation who is comfortable with technology and we will use it, if needs be.
That said, making a baby at home is obviously a lot more fun than having to face the ‘rollercoaster’ of fertility treatments! So let’s talk about pre-conception health, because sometimes all it takes is the correct advice and being as healthy as you can be.
It’s not rocket science and it may be boring – but simple things like eating well and getting regular exercise to stay in the healthy weight range, are essential. More and more research shows that the health of parents in the months leading up to conception, not only impacts on the health of their child, but also on the health of the next generation as well. So if you are unhealthy before or during pregnancy, this may actually impact negatively on the health of your yet-to-be-born child (and yet-to-be-born grandchildren!) Sperm and eggs take 3 months to fully develop – so it’s ideal to really work on lifestyle for the months before trying to conceive…
10 tips for MEN AND WOMEN to improve the chance of a healthy pregnancy & baby:
1. Don’t wait too long
:: Women are born with all the eggs we’ll ever have and they reduce in number & quality every year – particularly after the age of 35. We all have ideas of how we thought it would be, or what we thought we’d achieve before children, but sometimes – particularly if planning more than 1 child – it’s just time, biologically, to put our eggs first! All the technology in the world cannot create younger eggs.
:: Male age is also important and even for couples where the female partner is in her 20’s, there is a longer time to pregnancy when the father is over 40.
:: Generally, if you are aged less than 35, it is worth considering investigation if you have been trying for a baby for more than 12 months…
:: If women are aged 35 or over, it is worth seeing a GP, gynaecologist or a fertility specialist if there has been a delay of more than 6 months…
2. Try to maintain a healthy weight or BMI (body mass index)
:: As a society, we are carrying more weight, which increases pregnancy complications and makes it harder to conceive – even with fertility treatments – for example, IVF success rates are halved if couples are obese
3. Stop smoking and recreational drug use
:: Obviously a no-brainer, but did you know that baby girls of smoking parents are born with less egg cells and baby boys with less sperm cells? If you smoke in the lead-up to pregnancy, you may be increasing the risk that your children will have fertility problems!
4. Reduce or stop alcohol intake
:: We’ve all heard about avoiding alcohol in pregnancy and whilst trying to conceive, but just a few ‘big nights’ can really set the boys back!
5. Vitamins and minerals e.g. Folate & Iodine
:: We usually don’t get enough folate and iodine in our diet and so a supplement for at least the month prior to pregnancy, up until the 2nd trimester, is really important to enhance baby’s brain development and to reduce the risk of birth defects, such as spina bifida
:: Sperm counts may benefit from antioxidants such as folate, zinc, selenium and Vit E
Try to get enough sleep and manage stress in healthy ways, such as exercising outdoors, catching up with friends and family, laughter and mindfulness
7. Reduce your caffeine intake
:: Found in coffee, tea, chocolate and other food and beverages, it’s difficult to know exactly how much caffeine is ok….
:: Some studies have linked drinking greater than 2 coffees per day to issues such as miscarriage and abnormal sperm counts. It’s safe to say that if you are regularly smashing 6 cups of coffee every morning, it’s probably not helping your fertility!
8. Reduce exposure to toxic chemicals
:: These can include paints, solvents, passive smoking etc
9. HAVE SEX and at the right time of the month!
:: For women with fairly regular cycles (Day 1 being the first day of your period), this means every day or 2 from roughly Day 9 till Day 16
:: If this is too confusing (or no fun), then usually having sex every 3-4 days means that you won’t miss the opportunity when that egg drops…
10……and in case you skipped Number 1. Please don’t wait too long to seek advice!
Finally, infertility isn’t a “woman’s issue”. About one third of the time there are female infertility factors, one third of the time there are male infertility factors (e.g. a low or abnormal sperm count), and the remaining third is a combination of male and female factors, or it’s unexplained – which can be very frustrating for couples.
If you think that you, or your partner, may have one of the conditions below, it is probably worthwhile having a chat with your doctor about your fertility:
:: Endometriosis – which classically presents with severe period pain, pain with sex or when going to the toilet
:: Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) or an ovulation issue – which generally presents with irregular periods (more than 5 weeks apart)
:: Blocked tubes – classically from an infection like Chlamydia that was untreated for months, but can also occur after pregnancies, surgeries etc
:: Abnormalities within the womb e.g. large fibroids, a septum or polyps (which are tissue growths that may stop a baby implanting)
:: A history of testicular surgery, severe groin injury, a groin lump or a known low or abnormal sperm count
:: A history of cancer treatment or other significant illness
Being fit and healthy doesn’t necessarily mean that the journey to parenthood will be smooth, but it’s definitely a great start!
Fertility SA have a Fertility and Your Future Family guide available. Message [email protected] for your copy to be mailed to you.