There are many steps you can take to optimize your fertility
Fertility is defined as the capacity to produce a child. There is no “scientific” way to predict whether an individual, or combination of individuals, is indeed fertile. Generally, if conception is achieved easily and quickly, that individual or couple is fertile. By the same token, there are no uniform guidelines or evidence-based recommendations regarding how to optimize your fertility.
Here is a summary of consensus recommendations and information on ways you can optimize your fertility:
- Know when your most fertile time is. The so-called “fertile window” occurs during the 6 days preceding and including the day of ovulation. Frequent intercourse (at least 2-3 times per week) during this time frame yields the highest pregnancy rates. Specific timing within this window is not critical to success. Understanding your hormonal cycle will help you determine your fertile time.
- Lubricate the right way. If lubricants are needed during sexual intercourse, we recommend the use mineral oil, canola oil, or a commercially available hydroxycellulose-based lubricant (e.g., Pre-Seed or ConceivEase). Other commercially available lubricants may interfere with sperm motility.
- Your weight matters. Fertility experts recommend that you maintain as normal a weight as possible. They point out that the length of time needed to achieve conception is doubled for obese women and quadrupled for underweight women. Exercise is encouraged both while trying to conceive and continuing during pregnancy if there are no complications.
- Watch what you eat. While specific dietary variations (e.g., vegetarian, low-fat, vitamin-enriched, anti-oxidants, herbal remedies) do not improve fertility or affect infant gender, we do recommend eating healthy for weight maintenance and general health. Avoiding heavy seafood consumption due to the association between elevated blood mercury levels and infertility is also recommended.
- Get enough folic acid. All women attempting conception should use a folic acid supplement (at least 400 micrograms per day) to reduce the risk of neural tube defects in the fetus.
- Avoid excessive caffeine. While moderate caffeine consumption (1-2 cups of coffee per day or its equivalent) does not adversely affect fertility or pregnancy outcomes, excessive amounts of caffeine have been linked to recurrent miscarriage and endometriosis.
- Moderate alcohol consumption. High levels of alcohol consumption (more than 2 drinks/day) should be avoided while attempting pregnancy; alcohol should be avoided altogether during pregnancy due to its well-known detrimental effects on fetal development.
- Stop smoking. Smoking is the worst thing one can do for fertility. It is estimated that 13% of infertility is attributable to cigarette smoking. Smoking decreases natural fertility, increases the risk of miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy, and accelerates the onset of menopause. Passive smoking is just as dangerous as active smoking. Most of these risks are erased within a year of successful smoking cessation. For men, all forms of tobacco adversely affect sperm in a dose-dependent manner (worse with increasing exposure).
- Quit using recreational drugs. Marijuana and other recreational drugs have well documented harmful effects on the developing fetus and should be avoided. And for men, chemical compounds in marijuana have also been shown to impair sperm.
- Avoid environmental hazards. Likewise, exposure to environmental pollutants and toxicants may decrease fertility. Toxins and chemicals, such as herbicides and pesticides, may reduce sperm count by either affecting testicular function or altering hormone systems. Estrogen-like and hormone-disrupting chemicals such as bisphenol A, phthalates, and organochlorines are particular potential concerns. Chronic exposure to heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, or arsenic may also affect sperm quality.
- Don’t wait until it’s too late. Fertility varies among populations and declines with age in both men and women, but the effects of age are much more pronounced in women, especially after age 35. If you want to postpone building a family to a later age, consider egg freezing to optimize the quality of your eggs.
Seek consultation if you are having trouble getting pregnant
Obviously there are some factors that cannot be altered, such as one’s age and genetics. However, it is quite clear that many of the things that can potentially affect fertility are within the power of the individual to optimize or control. If conception has not occurred after one year of trying (6 months for women over age 35) or if medical or physical problems are known to exist, seek consultation with a reproductive specialist – that’s why we’re here at Fertility Answers.