17 Weird Things That Can Mess With Your Fertility
By Leah Fessler; photograph by James Garaghty
Turns out your fertility can be affected by many more factors than you might have thought… If you’re thinking of having a baby, you need to read this!
You know it takes a healthy woman (and man) to make a healthy baby. But sometimes, it can be way harder to conceive than you’d like — even if it’s the right time, with the right guy and solid health. Turns out your fertility can be affected by many more factors than you might have thought. So, if you’re trying to get pregnant, or even if you can foresee a little you sometime in the future, it’s important to learn what (often easy!) lifestyle changes might be in stock.
Ready to boost your baby-making potential? Here are 17 things that can mess with your fertility:
1. Artificial Nighttime Light
We know it’s bad to stare at smartphone or tablet screens at night, but these habits can mess with more than just your sleep cycle. According to research published in the journal Fertility and Sterility, artificial nighttime light exposure can harm both your ability to conceive and foetal development if you’re already pregnant. Late-night light exposure can suppress melatonin production, the “sleep hormone”, that’s also produced in the reproductive tract and blocks eggs from damaging free radicals, particularly during ovulation. Insufficient melatonin production can also disrupt a developing foetus’ internal clock, resulting in long-term problems, researchers suggest.
2. Junk Food
If you’re not consuming the right nutrients (think monounsaturated fats, zinc, vitamin D and B6), you could be disrupting your body’s regulation of critical reproductive hormones like progesterone, insulin and testosterone. Plus, make sure you’re eating a hefty and nutritious breakfast: research published in Clinical Science found that consuming about half of your daily kilojoules in the a.m. could increase your fertility.
3. Your Cholesterol AND His
High cholesterol won’t just harm your heart — it can also negatively impact your ability to conceive, according to a recent study in the Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism. Researchers found that high free cholesterol in women was associated with a longer time trying to get pregnant. But get this: when both male and female partners had high cholesterol, it was even harder to get pregnant, compared to couples with normal cholesterol levels. These results held true even after adjusting for age and BMI. So, if you and your guy are hopeful for a third member, make sure both of you check those cholesterol levels stat.
If you’re having a hard time getting pregnant, a spa day or yoga class could certainly be in order; a study published this year in the journal Human Reproduction found that high stress levels are associated with an increased risk of infertility. Researchers found that women with high levels of alpha-amylase (a stress hormone associated with your sympathetic nerve system) had a 29 percent lower chance of pregnancy and were two times more at risk for infertility than women with low alpha-amylase levels. No time to zip off to your favourite beach resort? Try this calming day-breaker beginner yoga sequence.
5. Poor Oral Health
Those pearly whites boast benefits far beyond the perfect profile picture. A study in the Journal of Periodontology found that women who needed fertility treatments had higher levels of gum bleeding and inflammation than those who conceived naturally. “Several studies have indicated that a woman’s oral health may be related to her reproductive success,” says dental surgeon Dr Susan Karabin. So make sure to brush, floss and make it to your exam every six months.
Hopefully, an increased risk of lung and breast cancer has made you ditch this extremely unhealthy habit. If not, perhaps this will: the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) estimates that smoking is linked to 13 percent of infertility cases. Plus, a study in Tobacco Control found that women who were exposed to secondhand smoke six or more hours a day as adults were 36 percent more likely to have trouble conceiving. Thankfully, your fertility level will return to normal in about a year, so if you’re trying to get pregnant (or just live a longer, healthier life), cut out the cigarettes – and tell your friends and family to do the same.
7. Your Weight
In case you need another reason to hit the gym (or scale down your fitness routine if it’s extremely intensive): “Being overweight is a huge issue if you’re trying to get pregnant,” according to gynae Mary Jane Minkin. That’s because an unhealthy weight can mess with your periods and ovulation. Additionally, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine estimates that 12 percent of infertility cases are because of weight-related issues. But being underweight can be equally harmful. “Losing a significant amount of weight or excessive exercise, particularly if your BMI drops below 18 or 19, can cause lack of ovulation in extreme cases and thus affect fertility,” says gynae Alyssa Dweck, co-author of V is for Vagina. Consider this a reminder of all the amazing benefits of maintaining a healthy weight that have nothing to do with how you look.
8. Hormonal Imbalances
We know the thyroid is key to metabolism regulation, but it can also affect your ability to conceive, says Dweck. “Thyroid abnormalities may very well lead to infertility because alterations in the thyroid hormone — whether one is hyper- or hypothyroid – interfere with ovulation. Thankfully, proper use of medications and other prescribed treatments can likely correct this,” says Dweck.
“There are certain medications, particularly certain antidepressants and mood stabilisers, that can affect your ability to conceive by making your body produce more prolactin, a hormone that interferes with ovulation,” says Minkin. So if you’re thinking about getting pregnant, talk to an ob-gyn about what medications are safe or unsafe, what might affect your ability to conceive and which ones you’re currently taking, says Minkin. That way you may be able to find an alternative that won’t interfere with getting pregnant.
10. Your Age
Oh, the biological clock; just mentioning it makes many of us totally anxious. While many women are postponing pregnancy until later in life — whether because of their career, relationship status, or hey, they just want to (we’re busy, people!) — it’s important to realise that fertility doesn’t last forever. “Fertility for women naturally starts to decline slowly after age 32,” says Dweck. “More notably after 35 and even more pronounced after 40. Women do not produce more eggs with age, but instead are born with a finite amount. Over time, the number and quality of eggs decrease.” That said, it’s definitely possible to conceive after age 35. If you’re still seeing no success after six months of trying (compared to a year, if you’re under 35), be sure to see an gynae to discuss potential complications and treatments, suggests Minkin.
First things first: that old wives tale about breastfeeding making it impossible to get pregnant is totally false — it’s not birth control. However, it could make it harder to get pregnant. “If you are still breastfeeding one child while going for a second it can significantly impact fertility, as high secretion of prolactin, the hormone that you make when you lactate, can interfere with ovulation,” says Minkin.
12. Your Cervical Mucus
This fluid secreted by the cervix is crucial when it comes to baby making since it helps to protect the sperm as it travels through the female reproductive tract. Cervical mucus abnormalities may cause infertility, usually if it’s too thick, says Dweck. But luckily, this is usually treated with medication or overcome with intrauterine insemination. Another reason to quit smoking: in women, tobacco changes the cervical mucus, thus making it harder for the sperm to reach the egg, says Dweck.
Yes, they can make the process way more fun (and comfortable), but some lubes can challenge conception. “Certain lubricants can actually impair fertility by affecting sperm,” says Dweck. “If you are having issues conceiving and feeling dry during intercourse, try a sperm-friendly lubricant.” Chat to your gynae about the best one for you.
14. Uterine Polyps or Fibroids
Uterine polyps are typically small, oval or round overgrowths of endometrial tissue that remain attached to the uterine wall, and uterine fibroids are basically the same, but are composed of muscular tissue. “These benign growths may actually cause infertility,” says Dweck. “Luckily, many issues with uterine polyps or fibroids are easily correctable with surgery.”
15. Folic Acid Deficiency
If there’s one vitamin you need to be taking when you’re trying to get pregnant (and if you foresee pregnancy in the future!), it’s folic acid. Your body uses this vital B-complex vitamin to create red blood cells, and it’s crucial for expecting mothers. So how much do you need? Minkin advises up to 400mcg of folic acid every day. The easiest (and most reliable) way to secure this intake is by taking a daily folic acid supplement (most have 400mcg). You can also nosh on sunflower seeds, spinach, eggs and grains like pastas and cereals for a boost.
You might be much more familiar with this baby-making threat than you think: phthalates are a group of synthetic chemicals used in plastics and some cosmetics. According to a study presented last year at the annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology, they might compromise your ability to conceive. Previous studies have shown phthalate exposure can mess with a man’s fertility, and this study found that women with the most phthalates in their systems were twice as likely to suffer from implantation failure after IVF procedures as women with the lowest level of phthalates.
17. Chronic Health Conditions
Certain health issues, like endometriosis and diabetes, can have a significant impact on your ability to get pregnant. If you suffer from either of these conditions, chat to your doc about the best way to approach pregnancy.
Already pregnant? This is the #1 risk of taking paracetamol during pregnancy.
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