If you Google “infertility” you get 33.5 million results, which tells me that patients are searching for quality information about this complicated diagnosis. Currently, 1 in 7 couples in the United States struggle with infertility. This is largely due to the fact that couples are waiting longer to start having kids. At this time, 20% of women wait until after 35 years old to start a family. Keep in mind that achieving pregnancy is a state the body considers a luxury. Therefore, a sluggish and sub-optimal operating system will not prioritize pregnancy. This article will discuss factors affecting fertility and ways to improve overall health and increases chances of conception.
What is infertility…technically?
Infertility is defined as “lack of conception after 12 months of regular unprotected intercourse (at least two times per week) with the same male partner and in the absence of male causes of infertility.” For women over 35 years old, diagnosis can be made at six months and after 40 years old at three months.
What are the odds?
According to “The Textbook of Natural Medicine,” the “optimal ages for reproduction are believed to be between 18 and 35 years for a female and 16 and 40 years for a male.” However, with preconception care and assisted reproductive technology women are successfully achieving pregnancy at older ages. Bear in mind that these are statistics based on a broad spectrum of individuals; where you fit in to that range is very individual.
Oregon Reproductive Medicine gives these statistics for ovulating women achieving pregnancy in six months:
- 25-30 yo – 80%
- 35 yo – 60%
- 38 yo – 40%
- 40 yo – 20%
It is important to note that optimizing fertility should focus on the health of both partners. Remember your child’s DNA is 50/50 from Mom and Dad. The following are the main factors affecting fertility.
What affects fertility?
This is the main variable and one that we cannot change. Women are born with a fixed number of eggs (oocytes), which develop while they are in their mother’s womb. With each period, eggs are expelled into the uterus for fertilization, decreasing the overall count. The number of eggs a woman has left or her “ovarian reserve” is often measured in older women trying to conceive. Egg quality is also compromised with age and affects probability of conception. Improving egg quality in women struggling with infertility is an important aspect of preconception care.
A body fat percentage of 20-25% is recommended for optimal conception, however, many women conceive just fine at higher levels. However, it is important to point out that being overweight and underweight both present risks for infertility. A body fat less than 17% can cause anovulation (no egg is released each month). In this case it can take up to two years before conception occurs, even after body fat is corrected. A healthy weight is extremely important for optimal pregnancy and should be addressed in those experiencing infertility.
Check out the BMI (body mass index) Calculator Plus on WebMD to determine your ideal weight. http://www.webmd.com/diet/calc-bmi-plus
Tobacco use– commercial tobacco products contain a litany of carcinogens and chemicals that in no way help optimize fertility. What’s more, smoking directly affects the uterus, eggs and embryo. Smoking is also associated with infertility, increased incidence of miscarriage, placental problems, low birth weight babies and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). For free help to quit call 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
Alcohol– research shows that consuming more than one drink per day is associated with a 50% reduction in fertility. Woman struggling with infertility may want to reconsider their nightly glass of wine, cocktail or beer.
Caffeine– research shows that consuming caffeine is safe under 200 mg per day. In general, plain drip coffee has around 95 mg per 8-ounce cup, so the limit would be about two cups per day.
Environmental toxins– exposure to radiation, pesticides and heavy metals can all adversely affect fertility. Take measures in your life to avoid these chemicals. Examine ingredients in makeup and beauty products and try to purchase organic food when possible. Check out the article on Xenoestrogens for more information or go to www.ewg.org.
How can I improve my chances of having a baby?
Preconception care is a practice that involves priming the body for pregnancy. Practitioners usually recommend a minimum of three months and up to one year to get the body in shape for pregnancy. Your doctor will likely run basic lab work to assess where you are on the road to optimal pregnancy health and develop a plan based on those results. The following are great places to start if you want improve your overall health and enhance your chances of conceiving:
The Fertility Diet
- Choose organic, local produce and organic, grass-fed meat and dairy products when possible.
- Eliminate trans fats and increase monounsaturated fats (olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocados).
- Lower intake of animal protein and increase vegetable protein (beans and nuts).
- Increase intake of vegetables and fiber.
- Eat lower glycemic index carbohydrates.
- Consume full fat dairy products as opposed to low fat or fat free.
- Check out the book, “The Fertility Diet” by Jorge E. Chavarro, M.D., Walter Willett, M.D., and Patrick J. Skerrett for more information.
Begin taking a high quality prenatal supplement about one year before you would like to get pregnant and continue throughout the postpartum time period. Discuss which supplement is best for you with your Naturopathic doctor.
Find ways to relax and de-stress through meditation, prayer, acupuncture, gentle exercise, stretching, baths or whatever you find relaxing. Research shows that “trying too hard” to get pregnant may be related to up to 30% of infertility cases.
Avoid lubricants because they inhibit sperm motility and activity. The best option is good old-fashioned canola oil or Pre-Seed lubricant.
Increase frequency of intercourse in the days leading up to, during and after ovulation. An ovulation predictor kit can help you determine when you ovulate. Intercourse every other day during this time is sufficient.
Avoid toxin exposure for reasons stated above.
**Allow about 120 days to improve egg and sperm quality.
If you are struggling to get pregnant, discuss preconception care with your naturopathic doctor. It’s never too early to get your body in tiptop shape for pregnancy. Go to www.naturopathic.org to find a doctor near you.
The National Infertility Alliance- www.resolve.org
Natural Fertility Info
Getting Pregnant Directory by WebMD- http://www.webmd.com/baby/getting-pregnant-directory
Murray, M.T., Pizzorno, J.E. (2012). Infertility, Female. In Textbook of Natural Medicine (chapter 179).
By Amy LaRue, fourth year medical student. Edited by Dr Elise Schroeder