The Age Factor
Women are born with a supply of around four million eggs. By puberty, this number will drop to around 500,000. Despite this massive decline, women are still the most fertile between the ages of 20 and 35.
Notes Dr Peter Bowen-Simpkins, director of The London Women’s Clinic, “Fertility does begin to decline after this point, but it won’t just happen suddenly.” And, while age is one of the determining factors, that doesn’t mean hitting 40 spells the end of your baby-producing years.
“For many women, it depends when their mother went through the menopause,” he says. Studies show that a woman’s egg reserves start to decrease some 10 years before that point. So, if your mother was 52 years when she stopped getting her period, your fertility will probably start to drop from around
The Weight Factor
Lifestyle factors may have a bearing on your fertility whatever your age, and being overweight isn’t good for reproduction. “Too much fat in your body interferes with your oestrogen levels, a hormone tied to ovulation,” explains Dr Geetha Venkat of the Harley Street Fertility Clinic in the UK. Need help losing weight — or even gaining it if you’re significantly under? Ask your doctor to work out a healthy lifestyle plan for you. If excess weight is accompanied by unusual hair growth and acne, it could be a sign of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). This is one of the most common causes of infertility, so see your doctor — she can help you manage the condition to increase your chances of conceiving.
What you eat is also vital for optimum fertility. “A balanced diet is important, particularly protein, which forms the building blocks of all cells,” says Emma Cannon, author of Total Fertility ($23.45, from www.bookdepository.com). Find it in lean cuts of red meat, eggs, dairy and cereals. Include plenty of fresh vegetables, too — spinach, tomatoes, sweet potato and peppers are rich in vitamins that make for healthy eggs (and sperm).
The Drink Factor
The odd glass of wine or morning cappuccinos shouldn’t cause too much trouble, but drink both in moderation. According to a University of Nevada School of Medicine study, too much caffeine could reduce activity in the muscles around the fallopian tubes, which carry the eggs from your ovaries to the womb. And men shouldn’t over-indulge, either.
“Excessive alcohol can adversely influence male fertility, reducing the quantity and quality of sperm,” Dr Bowen-Simpkins points out. To seriously maximise your chances of conception, men should stick to three to four units a day (equivalent to 1½ to 2 glasses of wine), while it’s wise for women to avoid alcohol altogether.
Smoking is also a big no-no. Dr Geetha notes, “In women, it reduces oestrogen levels and affects the quality of eggs produced. In men, smoking can alter the motility — that’s the ‘swimability’ — of sperm.”
The Fitness Factor
An active lifestyle is an important part of pre-conception health. The key is to know your level of fitness and moderating your workouts, as excessive exercise won’t do you any favours. A study in Oxford University’s Journal of Human Reproduction found that women who performed high-frequency, high-intensity exercise had a lower rate of fertility.
“You often see this in elite athletes and ballet dancers,” Dr Bowen-Simpkins says. “The large amounts of exercise mean they have very low levels of fat and can be underweight, which causes their periods to stop.”
The Medicine Factor
Medication and contraception can play different roles in fertility. “Steroids, acne drugs, and thyroid and blood-pressure medications can all affect [fertility], so talk to your doctor when you want to start trying for a baby,” advises Dr Bowen-Simpkins.
Contraception, on the other hand, shouldn’t affect your ability to conceive — although it can take three to six months for your cycle to return to normal after you’ve stopped taking the Pill.
“If you’re still struggling to conceive after this period, see your gynaecologist,” Dr Geetha suggests. “Often, contraception can mask reproductive health issues that you weren’t aware of, such as irregular periods.”
The Sex Factor
All this focus on your lifestyle can leave you forgetting the most important element for making a baby — sex. While scheduling in sessions ensures that you’re doing it regularly, avoid making it mechanical.
“Timed intercourse can become ineffective if you put too much pressure on yourselves,” Cannon points out. “Spontaneity and arousal are important — if you’re anxious, it influences libido and ovulation. Many women find their periods become irregular if they’re stressed.”
So, focus on the here and now. “Do whatever helps you stay in the present — anything from yoga to massage,” she adds. “Stress impacts people in different ways, so choose whatever’s right for you.”