Fears over fertility issues have snowballed in recent decades. Thanks to science, the trend for self-diagnoses (aka Googling), and the heavily medicalised nature of the modern antenatal experience, never before have we been made more aware of our physiological inner workings – and the myriad things that can go awry lest the delicate balance be upset.
But despite the anxiety-inducing information overload, in most cases, helping your body reach optimum health for conception and pregnancy, may be simpler than you realise. With just a few lifestyle adjustments, you can boost your natural fertility (and feel great, too).
Start eating for two
Studies show that a healthy diet should start at least a couple months before you try for a baby. Choose foods rich in whole grains, plus a rainbow’s worth of colourful fruits and vegetables every day. And don’t skimp on fats – the good ones, i.e. those rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are components in all cell membranes. But do avoid trans fats, and try to get protein from more vegetable than animal sources.
Weight to be pregnant
Being significantly under- or overweight negatively affects your health, and that includes your fertility. Women who are underweight—with a body mass index (BMI) lower than 19 Kg/M2—take four times as long to get pregnant as women in the normal range (19 to 24 Kg/M2). On the other hand, women who are overweight may have insulin resistance, which occurs when too much insulin circulates in the body, and disrupts the menstruation cycle. Estrogen production from fat cells can also affect the ovaries and prevent eggs from being released every month. If you’re too light on the scales, gaining as little as five pounds can sometimes be enough to jumpstart ovulation and menstruation. If you’re overweight, losing just 5 to 10 percent of your current body weight is often enough to do the same. But keep in mind that crash diets also won’t do your fertility any favours; find healthful eating and exercise habits that are maintainable throughout pregnancy.
Supplements…to be sure
Begin taking prenatal vitamin containing folic acid. Starting this kind of supplementation early is particularly important because an embryo’s neural tubes (the rudimentary version of the brain and spinal column) develop in the first few weeks of pregnancy – when most women are completely unawares that they’ve got a bun baking – and folic acid will reduce the chance of defects.
Curb caffeine and alcohol intake
The majority of experts will acquiesce to an intake of less than 200 milligrams a day (the amount contained in one to two eight-ounce cups of coffee), to ensure fertility goes unaffected. However, the effects of moderate alcohol intake on fertility are not as well studied. Yet excessive consumption has been linked with anovulation (no ovulation), amenorrhea (no periods), and abnormalities with the endometrial lining. Alcohol can also disregulate estrogen and progesterone levels. The rare glass of red probably won’t harm your fertility, but if you’re serious about kickstarting it, tee-totalling isn’t a bad idea.
Feeling frazzled is no fun for anyone, especially not your uterus. Stress can increase levels of hormone cortisol – a co-conspirator in the body’s fight-or-flight response – which can temporarily shut down your reproductive system. And, obviously, there’s no bigger passion-killer than stress. Yoga or meditation can alleviate anxiety and tension. If your stress is severe and/ or chronic, professional help is advised.
Kick the habit today
Stoptober has been and gone, so if you’re looking for another good reason to stub your nicotine addiction, women who smoke go through menopause an average of two years earlier than women who don’t – an evident indication that cigarettes are seriously toxic to the reproductive system. Smoking is also strongly associated with an increased risk of miscarriage, and women who smoke are more prone to ectopic pregnancies. If your partner lights up, now’s also the time for him to quit. The harmful effects of secondhand smoke on fertility and pregnancy notwithstanding, smoking lowers sperm count and quality, too.