While many will turn to fertility clinics to help boost their chances of having a baby, sometimes a few simple steps can help increase your fertility, writes Arlene Harris.
Ways to boost your fertility
One in six Irish couples is currently struggling to conceive with advancing age being the biggest issue for many would-be parents. Ash Carroll Miller, laboratory director of the Glasgow Centre for Reproductive Medicine (GCRM) Belfast and Dublin, says anyone contemplating parenthood should learn the facts about fertility as soon as possible.
“Educating yourself about your fertility is key,” she says. “Primarily, female fertility is age-related and knowing how your fertility changes with age is crucial. For women, a decline starts from 32 and gets sharper from 40 onwards. For men, sperm can start declining in quality and quantity from 40 also. So we would advise people to take charge of their own reproductive health and plan accordingly.”
Treasa Meehan of the Beacon Care fertility Clinic in Dublin agrees but says, if age isn’t a huge factor, most couples should wait 12 months before seeking treatment. “Fertility is very different for each person,” she says. “Age is a big factor as is medical history. It very much depends on the individual, but if the woman is aged around 30, a rule of thumb would be to wait a year before seeking advice from the GP who will then refer to a fertility clinic if necessary.”
Consider making changes
While many will turn to fertility clinics to help boost their chances of having a baby, sometimes a few simple steps can help increase your fertility. And Carroll Miller says before spending the average €4,500 per IVF cycle, couples should consider making changes, which include:
• Being a healthy weight means increased fertility. Being either underweight or overweight can have a negative impact on fertility for both men and women. GCRM would recommend that patients calculate their BMI when trying for a baby.
• Eat a healthy and balanced diet: Antioxidant rich food such as fruits and vegetables help to protect the egg and sperm from damage. Highly processed foods such as processed meat and sugary foods contain chemical preservatives that can be harmful to fertility.
• Nicotine: Research shows that smoking has a negative effect on both female and male fertility. In women it causes hormonal imbalances and damage to the reproductive system, which can have a critical effect on their chances of conceiving. Furthermore, smoking significantly increases the risk of miscarriage within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. For men, smoking can also have a profound effect on their sperm count and has been linked to increased sperm DNA damage, which will all affect the chances of conceiving naturally.
• Alcohol: Heavy alcohol intake in men has been linked to reduced testosterone production and reduced sperm quality, whereas in women excessive consumption is linked to ovulatory problems.
• Exercise in moderation: Getting fertility fit can be a challenge – on one hand you need to keep a low BMI and eat healthy. However, too much exercise can also be detrimental if you are trying to conceive. You should avoid vigorous and prolonged exercise as this can cause disturbances to a woman’s monthly cycle, leading to a lack of ovulation, along with other fertility problems.
The fertility expert also says most people know that vitamins and supplements can be beneficial to women who are trying to conceive, but it can also be helpful for men. “Women should start taking 400mcg folic acid before trying to conceive and during the first three months of pregnancy,” says Carroll Miller. “Folic acid is important for pregnancy, as it can help to prevent birth defects known as neural tube defects, including spina bifida. If you didn’t take folic acid before you conceived, you should start as soon as you find out that you are pregnant.
“Increasing your vitamin D intake six weeks prior to fertility treatment will benefit normal egg, sperm and embryo development. It has also been suggested that vitamins C and E are beneficial for healthy egg and sperm development as they provide protection to the cells of the embryo to keep them healthy.”
Having a healthy diet is always a good idea and consultant dietician, Sarah Keogh says there are a number of foods which can aid fertility. “We need specific nutrients to make sperm and the womb lining,” she explains. “We also need zinc and selenium for early cell division just after conception and protein for growth.
“Fish is one of the most important foods for both partners: it has omega-3s, zinc, selenium and protein. Add in nuts for minerals and lots of fruit and vegetables. Cut back on caffeine and cut out alcohol. This applies to men and women as nutrition has a big impact on male fertility – and of course, a healthy weight is also needed for both partners.”
Other tips to try and boost fertility:
- Cut out fizzy drinks – Research has shown that daily consumption reduces fertility by 16%.
- Get more sleep – Studies have shown that regular early nights can aid chances of conception.
- Improve dental health – Australian research has suggested that not brushing enough can delay your chance of getting pregnant.
- Turn off the TV – According to Harvard research, men who watch 20 hours of TV a week have a 44% lower sperm count.
- Reduce stress – Women who have anxiety issues can actually stop ovulating.
More like this:
All you need to know about fertility
Can hormones cause infertility?
The fertility diet