boost your fertility

Top tips to boost your fertility

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.”

boost your fertility

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.

boost your fertility

• 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.

Helpful nutrients

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.”

boost your fertility

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

Ask Sarah

Q I’ve heard a lot about the Paleo diet and as I am very interested in reducing the amount of processed foods and grain based meals my family eats, we are considering following this diet. From what I read it seems to be a back-to-basics type of eating. Is a Paleo diet safe for children? My kids are aged seven and nine.

A The Paleo diet is one of the most fashionable diets around at the moment. It is also known as the ‘caveman diet’ and is based on cutting out processed foods, starchy foods like bread and potatoes and eating more meat, vegetables and fruit.
As fad diets go, it is not the worst but there are some good and bad sides to it. Reducing the amount of processed foods we eat is always a good idea and by doing that you will usually reduce the amount of fat, salt and sugar you eat, which is a good thing! The problem with the Paleo diet is that it also cuts out dairy (on the basis that cavemen didn’t drink milk) and this means that the diet is very low in calcium. For this reason it is really not suitable for children who do need a lot of calcium for growing bones. How did cavemen manage without dairy? They ate a lot more food than we do (up to 10,000 calories per day compared to the 2,000 most of us eat). By eating that amount of food they were able to pick up just enough calcium from green vegetables and seeds. To put it in perspective, you would need to eat 16 servings of broccoli a day to get all the calcium you need. This is easier to do if you eat 10,000 calories per day rather than 2,000.
The other problem with the paleo diet is that it is not entirely based in science. Many of the Paleo diets out there say you should not eat wheat, even though we know that cavemen did in fact eat wheat and other grains. These diets also don’t recommend that you eat blubber and the big lumps of fat that were also a large part of the caveman diet!
A final problem is that many Paleo diets encourage people to cut out beans and lentils and to get their protein from meat and fish instead. Many studies over the last few years are clear that eating too much animal protein is linked with more cancer and heart disease. Eating some vegetarian meals based on beans and lentils is a great way to get your protein without always going for meat.
Is this a diet we should follow? I think there is a lot we can learn from the Paleo diets. We could all do with eating less salt, sugar and processed foods and adding in more nuts and seeds as well as more vegetables. However, I think following a strict Paleo diet could lead to low levels of calcium and vitamin D and so it is not suitable for children or teens and adults would need to think about a calcium supplement.


Ask Tracey

Midwife Tracey Donegan answers your questions about pregnancy and birth

Q When should I have my first pregnancy scan? And how many scans should I get throughout my pregnancy?

Your first scan is known as your dating scan and is routine in all hospitals. Most mums will have this scan at their booking visit, which can be anywhere between 12-18 weeks. The earlier the scan the more accurate it will be. If you have experienced recurrent miscarriages some hospitals will scan you earlier. Contact your antenatal clinic for more information. In Ireland, most women will have two scans in a healthy pregnancy – a dating scan and an anomaly scan at around 20 weeks. However, some units provide a dating scan only. Private scans are also available in most cities and many parents use these services for additional reassurance and to find out the sex of their baby.