For both women and men it is important getting your body and mind in a conception-fit state to improve your chances of conceiving and having a normal healthy baby. The following lifestyle challenges should be discussed with your general practitioner or your specialist prior to starting your fertility treatment.
Age, female age and to a lesser extent male age, is one of the most important factors when it comes to conception. Fertility levels diminish with increasing age particularly with women, but recent research indicates that age maybe an important fertility factor in men also.
The chance of pregnancy for a woman reduces with age, especially after the age of 35 years, so that by the age of 45 the chances of pregnancy will have fallen to extremely low levels. The reason for this fall in pregnancy is only partly understood, but what we do know is that egg quality plays an important part. The term egg quality mostly refers to the extent of damage to the female genome (DNA) in the egg. With an increase in age there is a decrease in the number of eggs available in the ovaries, as well as, an increase in the proportion of eggs that are genetic abnormal. Advancing age also increases the chances of miscarriage, abortion and the chances of genetic abnormalities in babies born.
There is good evidence that folic acid reduces the chances of having a baby with spina bifida (when the spine does not develop normally). The recommended dose is 0.8mg of folic acid daily for two months before conceiving and until 12 weeks of pregnancy.
Cigarettes have a huge impact on both male and female fertility. Women who smoke are only 60% as likely to conceive as non-smokers and smoking is also associated with miscarriage, small babies and earlier menopause. Men who smoke have lower sperm counts and more malformed sperm than non-smokers and are more likely to have children who develop childhood cancer.
High alcohol intake is known to have severe effects on fetal development during pregnancy. Research has, however, not been able to identify a safe level of alcohol intake for fertility and pregnancy, so it’s probably better not to drink alcohol while trying to conceive and during pregnancy. In men alcohol also affects fertility through impaired testicular function, so they too should reduce their alcohol intake or stop in support of promoting the chances of conception in their relationship.
Caffeine intake can affect fertility in women, as it is associated with a longer time to conceive and also reduced chances of becoming pregnant on an IVF program. Caffeine is not only contained in coffee but also in a variety of other products such as tea, cola, energy drinks, some frozen desserts and chocolate; so be aware of your overall caffeine intake. Male fertility does not appear to be affected by caffeine.
Healthy body weight
An unhealthy weight – in either partner – can also have a significant impact on the ability to conceive, so it is important to keep your body weight within the normal healthy range. Body Mass Index (BMI) is an indication of your body weight and can be calculated by dividing weight by height (kg/m2 [height x height]). You should aim for a BMI above 19.5 and below 30 as this will optimize your chances of conception. A BMI below 19, may affect ovulation and increase the chances of miscarriage. A BMI of >30 can reduce fertility by 50% and if pregnancy does occur the pregnancy is often associated complications, such as, maternal diabetes, increased risk of miscarriage, high blood pressure, birth defects and still birth. In men, being overweight may also reduce sperm count and affect the DNA of sperm.
Couples experiencing infertility definitely experience considerable stress, so stress management strategies should be discussed with a counselor or psychologist before starting treatment.
The current dietary advice is to eat a healthy balanced diet with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. There are no wonder diets for improved fertility, however, there are some foods you could eat more of. Studies suggest that antioxidant rich foods can substantially benefit both men and women in promoting conception, foods such as;
all types of berries and fruits such as grapes, oranges, plums, pineapple, dates, kiwifruit, mandarins
dried fruit such as apricots and prunes
vegetables such as red cabbage, peppers, parsley, artichokes, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, spinach; brightly coloured vegetables are particularly rich in antioxidants
legumes such as broad beans, groundnuts, soybeans
cereals such as barley, millet, oats and corn
nuts and seeds such as walnuts, brazil nuts, sunflower seeds
garlic and ginger
There is a surprising lack of data on the effect of exercise on fertility. However, moderate exercise is always a healthy option and should be encouraged as it may improve the physiological processes of the body and the mind.