This Fertility Week, we looked into some of the factors of your lifestyle that can affect your chances of fertility.
There are two types of infertility - primary and secondary. Primary relates to having never conceived a child and having difficulty doing so, whereas secondary infertility refers to those who have been pregnant previously but are having a hard time falling pregnant again.
Getting enough exercise can certainly aid your chances of getting pregnant - particularly if your BMI is over 25. Exercising three times a week results in better sperm parameters, and moderate exercise can boost sperm morphology - increasing the percentage of sperm that become the required size and shape. Even a slight weight loss can be beneficial if you’re trying to conceive but if your exercise habits become excessive, it can negatively impact your chances.
For men, intense exercise regimes like cycling for five hours a week can cause issues with fertility. For women, too much exercise can affect the energy balance within the body - if the demand for energy exceeds dietary energy intake, it can negatively affect the menstrual abnormalities.
What you do for a job could be affecting your fertility and you may not even have realised. Working in an agricultural job like farming, which requires coming into contact with pesticides regularly, could lower your sperm count. Having a role in a factory that manufactures heavy metals, batteries or chemicals can reduce your fertility capabilities.
Hobbies and extracurricular vocations can be impactful too. Creating jewellery may lead to lead exposure, as could painting. Gardening can mean you’re exposed to pesticides too; any time spent around either pesticides or heavy metals can be damaging for your chances of conceiving.
A study conducted in Holland has shown that women working more than 32 hours a week take longer conceiving a baby than those working between 16 and 32 hours weekly.
Stress at work is normal from time to time, but it can impact your chances of falling pregnant. If you’re finding work stressful or a particularly difficult life event occurs, it can have a significant effect on sperm density.
A particularly stressful time for a woman can lead to problems with fertility - especially if it affects the regularity of their menstrual cycle. This rarely lasts for a long time, you may only be affected for one cycle, but certain choices made as a result of stress can have a longer effect on the issue. Your sleep can be altered as a result, you may exercise less or start drinking more often. Emotional eating when it comes to stress can cause weight gain too.
Women who have trouble conceiving can find the process stressful, triggering anxiety or depression. Depression can also affect fertility - whilst studies are limited, there is believed to be a link - relating to feeling down, overeating or undereating as well as smoking and drinking.
Your birth control method
Women deciding it’s time to have children may have previously used a birth control method to protect them from pregnancy. Coming off those methods can affect when you get pregnant. There are a number of options that women can use, like the pill, injection, implant or intrauterine device (IUD).
Depending on your previous contraceptive method, such as the pill, you can find that your body readjusts quickly and falling pregnant may only take a handful of months. With the injection on the other hand, this method is administered every 12 to 13 weeks. As a method of protection, it’s biggest draw is the fact you don’t have to remember to take it every day so you’re less likely to forget about it. However, when it comes to trying to have a baby, having previously used the injection can make it harder to conceive.
If you’re currently using injectable contraception as your method, it is advised that you come off this form of birth control several months before to improve your chances of conception. It can take up to a year to fall pregnant but if you have any concerns, it is worth speaking to your doctor about.
Getting older can make conception much more difficult. For men, the quality of sperm can decline from 35, and DNA damage could be noticeable from the age of 40. As a woman gets older, trying to get pregnant becomes much more complex.
Women are born with all the eggs they’ll ever have, and as they get older, they lose more eggs and the quality of the egg declines. Trying to conceive can be a more elongated process when you are older. Those who are under the age of 30, chances of pregnancy are as high as 71%, but after the age of 36, it drops considerably to 41% as found in the Dutch study.
The NHS provides a guideline for the number of alcohol units you can safely consume within a week - 14 units. This is just a guideline and it is advised that this amount should be spread out over three or more days. When it comes to trying to have a baby, alcohol is something that you should consider letting go of.
Men who drink excessively may find they have not only a decreased libido but a lower sperm count too. The quality of your sperm is affected by excessive alcohol consumption so cutting down on your alcohol intake will help your chances of conceiving.
Women who drink heavily tend to find it trickier to get pregnant than those who drink moderately or don’t drink. Anything between one to five units a day can increase the time it takes to conceive a child. It’s also been raised that women who experience hangovers are more likely to be infertile than those who don’t.
We are fortunate to live in a society that is aware of the dangers of smoking. Even if you feel you don’t smoke very much, it all can contribute to harming your chances of fertilisation.
Cigarettes contain thousands of chemicals and smoking has strong links to developing lung cancer and cardiovascular disease. Smoking can relate to a lower sperm count and density as well as the capacity for fertilisation. Statistically for women who smoke, you’re less likely to conceive as smoking impacts ovarian function. Women who smoked between 0 and 10 cigarettes daily had a 52% chance of falling pregnant compared to the 34% of women who smoked more than 10 cigarettes.
How much you weigh
It’s not just carrying extra pounds that can affect your chances of falling pregnant - being underweight can prove problematic too.
Being overweight, and even obese, is bad for your health for a number of reasons. In the UK, 66% of adults are overweight or obese, and statistically men are more likely to be overweight. Obesity is the biggest cause of cancer after smoking.
The additional weight for men is linked to a reduction in semen quality and semen concentration. Not only that, obesity has links to erectile dysfunction - and losing weight is one thing you’ll be advised to do if ED is an issue for you.
Overweight women can often have issues with irregular periods, so they do not ovulate every month, making it harder to conceive. Losing weight can help to regulate periods which can increase a woman’s chances of falling pregnant.
Women who have a higher BMI will tend to take longer to fall pregnant than those who are within a healthier BMI even with regulated periods. Being overweight is also linked to problems during pregnancy and birth.
But being underweight, like with being overweight, can be tied to irregular periods and difficulty conceiving as well. Aiming for a healthier BMI between 18.5 and 25 can help to improve fertility in this instance.