In the world of fertililty, all people are not made equal and although it can seem unfair to see mothers who who have had no problems conceiving despite their weight and smoking, everyone’s situation is different. As a fertility clinic, it is our job to do everything we can to optimise your fertility and so when we advise lifestyle changes, it is with this goal in mind. Making changes now will only help to increase your chance of having a baby and we need to work together to put you in the best position to build your family.
We all know the negative effects that smoking has on health in general, but it’s not so widely known that smoking can also significantly affect fertility. As well as the damage caused elsewhere in the body, cigarette smoke causes damage to your reproductive organs and directly to your eggs. All of this means that smokers are much more likely to have problems conceiving and are likely to take longer to conceive than non-smokers.
But it’s not just the female partner who can make changes, your male partner smoking can also decrease your chances of conceiving. Research shows that passive smoking also negatively impacts fertility and second-hand smoke can be almost as harmful as smoking yourself. Smoking can also damage men’s reproductive systems, lowering sperm count and sperm motility and causing fertility problems.
While the damage caused by smoking is not reversible, both partners quitting smoking will increase your chances of conceiving. When exploring fertility treatment options, smoking can also play a large part. For NHS IVF referrals, most centres require both partners to be non-smokers and many private clinics also set the same conditions.
When it comes to weight, the closer your BMI (Body Mass Index) is to being within the normal range, the higher your fertility is likely to be. Your BMI is one way of working out whether you are a healthy weight for your height and a healthy range is 20-25 (you can check yours here). As with smoking, most NHS centres require a woman’s BMI to be within a healthy range before starting IVF treatment.
While we know that this can be frustrating to hear, because weight management can be a difficult and emotionally loaded topic, bringing your BMI to within a healthy range is one thing you can do to significantly increase your chances of conceiving. But it’s not just being overweight that can limit fertility, being significantly underweight can be just as damaging. If your BMI is significantly below the normal range, your ovulation is likely to be affected, making your periods irregular and decreasing your fertility. If you do conceive, there is also a risk that the baby may not be able to get all of the nutrients they need from you if you are underweight.
Weight is one area where there is an imbalance between the sexes, as while male fertility also improves with a normal BMI, the female partner’s weight has a much greater impact. However, both partners should be equally invested in improving fertility and therefore it is in your interest as a couple for both of you to bring your BMI to within a healthy range – you’re in this together!
Eating & Drinking
I speak to women all the time who are anxious to know what supplements they need to be taking to boost their chances of conceiving and it’s hardly surprising, especially when the adverts for vitamins targeted at women trying to conceive can be so overwhelming. My advice is that a healthy and well-balanced diet is all that’s required to improve your chances of falling pregnant. No supplements are required unless you’re on any medication that could cause a specific deficiency, in which case you would need to seek further advice from your GP. During pregnancy, the only supplement I would recommend is folic acid as low levels can increase the chance of congenital back problems and cleft palate.
Drinking can also be a controversial topic when talking about conception. While there is evidence that drinking during pregnancy can be harmful to the baby, there is little to support that drinking in moderation when trying to conceive will have any impact at all. While drinking more than 3 units in one sitting is not advised, having a glass of wine during the week is not going to cause problems.The same goes for caffeine: fifteen double espressos is not a sensible option (for your fertility or your sleep!) but a couple of cups of coffee a day will not impact your chances of conceiving.
All exercise is good, as long as it’s not taken to unhealthy levels. Exercise improves health, calms the mind and aids relaxation, all things that are highly recommended for women trying to conceive. The common fear is that exercise could disrupt an early pregnancy, but it’s important to remember that the uterus is a super muscle! Even a microscopic early pregnancy is surrounded by a tough wall of muscle and exercise or even a fall will not dislodge it if that pregnancy is set to progress normally, so you do not need to wrap yourself in cotton wool. As with any advice, this should not be taken to extremes and if the exercise you’re doing is negatively impacting your health or putting you at risk then you should discuss this with your doctor – it’s still important to look after yourself.
And that is probably the single most important thing to remember thinking about how lifestyle affects fertility: you need to look after yourself to give yourself the best possible chance of conceiving. Your life doesn’t need to be put on hold and your friday glass of wine, morning latte and occasional biscuit are not evil habits that need to be entirely removed from your new, saintly existence. However, stopping smoking, making a concerted effort to bring your BMI to a normal level, eating well and exercising regularly are all positive steps you can take and are changes you can make as a couple to both increase fertility and prepare for a healthy family life.
To discuss what might be right for you please contact Yvonne on firstname.lastname@example.org