When Tracy Schaede, 31, miscarried her first child in her late 20s, she knew she had to take a closer look at her health. “I’m diabetic and a lot of the time we were trying, my blood glucose levels we not good,” she said. Her husband heard that the ketogenic diet helped those with diabetes manage their symptoms. Determined to boost her fertility, Schaede cut refined carbohydrates, upped her healthy fat intake, and increased her activity levels with students in her preschool classroom. After dropping over 40 pounds, she carried a baby boy to term.
“It still seems like a miracle we finally have our little one,” she says. “Not saying this will work for everyone, but it worked for me.”
While waiting until your 30s to have children certainly has its benefits—it affords you time to emotionally and financially prepare—age is one of the most significant determinants of success or failure of fecundability for women, according to Dr. Marjorie Dixon, MD, FRCSC, FACOG, REI, CEO and medical director of Anova Fertility and Reproductive Health. By the time we hit 30, we’ve retained around 10 percent of our one to two million eggs, which are poorer in quality. But thanks to advances in medical technology and a wider awareness surrounding women’s reproductive health issues, there’s lots you can do to boost your fertility well into your third decade.
Rule out underlying health concerns
Gone undetected and untreated, a few conditions that can compromise your fertility, according to Dr. Dixon, include:
- Ovulatory disorder
- Sexually transmitted infection
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome
- Pelvic inflammatory disease
Maintain proper health
We know that consuming a diet high in folate can reduce the incidence of genetic abnormalities in offspring, but it can help with fertility, too. A recent study found that ingesting synthetic folate (i.e.: a folic acid supplement) is linked to a reduction in sporadic anovulation. Don’t discount the power of folate in foods like dark leafy greens.
A study from the Journal of Human Reproductive Science found that even a five to 10 percent gradual and sustained reduction in body weight could regulate your menstrual cycle and improve the quality of your embryos. But body mass index (BMI) extremes, whether you’re overweight or underweight, can harm fertility, according to Dr. Dixon.
“There’s more and more information about how mindfulness can be of critical importance to women planning conception,” says Dr. Dixon. “If you’re particularly stressed, [your stress hormone] cortisol can act to suppress the part of the brain that signals GnRH to create follicle-stimulating hormones (FSH) in the pituitary gland. This signal goes to the brain that communicates to the ovaries and stimulate egg growth,” says Dr. Dixon.
A recent study from the medical journal Fertility and Sterility found that women who attended group mindfulness sessions were better equipped to cope with infertility, thus reducing stress. But don’t stress about stress: “We could have women who are very stressed out who manage to conceive, and women who are calm who don’t,” she says.
How often do we mindlessly scroll through our feeds in bed when we have to be up in four hours? Dr. Dixon says “The circadian rhythm is such that women ovulate while they sleep at night so [fertility] can be disregulated.” Turn off blue light-emitting devices, practice a soothing nighttime routine and get in those eight hours.
You already know that smoking is detrimental to your overall health, raising your risk for serious conditions like cancer and heart disease. But a new study from the journal Epidemiology found that smokers have fewer children and hit menopause—the age your egg reserves become depleted—a year earlier than their non-smoking counterparts.
Throwing back a couple stiff drinks at happy hour might be wreaking havoc on your reproductive system after all. While women who drink moderate amounts alcohol have no harder of a time conceiving than those who abstain, according to the World Journal of Pediatric Surgery, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism states any amount of alcohol can hinder the development of a budding fetus.
If you have trouble sticking to just one round, avoid triggers like certain neighborhoods and social circles. Similarly, if you’re concerned about your relationship with alcohol, join a community support group or enroll in a treatment program.
How does your birth control affect fertility?
In the old days, the IUD’s long nylon filament allowed for the ascension of bacteria that traveled into the uterus, causing infection, scarification, and ultimately infertility. Dr. Dixon said that’s currently not the case thanks to improved technologies.
Short-term fertility delays have been reported for oral contraceptive users, but in the long run, a Human Reproductive study found that you’ll return to normal and might even experience increased fecundability.
Most women who have had an abortion experience no impact on their fertility whatsoever, according to Dr. Dixon. “If someone’s had a dilatation and curettage (d and c), [infertility could be due to] the fact that the uterus was evacuated and sometimes the mechanical removal of a pregnancy can result in adhesions, which can be stickiness or scarring,” she says.
Take a Fertility Test
Speak to your family doctor or fertility specialist about the following services.
- Anti-mullerian hormone (AMH) test: On any day of your cycle, this test indicates your number of eggs and places you into a category, whether your ability to conceive is very high or very low. Your AMH test score can then serve as a guide as to when you should be trying to conceive or whether you should freeze your eggs.
- Day 3 FSH: On day three of your cycle, your brain sends a message to your ovaries telling it to start the process of ovulation. If your test reveals a high FSH, and your ovaries are not responding, this can indicate a diminished ovarian reserve, according to Dr. Dixon.
- Pelvic scan: Dr. Dixon compares it to a house inspection before sale that detects any variations in anatomy. While you can still get pregnant with a uniquely shaped uterus, it’s important to plan in advance in the event that you’ll require the likes of a hysterotomy, sonohysterogram or MRI to facilitate fertility.
- Ovulation induction agents: Whether tablets or injectables, they can augment the amount of eggs you ovulate in a month. “It’s a numbers game,” Dr. Dixon says.
- Intrauterine insemination: “Everyone knows this as turkey basting,” says Dr. Dixon. This procedure combines more eggs with more sperm, which increases the likelihood of the sperm meeting the fallopian tubes. These pregnancies more frequently result in multiples.
- In vitro fertilization (IVF): Dr. Dixon says IVF is particularly helpful if you’re older. Here, a specialist can genetically test your embryo, freeze them, and transfer them one at a time to reduce the risk of multiples.
Remember, You’re Only Half the Equation
- Have them book an appointment with a fertility specialist for a semen analysis to test their sperm count, volume and motility.
- Get them to quit smoking. Research from the Postgraduate Medical Journal found that men who smoke up to 20 cigarettes a day experience a 19 percent reduction in sperm concentration. What’s more is that smoking in men can reduce the efficacy of IVF and intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) treatments.
- Increase folate intake. A Human Reproduction study found that men with lower folate intake have an increased chance of developing sperm with genetic abnormalities, which can lead to impotence.