12 Factors that Affect a Woman’s Fertility

Tisha Seghers, APRN-CNM

For some women achieving pregnancy is easy, but for others trying to conceive can be work.  There are a number of ways to enhance your fertility when trying to conceive.  It is important to be your healthiest self.  Let’s highlight some of the important topics:

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Being Overweight or Underweight:

Overweight and obese women as well as women who are underweight can have difficulty becoming pregnant.  Women who are overweight may have decreased ovarian function leading to difficulty in achieving pregnancy.  Women who are underweight may ovulate irregularly or not at all.  Being in a normal weight category can enhance your fertility. This is why it’s important to check your body mass index.

Aging: 

As you age, the amount of viable eggs in the ovaries begins to decline.  Also, with age, women may not ovulate regularly.  It is thought that fertility may begin to decline around age 35.  Also, it may be helpful to ask your mother when she went through menopause.  The average age for menopause is age 51. If your mother went through menopause at a younger age, then you may also go through menopause earlier in life.

Environment:

Chemicals and pollutants can decrease fertility.  Limiting inhalation and physical contact to these toxins can increase your chances of conceiving.  It’s important to work in well ventilated areas, to wear gloves, and use protective eyewear when handling chemicals.

Excess alcohol and caffeine intake:

Women who drink more than one alcoholic beverage daily may find it harder to become pregnant.  Fertility declines proportionally to the amount of alcohol ingested.  There is conflicting information in the evidence regarding caffeine intake and fertility.  There is some evidence that shows that excess caffeine intake may decrease fertility.  If you are having difficulty conceiving, limit your caffeine intake to 200 mg or less daily.

Smoking:

Smoking prematurely ages the ovaries and depletes the quantity of eggs prematurely.  Bottom line:  Quit!  Touro offers a regular smoking cessation program: I Can Quit. The program is open to anyone who is serious about quitting smoking. To learn more or to register for the next monthly session, contact Robert Gardner, Ph.D., LPC at (504) 897-8209 or robert.gardner@ lcmchealth.org

Breastfeeding:

Breast milk is certainly the best for your baby, and it’s recommended that babies are breastfed for the first six months of life, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.  It’s also recommended that once food is introduced that babies continue to breastfeed until at least age one and for as long as mutually desired by mom and baby.  During the first six months of life, it’s possible that the breastfeeding mom may experience lactation amenorrhea.  This means that she may not ovulate during that time of breastfeeding exclusivity.  Side note:  It is also recommended to wait at least 18 months before conceiving again to decrease your chances of experiencing preterm labor and birth with your next bundle of joy. 

Vigorous physical activity:

Moderate exercise is a great way to stay healthy but there is a possibility of working out too much. If you notice your menstrual cycle has become irregular or has lightened significantly and you participate in very vigorous exercising (generally more than five hours per week,) you may have decreased fertility.

“The birth control shot”:

The birth control shot (medroxyprogesterone acetate; brand name Depo-Provera) is the only method of hormonal birth control that may not have an immediate return to fertility once the method is no longer in use.  Some women do return to fertility immediately, while others may not resume regular ovulatory cycles for up to one year or more.

Medical conditions:

As said earlier, it is important to be your healthiest self when trying to conceive.  There are many health conditions that can have a negative impact on fertility.  Women with thyroid disorders (hypo or hyper) can have problems ovulating.  Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, and uterine fibroids can also have negative impact on fertility and the ability to carry a pregnancy to term.  Autoimmune disorders such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis can decrease your chances of conception and achieving a successful pregnancy since the woman’s own body may attack the conceptus or even her partner’s sperm.  Proper management of these health conditions can help increase your chances of conceiving and maintaining a healthy pregnancy.

Your sexual health:

Sexually transmitted infections such as gonorrhea, Chlamydia, and trichomonas, especially when left untreated, can damage the reproductive organs resulting in the inability to conceive.

Excess stress:

Stress alone is not an independent risk factor for infertility.  But, excess stress and poor coping mechanisms may decrease a woman’s ability to achieve pregnancy.

Know your body: 

Being familiar with these signs of fertility can help you when trying to conceive.  Women are most fertile when their cervical mucus is the consistency of egg whites, which is slippery and wet.  For some women this occurs on day 14 of their menstrual cycle, but as we know, many women don’t always have an exact 28 day cycle.  So, your fertile day may be before or after cycle day 14.  It can be very helpful to download an app to track your menstrual cycles.  The apps can help you identify your fertile period.  One to try is the Ovia Fertility – Ovulation Calculator and Period Tracker (Menstrual Calendar App) by Ovuline, Inc.

It can be helpful to chart your basal body temperature (BBT).  Charting BBT can help you identify when you ovulate.  If you prefer pen and paper instead of an app, you can use a blank chart with instructions. You can also purchase an Ovulation predictor kits (OPKs) from your neighborhood pharmacy.  OPKs can help you identify when you ovulate and when to best time intimacy.

There is much to learn about your body and the menstrual cycle in its entirety and there is more to know than just your period.  An excellent book that I suggest you to read is Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler, MPH.

Seghers, TishaTisha Seghers, APRN-CNM, is a Certified Nurse Midwife at Touro Infirmary. Tisha worked as a Labor and Delivery nurse for 14 years before attending graduate school to study nurse midwifery. She graduated from Frontier Nursing University (Hyden, Kentucky) in September, 2014 with a Master of Science degree in nursing. Tisha is a New Orleans native, married to her high-school sweetheart and mother of two young children.

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