Fertility struggles are on the rise and more and more couples are turning to IVF and assisted reproduction. Making babies just isn’t as easy as it used to be, but why? First we need to look at what you need in order to conceive and have a healthy pregnancy and baby.
1 – Healthy hormones: balanced hormones are essential as these are the messengers that instruct eggs and sperm to mature and be released. Your hormones also need to sustain the pregnancy until the placenta can take over.
2 – Healthy sperm and eggs: as women age egg quality declines, so diet and lifestyle factors become incredibly important in order to maintain and improve egg quality. Sperm quality doesn’t seem to be as affected by age, but their performance (motility) is, making diet and lifestyle changes just important for the male partner.
The following factors are the seven most common issues and causes of infertility that I see in clinic:
Couples are leaving it later to start trying to conceive, while from a career and financial point of view this is a smart move it does make it slightly more difficult to conceive. Women are most fertile between 20 and 24 years of age, their chance of conceiving each cycle slowly drops and by 30 years old women have a 20% chance of conceiving each cycle. There is a dramatic decrease in fertility between 30 and 40 years old, with women aged 40 having a 5% chance of conception each cycle.
Too little or too much body fat can throw out the delicate balance of sex hormones needed to conceive. One of the roles of body fat is to make oestrogen, not enough body fat can cause low oestrogen, and too much body fat can cause high oestrogen. Working with a nutritionist to lower your body fat in a hormone friendly way, or increasing your body fat and reducing exercise are important steps depending on your body fat situation.
Hormonal issues and disfunction
Women with PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome), endometriosis, low progesterone, and anovulatory cycles are on the rise, these condition need to be managed before you want to start trying to conceive as it often takes months to rebalance the hormones involved in these conditions, reduce inflammation, and bring blood sugar issues under control.
Poor thyroid function
The thyroid often gets overlooked when assessing fertility but it plays an important role in supporting normal sex hormone function. Studies have shown that an under-active thyroid increases the risk of poor implantation of the embryo and low birth weight.
A sluggish thyroid or autoimmune thyroid conditions should be taken care of in order to optimise fertility and reduce miscarriage risk.
Humans were not designed to live stressful lives. We are designed to cope with short term stress such as wars, droughts, and famines, but are not equiped to manage the day to day modern stress that we have created for ourselves.
Your body does not wish to bring a baby into the world if it thinks that you are under too much stress to provide food for it and yourself. Your body can not differentiate between stress caused by an overloaded email inbox and a tribal war (remember, your body hasn’t evolved much over the last 2.6 million years).
Meditation, mindfulness, good sleeping habits, and adaptogenic herbs can be used to help you better manage your stress levels.
Your body and developing eggs and sperm are constantly exposed to chemicals from your food, air, water and skincare products. Some of these chemicals are what are known as endocrine disruptors. They mimic your natural hormones and block the function of others, this causes a massive disruption to your normal hormone function and consequently decreases your likelihood of a healthy ovulatory cycle. These chemicals also impact the health of your eggs and sperm, one of the main reasons a pregnancy won’t progress is due to chromosomal abnormalities in the egg, sperm or both, caused by these chemicals.
Doing your best to avoid plastic packaging, plastic take out cups and contains, and processed and packaged food, and switching to home and skincare products free from parabens, phthalates, and synthetic fragrances will help to decrease your exposure to these chemicals.
Low quality diet = low quality eggs and sperm
You have the ability to improve the quality of your eggs and sperm. Eggs take around 120 days to mature and sperm about 74 days. During this window you can impact their health through your diet and by limiting your exposure to harmful chemicals.
Healthier eggs and sperm result in a higher chance of a successful conception and healthier pregnancy.
Nutrients such as; folate, zinc, vitamin D and E, omega 3’s, and CoQ10 have been shown to improve egg and sperm quality and should be optimised in your diet.
- If you know you want children as some point, make a plan! Don’t leave it until 9 months before you want a baby and assume everything will work out, because for 1 in 6 couples this isn’t the case.
- Start avoiding fertility damaging chemicals as much as you can, visit here for an easy guide. The Kind Living Store is a great resource for products to help you reduce your exposure to these chemicals.
- Start investigating long term solutions for hormonal issues like PCOS and endometriosis – the contraception pill is not a fertility friendly solution. These conditions can and should be managed, if you would like more information on this type of support click here.
- Take your diet back to basics, ditch the packaged and processed foods and opt for more whole foods.