What we'll cover
⚡In a nutshell
- Treat your body like a temple, that’s what they say. And it’s true when it comes to keeping your fertility health in check.
- Many aspects of our lifestyle - weight, what we eat, how we exercise and how we manage stress - can all have an impact on our fertility, for better or worse.
- If you’re a smoker, studies reveal some confronting truths about your fertility and chances of getting pregnant. It’s best to quit while you’re ahead.
There’s a lot about our fertility that isn’t in our control, but your lifestyle isn’t one of them. So cheers to that!
Let’s chat about some lifestyle changes you can make to get your body in the best shape it can be for when you are planning to get pregnant. Some might be more difficult than others, but it’s your call.
⚖️ Time to unf*ck the scales
We’re all for the movement of ‘f*ck the scales’, but when it comes to falling pregnant, if you’re underweight or overweight, it can impact your fertility.
But, there’s more to the numbers you see on the scale.
It’s about your BMI, which is the number calculated by considering your weight to height ratio.
You can use an online BMI calculator. All you need is your current height and weight.
The calculator will give you a number which will determine if you’re in the underweight, healthy range or overweight category.
So, what BMI is considered healthy for falling pregnant?
Short answer: Between 18.5 to 24.9
The longer explanation…
If your BMI is low (under 18.5) or high (over 25), the lack of fat cells or excess fat cells throw your sex hormones out of balance. These imbalances make it harder for your body to ovulate, which in turn, make it harder to time sex for pregnancy.
But there’s some other complications you need to be aware of if your BMI is higher than 25, including thyroid problems, insulin resistance, and diabetes.
Let’s break these down.
Thyroid problems: If your thyroid is over or underactive, this can affect your fertility. Thyroid hormones play an important part in regulating ovulation, preventing miscarriage and helping your baby’s developing brain and nervous system
Insulin resistance: When you’re overweight, it makes it difficult for the cells to absorb glucose from your bloodstream. When this happens, you experience higher blood sugar levels. This can be harmful to you and your baby, increasing the risks of miscarriage and diabetes-related complications.
Gestational diabetes: A rise in blood sugar levels can lead to something called gestational diabetes. This can also spike your baby’s blood sugar levels, leading to weight gain for you and your baby and, increased chances of premature birth because your body thinks it’s ready. Gestational diabetes is temporary and usually goes after pregnancy. However, if a woman experiences gestational diabetes, this can increase chances significantly of developing type 2 diabetes in the future.
I’m going to level with you here, we both know none of this sounds ideal, so consider this a (this is coming from a good place) reminder to get yourself in shape.
💦 Let your endorphins out
That feeling we get after we’ve finished a workout is pretty satisfying, but I’ll be the first to admit that the real challenge is actually making it happen.
So, if you needed an additional reason to get your ass to the gym - getting your sweat on actually improves your fertility.
Studies have shown that exercise every week tends to improve fertility in all women.
This is especially true if your BMI is high (over 25) or you have a common reproductive condition known as PCOS, even if it doesn’t result in weight loss.
When you’re trying to get pregnant, excessive and vigorous exercise for more than 7 hours per week (e.g., competitive sports, gymnastics) can place stress on the body that suppresses ovulation, making ovulation either irregular or non-existent.
If it’s non-existent, you can’t get pregnant naturally. If it’s irregular, this will make it awfully hard for you and your partner to time baby-making sex.
🥑 Fertility boosting food
Keto, paleo, vegan - everyone has their own opinions on what actually constitutes a maintained balanced, wholesome diet.
However, when it comes to diets and fertility, the mediterraneans seemed to be onto something.
Studies have shown that following a Mediterrean-type dietary pattern may enhance fertility.
We’re talking unlimited avocado here! Well, maybe not unlimited. But it is a pretty accommodating diet that encourages you to eat lots of fruits, vegetables, legumes, chicken and fish, with a lower consumption of red meat.
Making some changes to your diet is one thing, but when you’re starting to try to conceive, it’s even better knowing what nutrients and vitamins could help with a healthy pregnancy.
We’ll break these down for you.
Folate (Vitamin B9): You’ll find folate in dark leafy greens, asparagus, brussel sprouts, eggs and liver. It plays a role in preventing birth defects, particularly those of the neural tube which is where the baby’s brain and spinal cord form. Serious cases of a malfunctioning neural tube could lead to a baby suffering from spina bifida and anencephaly. Low levels of folate have also been associated with a higher risk of early miscarriage.
Iron: Your body uses iron to make hemoglobin. Hemoglobin carries oxygen from your lungs to other parts of your body, including a developing embryo. When you get pregnant, your body produces more blood to carry nutrients to your baby. This increase is greatest in the first 12 weeks. You’ll need more iron to support this. Iron-rich foods include spinach, lentils and chicken.
Omega-3 Fatty Acid: Omega-3’s are found naturally in fatty fish like salmon and mackerel. It plays a role in supporting the baby’s fetal brain and eye development. This fine and fatty acid is also kind to the developing baby’s neuronal cell membranes - which is basically feeding the baby’s potential to reach fundamental milestones when they’re earthside.
Calcium & Vitamin D: These guys come as a duo. Calcium is the mineral used to build your bones and teeth, and for your baby’s too. You can take as much calcium as you want, but your body won’t be able to absorb it properly without vitamin D. Dark leafy greens are good for calcium, and fatty fish like salmon are good sources for vitamin D.
Iodine: Iodine helps to ensure healthy brain development and growth of your baby’s organs. It’s typically found in dairy products, seafood, seaweed, eggs, bread and iodised salt.
Another tip is to start taking a prenatal vitamin ideally three months before you start trying to conceive.
Many people don’t realise that they’re pregnant until they’re well into their first trimester. By then, a great deal of fetal development has already taken place.
If you start taking a daily prenatal vitamin before pregnancy, you can make sure your body is getting all the nutrients it needs, and your baby has the best chance at being a total rockstar.
Oh and another thing.
Treat this purely for what it is - information. We’re not saying you need to start hammering down chicken livers and lentils. But, just use it as a guide to planning out your meals and making sure you’re getting a bit of everything and keeping your body happy. Capiche?
🧘🏼♀️Embrace your inner zen
No one likes to be told to take a chill pill, because it’s usually when we actually feel like we’ve got something to worry about! But we need to tell you, stress can have a negative impact on your fertility.
Your ovaries feel more than you think. They know when you’re stressed and they don’t handle it well.
The irony of the situation is that navigating your fertility - whether that means trying to get pregnant for the first time, coping with reproductive conditions, going through IVF - is inherently stressful.
So, it’s natural to feel anxious and overwhelmed. However, the more we understand that stress and fertility are not a good mix - the more we need to try and manage that.
How stress sabotages your body
When you’re feeling anxious, your nervous system releases stress hormones, specifically cortisol, which begins to manifest and take its toll on your body.
You’ll notice your heart rate increasing, shallow breathing and uncomfortable stomach butterflies. In this moment, your body is preparing for fight or flight response.
This response is triggered when an extremely stressful situation arises. The systems in your body that aren’t necessary for survival shut down, including your reproductive system.
This is also why your period can be late when you’re experiencing high levels of stress for an extended period of time.
Stress and anxiety during this time of your life is completely normal. Big changes are ahead and things may feel uncertain, so be kind to yourself.
You could consider taking up a daily mindfulness meditation practice.
In fact, take three deep breaths right now. Go on.
Breathe in (count to three) and then out (count to three). That right there, is literally you practicing mindfulness meditation. How good does it feel!?
You’re not expected to go all out on a 10-day silent retreat. Even with just 5 minutes a day on a guided meditation app like Headspace or Waking Up by Sam Harris can help you have more control of your stress and anxiety.
But an app might not solve everything.
If you’re still finding it really tough to manage, then it might be time to look for additional support or asking for professional help.
There’s a really ugly side to anxiety and stress. It can prevent you from doing things you would normally love to do, make you avoid situations because of fear, impact your relationships and affect your physical wellbeing.
Wanting support - whether it’s from your close friends, family or professional help - is as human as pregnancy is.
So please, always ask and don’t let stress and anxiety become destructive.
We know stress can also be another trigger for smokers to light up an extra cigarette for the day, but this isn’t going to do your fertility any favours either.
🚬 No smoke ‘n mirrors here
We’ve been warned of the dangers of smoking and told about the deadly links between smoking and cancer. But have you considered how your daily durry could be negatively impacting your fertility?
Studies have shown that women who smoke are more than 50% less likely to conceive naturally, compared to non-smokers.
That is huge.
And the risk for fertility problems increases with the number of cigarettes that are smoked daily.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t just affect the women who smoke by choice.
While to a lesser extent, if you’re regularly exposed to secondhand smoke, this can still impact your fertility.
How smoking affects your egg stash
Cigarette smoke is an addictive chemical cocktail cloud of nicotine, cyanide and carbon monoxide. All of which can take aim at your eggs - whether you’re inhaling it through your cigarette or from second-hand smoke. And once your eggs deplete, they can’t regenerate or be replaced.
Smoking also damages the genetic material in eggs, causing them to be abnormal.
When eggs are abnormal, they are less likely to become fertilised with sperm or implant on the uterus - both of which you need to achieve a natural pregnancy.
If you do become pregnant, smoking is more likely to take its toll on these pregnancies - with studies showing women who smoke have higher rates of miscarriage, still births, premature labour, ectopic pregnancies and children with birth defects.
Studies have also shown that menopause occurs one to four years earlier in women who smoke, compared with non-smokers.
Can’t IVF bypass that?
Fertility treatments like IVF (In vitro fertilisation) seem like the magic winning fertility formula. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. IVF relies on you having at least one healthy egg.
And smoking makes this process even harder.
Studies have shown that the success rates for IVF decreased by ~40% compared to non-smokers.
On average, they found that almost twice as many IVF cycles were needed for smokers as for non-smokers to become pregnant. That’s not only an emotional rollercoaster, but an expensive one too.
It’s time to quit the sticks
We know it’s not as easy as it sounds, but surely what the studies show is much more confronting than the idea of quitting.
There’s actually no silver lining here and the studies are clear.
The more packs you smoke, the lower your chances of falling pregnant or having a pregnancy without complications. And, the more irreversible damage it does to the supply and quality of your eggs.
If you want to have children in the future, here’s your motivation to quit. You’ve got this.
🍷Sobering facts on booze
Now this topic is bound to stir the pot a little. But first, let’s start with the good news.
Studies suggest that you can have a drink or two per day in the years while you’re not trying to conceive without harming your odds of success.
So, what about when you are trying to get pregnant?
RANZOG recommends that it’s safest to avoid drinking any alcohol when trying to conceive.
And yes, it comes with good reason and logic.
The thing is, If you do get pregnant but don’t realise it and continue to drink, some studies have shown that the results can be harmful for you and your baby, and the risk increases the more you drink.
It’s especially dangerous when binge drinking comes into the equation. It puts you at a higher risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth and a range of physical, cognitive and developmental problems in the child.
But, what about just a glass or two? This is where things get tricky and the science is not very clear.
What we found is that there are very few quality studies that have researched the effects of pregnancy and child outcomes of drinking in moderation.
And of those studies, the findings are mixed.
🤔 Some studies showed little or no difference in the child’s development and behaviour for women who drank up to five drinks per day.
🤷♀️ Whereas, other studies have found that the child’s mental and physical development was affected when the women had three or more drinks per day.
🤔 Some studies conclude there was no strong evidence of a relationship between light drinking and miscarriage.
🤷♀️ While, other studies have found that even light drinking (two or more drinks a week) was associated with significantly increased risk of miscarriage in the first trimester.
It’s hard to know what to believe, but the mixed results of these studies make it pretty hard to draw conclusions.
Despite there being minimal evidence of harm from low levels of drinking, it’s not possible to conclude that light drinking carries no risks of harm to the baby or mother at all.
So, it’s safest to say that alcohol in any stage of a pregnancy (yes, that includes Trimester 3) is a no-go.
What if I just found out I’m pregnant and I’ve been drinking?
Firstly, congrats!! If you’re worried about how much you’ve been drinking, don’t panic. You’ll probably seek reassurance from your friends and everyone is likely to have different opinions on this.
The only way for you to get any indication of how it might have impacted your baby is to speak with your Doctor. They can help you get your baby checked out and then you’ll know for sure.
☕️ Rise and grind
Can’t get through the day without your caffeine boost? I’m with you on that one.
Studies show that fertility doesn’t seem to be affected by caffeine intake below 200-300mg a day. What does this translate to in Aussie cafe language?
It’s recommended that you limit your caffeine consumption to one or two small coffees a day (6-8 ounce). Or, just one regular coffee (12 ounce) and really savour it.
However, if you’re getting your caffeine fix from other sources as well, like energy drinks and super strong English Breakfast tea, you might want to think about lowering the amount of coffee you drink or vice versa.
If you need more energy, and want to go the ol’ naturale way, there’s always the good old Australian Na Na’s too.
🍌 Use protection and get tested
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are common, and many people have them without knowing they do. Chlamydia (the most common STI in Australia) and Gonorrhea are the two STIs that lead to infertility, if left untreated.
These STIs are sneaky. Three in four women with Chlamydia don’t even know that they have it because they have no symptoms.
So what actually happens?
Untreated STI’s can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which causes scarring on the fallopian tubes and other female reproductive organs. When this happens, sperm finds it hard to reach an egg.
Using a condom is the easiest way to avoid pelvic inflammatory disease. If you choose not to use condoms, just make sure you get regular STI tests.
You can easily get tested for Chlamydia or Gonorrhea when you visit your GP. You either pee in a cup or you can get your GP to take a swab test when you’re in for a routine pap smear. If it shows up positive, don’t worry, it’s easy to treat. You can take some antibiotics for a week.
👌🏼Get your lifestyle in check
All in all, this should come as a relief to many of you who don’t particularly like sluggin it out at the gym 7 days a week. When it comes to anything in your life, there is always a limit and it’s about finding out what works for you and when you’re crossing a line.
But, if you’re serious about getting your fertility health in check then it’s time for you to:
- Check your BMI
- Figure out an achievable exercise routine, based on your BMI results
- Buy some avos
- Look into a suitable prenatal vitamin (Well would you look at that, here’s what we prepared earlier. With the hero ingredients of folate, iron, omega 3, calcium and vitamin D)
- Download a meditation app or reach out to someone who can help you manage your anxiety and stress
- Keep enjoying your vinos if you’re not trying to conceive just yet. Or, gift the rest of that red wine you opened yesterday to a mate who isn’t trying to have a baby right now
- Get up to date on your STI tests
- Stomp on your packet of smokes
We’ll be cheering for you on the sidelines.
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Dr. Vamsee Thalluri