Everywhere you turn, there’s a flood of information touting health advice, new diet fads, or fitness crazes. In order to sift through the noise and achieve a healthy pregnancy faster, Shady Grove Fertility’s Matthew Connell, D.O., and Kara Nguyen, M.D., M.P.H., share three tried and true basics that can help improve your fertility.
1. Maintain a Healthy Weight
Weight is a sensitive subject, and after a year of many of us working from home, gyms closed, and perhaps a more sedentary lifestyle, it is important to address the impact of weight on fertility. Similar to controlling medical conditions like diabetes, hyperthyroidism, and hypertension prior to pregnancy, weight requires similar attention. SGF follows these body mass index (BMI) guidelines to understand where a patient’s weight falls on the scale:
Extremely Obese: >40
“For women struggling with infertility, time is a sensitive hurdle,” explains Dr. Connell. “For women with a BMI greater than 35, the time to conception may double, which can add stress to the process. Losing as little as 5-10% of body weight when BMI >25 can dramatically improve outcomes.”
It’s important to remember, couples of reproductive age have a 15-20% chance of conceiving each month without any type of medical intervention. For women with a BMI over 29.2, the chances of national conception drops 4% per ovulation cycle–underscoring that a healthy weight is significant to successful outcomes.
Women experiencing a low BMI is just as important to consider when embarking on a family-building journey. Low BMIs can lead to fertility complications including ovulatory dysfunction, poor response to fertility medication, and decreased conception and pregnancy rates. Women who are underweight may also face additional health challenges during pregnancy as well. Therefore, it’s important to maintain weight in the normal range (18.5-24.9) for optimal pregnancy outcomes and for the health of mom and baby.
2. Eliminate or Limit Alcohol and Smoking
While living a healthy lifestyle provides an abundance of positive effects for men and women, how you address alcohol and smoking can have numerous implications for fertility, too.
While consuming alcohol will not necessarily have permanent adverse effects on fertility, there is evidence to suggest that drinking—particularly in excess—could make conception more difficult.
According to Dr. Nguyen, while “light” drinking (fewer than five drinks per week) is probably not detrimental, “heavy” drinking (two or more drinks per day) or binge drinking (five or more drinks at a time) can not only cause serious harm to a developing fetus but can also negatively impact your chance of conception. And this impact is not limited to just women. Men also experience decreased fertility with excessive drinking. However, with reduced intake, side effects can be quickly reversed.
Compared to non-smokers, smokers can experience up to a 54% higher likelihood that conception will take 1 year or longer. According to an American Society for Reproductive Medicine study, women who smoke have approximately twice the rate of infertility compared with women who don’t smoke. Smoking has also been shown to increase the rate of miscarriage and is associated with menopause occurring 1-4 years earlier than expected.
For men, damage caused by smoking is not necessarily permanent and may vary by the quantity and length of smoking history. In general, a man’s fertility rate can completely return to normal within 1 year of quitting smoking.
3. Aim for 8 Hours of Sleep
Did you know that poor sleep and an altered sleep schedule can have a big impact on weight, stress, and sleep regulation, all of which can affect fertility levels?
Let’s first look at hormones. There are several hormones that are directly influenced by how many hours of sleep you get each night: insulin, ghrelin, leptin, and cortisol. Cortisol can trigger the release of reproductive hormones, and a long-term lack of sleep can affect the hormone in charge of regulating a woman’s menstrual cycle.
Poor sleep also contributes to obesity, but on the other hand, obesity can further limit the body’s ability to sleep. When the body gets less than 7 hours of sleep per night, it releases more hunger hormone and less satiety hormone. One study found that sleep-deprived participants choose snack foods with 50% more calories and twice the fat in comparison to when they were well rested.
Stress can get in the way of sleep, which sets the body up for a variety of issues that aren’t conducive to fertility. Stress can change how key factors like the HPA axis function. The HPA axis exerts a portion of control over reproduction hormones, follicle development, and menstruation.
Wondering if It’s Time to See a Fertility Specialist?
While it is important to address health concerns prior to conception, if it has taken longer than expected to conceive, it may be time to see a fertility specialist. There may be additional underlying factors preventing conception or the ability to carry a health pregnancy. Take this quick quiz to find out!