There has been much in the media about fertility. Television presenter Kirstie Allsopp warned women in their twenties of the heartache of dwindling fertility, encouraging them to have children early and save university for later. Facebook and Apple announced that to encourage longevity in their female employees’ careers and commitment, they would pay for egg freezing. Both are drastic options and would certainly not suit every woman.
There is however another option: making the choice to take a natural approach to optimising and preserving fertility. In today’s ‘full on’ society it has never been more relevant than it is now to consider your fertility and do everything you can naturally to grow your family.
It is widely believed that a woman is born with her full supply of eggs, millions of them, that these naturally decline and we lose many each month, and that, unlike men, who manufacture sperm on a daily basis, we don’t make any more. So we really need to look after the ones we’ve got. A woman’s egg is exactly as old as she is, so in theory as we age so does our supply of eggs. If you are in your twenties, it is likely that your body is functioning pretty well and therefore so are your eggs. However, as you reach your thirties and forties the quality of your eggs declines.
Opinion is divided as to whether your fertility drops off a cliff at the age of 35. Whilst there is no denying ovarian aging – and, let’s face it, basic biology – no woman is by any means just a statistic. Conventional medicine is very quick to subject women to invasive and expensive IVF investigations and treatment.
Clearly, for some women the only answer is IVF. However, taking the time to consider a natural approach first will undoubtedly get you fertility fit and improve the chances of successful IVF treatment. There are things that you can do now to preserve your ovarian reserve for the future. Creating a fertility plan, such as the example below, helps you focus your efforts on making simple but effective lifestyle changes to optimise and preserve your fertility.
The Fertility Plan
- Get a health check. See your doctor or nurse for a general health check. As well as checking your weight and blood pressure, you can also have a general blood test to look for conditions that might affect your fertility such as diabetes or thyroid problems.
- Stop smoking. Smoking ages your ovaries by approximately 10 years. It is also believed that smoking adversely affects the fertilised embryo’s ability to travel from the ovary to the uterus. Research shows that cigarette smoking is responsible for approximately 13% of infertility worldwide.
- Maintain a healthy weight. If you are overweight, oestrogen is stored in your excess fat. This additional supply of oestrogen fools the body into suppressing essential hormones, disrupting the ideal balance of hormones and making it difficult to conceive. On the other hand, if you are underweight your levels of oestrogen fall and you may stop ovulating completely.
- Eat to conceive. Giving careful consideration to what you eat and making changes where necessary will really help to preserve your ovarian reserve. Avoid refined foods, sugary drinks and sweet foods. A balanced diet high in fresh fruit and vegetables is the key building block for optimising and preserving your fertility.
- Do you need a vitamin boost? There are many vitamins and minerals that are essential for fertility, including vitamin D. If you feel that your diet isn’t totally balanced, add in some vitamins. Join the juicing movement and start your day with a breakfast juice or smoothie packed full of essential vitamins and minerals. Consult a fertility nutritionist for advice on the best vitamins, minerals, foods and herbs for fertility.
- Get your trainers on. A healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise will help prevent you developing any illness that may impact on your fertility. Be careful not to exercise excessively, as this can lead to menstrual irregularities and therefore affect ovulation.
- Check your mother’s fertility. This will give you a good indication of your own fertility preservation. Knowing at what age your mother went through the menopause, and being aware that her egg quality was probably declining for a good few years before that, is key when considering the spacing of your family and how many children you would like.
- Reconsider your method of contraception. If you are using a hormonal method of contraception, it can take a number of months for your fertility to return once you stop. Switch to a non-hormonal method of contraception such as the non-hormonal IUD, condoms or natural contraception. Natural contraception is safe and non-invasive, as well as being up to 99% effective if used correctly.
- Reduce your alcohol and caffeine intake. Excessive alcohol intake disrupts the functioning of and damages the egg. Anecdotal evidence leads many professionals to believe that binge drinking is a precursor for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), which greatly affects fertility, although more research in this area is required. Excessive caffeine intake is responsible for ovarian ageing.
- Are you stressed? Studies measuring levels of the stress hormone cortisol show that the time taken to conceive is doubled when a woman is suffering from high levels of stress. If you are constantly under work or emotional stress, it is likely that your body is suffering. You are more inclined to suffer from high blood pressure and difficulty in sleeping, both of which can increase your risk of suffering from chronic conditions, which in turn may impact on your fertility reserve. Take steps to get your mind and body on the same team.
- Reduce your exposure to toxins. The last 100 years has seen dramatic changes in our environment, and this appears to have a direct correlation with the increase in infertility rates worldwide. Eat organically and consider changing to natural products in the home. Unwrap foods bought wrapped in plastic as soon as you get home from the shop. Be informed about toxins and make small changes that fit in with your lifestyle.
- Get to know your cycle. Get educated on how to identify your fertility indicators, know when you ovulate and check that your cycle is in good working order. A fertility practitioner will help you with this, is able to diagnose any problems early and can help you get in tip-top condition to conceive.
In some circumstances, despite leading a healthy lifestyle and doing everything you can to optimise and preserve your fertility, you still might face problems conceiving. If this is you, you are not alone. 80% of women trying for a baby will conceive within a year, but it is common for couples to seek help and advice if there is still difficulty in conceiving. Overall one in six of all couples needs further help. You may choose to make changes in all lifestyle aspects or you may just need to make one or two simple changes. Whatever you decide, whatever small changes you make will definitely help to optimise and, crucially, preserve your fertility – just in case you really need it to last just that bit longer.
Kate Davies is a fertility practitioner, a coach and the founder of Your Fertility Journey. She helps women and couples achieve pregnancy naturally and coaches women to successfully navigate a difficult fertility journey. She also teaches natural contraception. yourfertilityjourney.com
Photo by Helena Lopes
Illustration by Marija Smits – marijasmits.wordpress.com
First published in Issue 39 of JUNO. Accurate at the time the issue went to print.