Despite what Disney films and children’s books led us to imagine, we all stopped believing a long time ago that babies are delivered to families via a stalk carrier (you lied to me Dumbo!). Whether you learnt about the birds and the bees from your parents, your older siblings or some ‘cool’ rebellious kids at school, I’m sure you’re pretty up to speed with how it all works. Something you might not know however is what factors might inhibit your ability to conceive or how to increase your chances. To get the facts straight, I speak to City Fertility Centre fertility specialist Simone Campbell, Dr Alex Polyakov and dietician, nutritionist, writer and educator for BioCeuticals Belinda Reynolds to find out all about the dos and don’ts of conceiving.
1) Every woman ovulates on day 14 of their cycle – WRONG! Simone explains, “The reality is that ovulation is individual dependent on how long the menstrual cycle is and will not always be on day 14. For example, a woman may not ovulate until day 21 if she has a 35-day cycle.
2) Fertility is a female issue– Believe it or not, some couples still believe this to be the case! Simone tells us, “When a couple is trying to conceive, the male’s reproductive health is just as important [as] the female’s and also contributes towards optimising the chances of a healthy baby.”
3) Age doesn’t matter – It seems unfair but fertility is yet another mechanism of your body that declines with age (when will it end!). Simone urges couples to keep their age in mind when planning for a child, as “a woman’s age is often the most important indicator of a chance of conceiving. A man’s fertility also declines from the age of 38.”
For women, there are a number of factors that affect fertility. These include:
- Weight – Simone explains that ovulation can be affected by being both under or overweight. If a woman’s BMI is within a healthy range, ovulation is more likely to occur normally, increasing the chances of falling pregnant.
- Ovulation disorders – Dr Polyakov tells us that ovulation disorders occur in three out of 10 couples experiencing fertility problems. They can manifest themselves in a variety of ways from irregular to absent periods. The most common causes of these disorders are polycystic ovary syndrome, endometriosis, hormone imbalance, weight management issues and excessive exercise. Thankfully, these can be treated.
- Age – As mentioned above, age is an important factor in fertility. According to Simone, “Once a woman reaches the age of 35, her fertility begins to decline. By age 40, it is estimated that her conception rate is in the range of eight to 10 per cent per month and at age 43, the pregnancy rate is thought to be as low as one to three per cent per month.
- Stress – Belinda tells us that stress can play havoc with hormone levels, including sex hormones, which can in turn decrease chances of conceiving.
For men, weight, age and stress also affect fertility, along with:
- Sperm quality – Dr Polyakov tells us it’s often hard to determine why a male might have an abnormal sperm analysis. Simone explains, “Sometimes lifestyle factors can impact the sperm quality and if amended can result in improvements, however in some cases assisted reproductive technologies are required to assist in achieving a pregnancy.”
- Lifestyle factors – Many men don’t realise that mature sperm take about two months to form. Simone tells us, “A male’s reproductive health is impacted by his diet, lifestyle, general health and environment of some two to three months prior.” This means that if a man is hoping to conceive with his partner, he must ensure he is maintaining a healthy BMI as well as avoiding drinking and smoking for a few months before trying.
Advice for conceiving
There are ways to optimise your chances of conceiving (hoorah!). The first, and probably most obvious (and certainly the most fun) strategy is to have lots of sex. I can practically hear men everywhere rejoicing. “Your likelihood of conceiving is substantially increased if you have regular sexual intercourse in the three days leading up to and including ovulation,” Simone adds. Other ways to help the process include:
- Knowing your cycle, as the timing of your ovulation is critical to successful conception.
- Being fertility fit! Simone refers to this as ensuring “you maintain your weight within the recommended BMI; eat a healthy balanced diet and undertake moderate exercise; limit caffeine and alcohol intake, stop smoking and any drug use.”
- Taking a prenatal vitamin will ensure “the woman’s folic acid, iron and vitamin D stores are topped up in order to prevent birth defects,” says Dr Polyakov.
- Belinda urges couples not to compare themselves to others as this can cause unnecessary stress. “Everybody and every couple is different. Try to enjoy the opportunity to improve your health in preparation for the pregnancy and the later journey through parenthood.”
So there you have it, happy baby-making!
What other myths or facts have you heard about conceiving?