Whether you are male or female, enhancing your general health can have positive effects on your fertility. Incorporating the following into your lifestyle before and during the time you are trying to conceive could be beneficial:
There is now a good deal of evidence that suggests that smoking is harmful both to male and female fertility. Put into real terms if a woman smokes 20 cigarettes per day she reduces her natural fertility by over 20%. Smoking is also harmful to the developing fetus both in the short term during the course of the pregnancy, and recent evidence would suggest in the long term with an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes in mid-life.
Smoking has been linked to low sperm counts and sluggish sperm movement in men, and an increase in miscarriage in women.
Reduce your alcohol intake. Alcohol (especially binge drinking or chronic abuse), affects the fertility of both men and women trying to conceive either naturally or through infertility treatments. Alcohol is toxic to sperm; it reduces sperm counts, can interfere with sexual performance, disrupt hormone balances and increase the risk of miscarriage.
For women, no more than one to two standard drinks a day is recommended. For men, the limit is slightly higher – three to four standard drinks a day.
While the inability to conceive can place stress on a relationship, avoid the temptation to relieve the stress using alcohol. Other useful methods include meditation, relaxation, moderate physical activity and yoga.
In addition high alcohol intake during pregnancy can cause fetal abnormality.
Eat a balanced diet. A well-balanced diet includes carbohydrates, protein and fibre. All women should increase folic acid intake (found in green leafy vegetables, fruit, cereals, but also available as supplements) prior to and during the first three months of pregnancy, to reduce the risk of neural tube defects such as spina bifida.
Exercise moderately. Excessive exercise can lead to menstrual disorders in women and affect sperm production in men due to the heat build-up around the testicles.
Avoid environmental poisons and hazards such as pesticides, lead, heavy metals, toxic chemicals, and ionising radiation.
Check with your doctor that any medication or herbal remedies (prescribed or over-the-counter) that you may be taking do not affect fertility.
Give up recreational drugs such as marijuana and cocaine as these have been linked to low sperm counts in men and infertility in women.
Women in particular should:
Lose weight if you are overweight. Being overweight can decrease your chances of becoming pregnant. This can be achieved through moderate exercise and a balanced diet, both of which have positive effects on fertility.
Prevention of spina bifida
There is evidence that a small dose of folic acid (400 mcg daily) is helpful in lowering the incidence of fetal abnormalities such as spina bifida. All women going through the IVF programme should consider taking this small daily dose of folic acid. Please note any women who suffer from epilepsy should take double the dose at 800 mcg daily.
Finally, it is worth checking to make sure you are immune to rubella (German measles). Although most women were vaccinated while at school, the vaccine occasionally is not effective. If you are not immune to rubella and you contract the condition in pregnancy, it can have disastrous effects on the fetus. A simple blood test will show whether or not you are rubella immune. This could be organised either through the hospital clinic or through your GP.
Regular cervical smears lowers the incidence of cervical cancer. In the United Kingdom women routinely have smears performed every 3 years, if you are close to requiring a repeat smear it is advisable to have this performed before you start on treatment
Men in particular should:
Wear loose-fitting underwear such as cotton boxer shorts. Tight-fitting underwear can lower sperm production.
Prevent overheating. Stay clear of saunas, spas and hot baths, as heat around the testicles impairs sperm production.