What you need to know to promote and protect female fertility
Infertility is more common than you think. Nowadays, one in seven couples are struggling with having a baby. Studies have shown that about 15% of couples engaging in unprotected sex have difficulties conceiving a child. That number is way higher than it was two to three decades ago. What’s worse, it’s most likely to increase in the future.
If you or someone you know is unable to get pregnant, it can take a toll on your mental and emotional health. That’s why it’s important that we equip ourselves with reliable knowledge on what affects female fertility and what can be done about it.
What is female fertility?
Female fertility pertains to a woman’s ability to conceive a child. Conception and pregnancy are processes that involve both the woman and her male partner, specifically on the following factors:
- A male’s ability to produce healthy sperm
- A woman’s ability to produce healthy eggs
- The condition of the fallopian tubes
- The ability of the sperm to reach and fertilize the egg
- The ability of the fertilized egg to implant into the uterus
- The quality of the fertilized egg as it turns from an embryo to a fully developed fetus
What causes women fertility problems?
There are many risk factors that affect a woman’s fertility. The common causes are age, medical conditions, and lifestyle.
The age of a woman plays a huge role in preventing or delaying pregnancy. The quality and number of eggs produced may decline as she gets older. Those under 30 years of age could conceive within three months of trying. After 30, the chances of conceiving will start to drop.
The menstrual cycle also experiences disruptions as a woman gets older. Regular periods, which happen every 21 to 35 days, mean that a woman is ovulating. Irregular periods are often signs that there’s no ovulation happening.
Various health problems cause infertility in women. The most common are:
- Ovulation disorders including polycystic ovary syndrome, thyroid problems, and hyperprolactinemia
- Polyps, fibroids, or other abnormalities in the uterus or cervix
- Damage or blockage in the fallopian tubes, often caused by pelvic inflammatory disease
- Endometriosis, wherein the tissue lining that often grows inside of the uterus grows outside of it instead
- Early menopause, which happens before women age 40
- Scar tissue that binds organs after a surgery that involves appendicitis, abdominal or pelvic conditions, and pelvic infection.
- Illnesses that cause irregular or zero menstruations, such as uncontrolled diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and celiac disease.
While age and medical conditions are factors that are beyond your control, there are things in your lifestyle that you can change to improve your chances of getting pregnant.
- Being underweight or overweight
- Too much vigorous exercise or physical activity
- Smoking habits
- Alcohol intake
- Caffeine consumption
- Physical and emotional stress
- Sexually transmitted infections or diseases
- Exposure to toxins
What can women do to promote fertility?
Healthy lifestyle choices can help increase your chances of conceiving a child. Take extra effort to:
- Maintain a healthy weight. Eat a balanced diet and get enough physical activities to keep your body fit and functional.
- While exercise is recommended, too much of it may also prevent proper ovulation. Try to limit your workout to five hours every week.
- Give up smoking. Cigarette use is associated with infertility as it speeds up the aging process of the ovaries and it depletes eggs prematurely.
- Limit alcohol intake. There’s a higher risk of developing ovulation disorders in women who drink heavily.
- Minimize your coffee intake. Caffeine won’t increase the risk of infertility if it’s kept below 200 milligrams, which is about one to two cups of coffee per day.
- Avoid staying up all night. Night shifts, for example, may affect the female body’s ability to produce hormones. If you work at night, make sure to get enough sleep during the daytime.
- Practice healthy coping methods that minimize or eliminate stress. Yoga and other relaxation techniques can help prep your body for pregnancy.
- Prevent STIs and STDs. Chlamydia and gonorrhea are the leading causes of female infertility. Make sure to practice safe sex and to get you and your partner tested regularly.
- Avoid environmental pollutants, such as solvents, lead, and pesticides as they could affect fertility.
Fertility evaluation and treatment
If you wish to seek treatment for fertility issues, you should first undergo tests to evaluate what you need and what will work for you. Fertility evaluations for women may include:
- Blood testing – to check for hormonal imbalances or genetic abnormalities
- Ultrasound – to check the number of small follicles in the ovary
- HSG test – Also called the hysterosalpingogram test, this helps check your fallopian tubes for any damage or blockage
- Diagnostic hysteroscopy – for checking abnormalities in the uterus
Once you get tested and evaluated, the doctor will have a better understanding of what’s going on in your body. They’ll discuss the plan of action that best fits you, and it may include one or more of the following fertility treatments:
IO is one of the most common treatments doctors recommend. This treatment involves the use of fertility drugs that are designed to stimulate egg growth and release. Medication options for women include:
- Clomiphene citrate
- Follicle-stimulating hormone or FSH
- Human menopausal gonadotropin or hMG
- Human chorionic gonadotropin or hCG
Intrauterine insemination (IUI)
IUI is a treatment that involves the insertion of sperm directly into the uterus. This bypasses the cervix to make sure that the sperm meets the egg. Although this procedure is costly, there’s only about a 10% chance that you’ll conceive.
Intravaginal culture (IVC)
In IVC, the eggs and sperm are placed in a device which is then placed in the woman’s vagina for fertilization and incubation. The doctor removes the device after incubation and transfers workable embryos into the uterus. This has a 25% success rate.
In vitro fertilization (IVF)
The IVF process involves combining sperm and eggs in a laboratory. Once the eggs have been fertilized, they’ll give it time to grow into embryos. These are then transferred into the uterus where it’ll go through the rest of the pregnancy process. It’s the most expensive treatment but it’s also the one with the highest success rate at 48%.
If medical conditions are the reasons why you’re unable to conceive, your doctor may recommend surgery to correct them. The most common fertility-related surgeries are:
- Operative hysteroscopy
The responsibility of maintaining fertility doesn’t just fall on a woman’s shoulders. Both males and females contribute to the conception of a healthy embryo. But not all couples are the same. Their health status and experiences are different and the approach to successfully conceiving a child may vary.
If you and your partner are struggling to get pregnant or are just interested in boosting your fertility, it’s a good idea to schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider. They can help identify how you can increase your chances of conceiving and they’re the best source for answers to personal questions about fertility.