It's that time of year!
The beginning of a new year comes with new goals and plans to work towards a better you. And in most conversations, you will hear the same three New Year's resolutions:
"I'm quitting smoking this year."
"I'm going to lose weight."
"My goal is to eat better."
But did you know that these three resolutions can also help you conceive a child?
I admire anyone looking to take on one of these goals and I applaud you. These are three changes that can make a tremendous difference in your overall health.
If you find yourself taking on one of these resolutions and you'd like to have a baby this year, this information will provide an added boost of motivation towards your goal.
1. Quit Smoking Since It Affects Fertility in Men and Women
It's common knowledge that smoking can affect heart and lung health, but you might not know that smoking also greatly affects fertility potential in both men and women. In fact, according to The American Society for Reproductive Medicine, infertility rates in both male and female smokers are twice as high as those who do not smoke. If you smoke, it can be harder to become pregnant, carry a healthy pregnancy, and deliver a healthy baby.
Cigarette smoke contains chemicals that accelerate egg loss in women. It is one thing that you can do to speed up ovarian aging. Once eggs are lost, they are gone forever. Unfortunately, the ovaries follow a strict "use-it-or-lose-it" policy. Smoking also causes menopause to occur one to four years earlier and can create pregnancy complications in expecting mothers. For women undergoing IVF treatment, those who smoke experience 30 percent lower pregnancy rates.
For men, smoking has detrimental effects on sperm in several different ways. Regular smokers can experience lower sperm count numbers as well as a higher rate of abnormally-shaped sperm, which decreases the amount of healthy sperm available to fertilize an egg. For the remaining healthy sperm, smoking may hinder sperm movement, making egg fertilization more difficult to achieve. Basically, the sperm get stuck outside and can't get through the shell of the egg... no fertilization, no baby!
Cutting back on smoking isn't good enough. If you're still smoking, your body will continue to suffer the consequences from this bad habit. Quitting is hard, and the best success is when a smoking cessation program or a healthcare provider is added to the mix!
2. Getting Your BMI In the Ideal Range: Understanding Weight and Fertility For women, extra weight can cause hormonal shifts that affect the regularity and occurrence of monthly ovulation and menstruation, as well as decrease conception rates and cause pregnancy complications. For men, extra weight can affect healthy sperm production by lowering sperm numbers as well as how fast they can swim.
But unlike quitting smoking, losing weight is not a one-size-fits-all solution. A healthy goal weight will be different for everyone. And believe it or not, being underweight is also harmful for fertility. Everything in moderation. In fact, being a little overweight for some may help their fertility.
The first step is assessing your body weight to determine whether or not excess weight is an issue. One way to check is through a Body Mass Index, also known as a BMI. It provides a nice way to take into account height and weight defining a healthy ratio to strive for as well as numbers that indicate being underweight, obese, or morbidly obese. The CDC provides a BMI calculator to help assess your BMI number (ideally in the 20 to 25 range) and provide an ideal weight range.
If you find yourself outside of the ideal weight range, here is some positive news to consider: losing 10 percent of body weight can significantly improve fertility potential in overweight patients. In a study by Fertility and Sterility, overweight patients who achieved 10 percent weight loss had significantly higher conceptions rates (88 percent vs. 54 percent) and live birth rates (71 percent vs. 37 percent) than those who did not achieve weight loss.
If you fall into the obese range, consult a physician to formulate a healthy weight loss plan that will work for you.
3. Healthy Foods: Decoding Diet and Fertility
While this resolution often goes hand in hand with losing weight, there are specific dietary habits that can hurt fertility.
For example, too many simple carbohydrates can lead to the overproduction of ovarian hormones, which can interfere with ovulation and cause harm to women with polycystic ovarian syndrome. Lowering carbohydrate intake and focusing on eating complex carbohydrates instead can help equalize your diet and hormone levels.
If it's processed food, stay away from it. Aim for whole foods and whole grains such as a 100-percent whole-grain bread (read the labels, if it reads "enriched" move on) and vegetables, lean meats, and low-fructose fruits such as berries. Pick the deli fast-food instead of the burger joint. Choose the whole wheat instead of white bread.
Coffee lovers, you don't have to stop your favorite habit, but lowering caffeine intake can give your fertility a quick boost. One study showed that "women who consumed more than the equivalent of one cup of coffee per day were half as likely to become pregnant, per cycle, as women who drank less." After your first cup, replace your next with decaffeinated coffee or herbal tea. And don't forget that caffeine comes in many dietary forms and is also present in tea, soda and chocolate.
Don't worry, you don't have to give up everything. It's okay to have one glass of red wine and a piece of dark chocolate at night, but don't drink the entire bottle or eat the entire chocolate bar.
If you'd like to eat healthy and eat for fertility at the same time, there are fertility nutrition counselors that can prescribe a custom diet that can work for you. They can also help with diet accountability and answer questions you may have as you work towards your goal.
Other Options to Add to Your New Year's Resolutions to Boost Fertility:
• Aim for a Healthy Sex Life -- Particularly During Ovulation
There are many ways to track your fertile days but aim to have sex two to four times per week, you don't need to bother. Track your period and know that on days 12 to 16 of your cycle, you are in your fertile zone. There is no need to have sex multiple times per day leading up to ovulation, or to "save up" sperm for sex during ovulation. Remember to take time and enjoy.
• Visit a Doctor
An apple a day keeps the doctor away. But get to a doctor if: you've been trying for a year and you're under 35, or you've been trying for six months and you're over 35 and have not yet achieved a pregnancy. It's time to talk to a specialist. Knowledge is power, and there may be simple changes you can make to help achieve conception. A consultation and basic fertility evaluation is an affordable way to get a snapshot of fertility potential. Couples can do a fertility awareness checkup for the cost of a nice dinner for two.
Don't get caught in the catch up game! You won't win. If you aren't getting the sleep you need per night, the only way to heal your body is the change your habits and get the rest you need. Research shows that the hormone leptin, which has a critical role in female fertility, is reduced when the body is deprived of sleep. Rest for at least seven hours per night, and be aware of your body's needs.
• Exercise to Relieve Stress
The stresses of day-to-day life can be alleviated through physical activity, even if that is 30 minutes on the elliptical, a brisk walk with the dog, or a centering yoga class. If you complete 30 minutes of activity three to five days a week, you will feel a difference in your stress levels as well as experience increased happiness.
Remember it is up to you.
"Thoughts are an important part of your inner wisdom and they are very powerful. A thought held long enough and repeated often becomes a belief. A belief then becomes your biology. Beliefs are energetic forces that create the physical basis for your individual life and your health." -- Christiane Northrup
Happy New Year!
Think. Believe. Get it done.