Whether you are currently trying to conceive or planning to in the future, knowing what you can do to maximize your fertility is a powerful tool for reducing stress and feeling empowered. The following 9 factors should be considered when forming expectations and strategizing for optimal fertility. Although several of these 9 factors that affect fertility are difficult or even impossible to control, they are still important. Understanding each one’s impact on fertility and how they apply to you can help create realistic expectations and inform your decisions. You can also measure your female reproductive hormones, thyroid function, and stress responses with our at-home Fertility Test.

1. Age

As with many capabilities of our physical bodies, the younger you are the more fertile you are likely to be. This means it could take longer for an older woman to become pregnant than a younger woman.  On the other hand, a very healthy 35-year-old might have an easier time becoming pregnant than a 25-year-old who smokes, drinks, and does not exercise. Although age is not everything, if you are older then it can reduce frustration if you expect it to take longer.  

2. Diseases, Disorders, Genetics

Anything that weakens body systems or redirects the body’s resources from reproductive tasks can potentially decrease fertility. A short-term infection or acute emotional stress, such as a death in the family, can temporarily decrease fertility. A chronic illness, a physical defect, or a genetic disorder might have a more permanent effect on fertility. Being aware of your baseline health and seeking medical advice can help minimize the impact of these factors on your fertility.

3. Hormones

Estrogen readily comes to mind when thinking about fertility and female hormones, but, in fact, a dozen or more hormones from the brain, ovaries, thyroid, and adrenal glands all participate in coordinating fertility. Sometimes a hormonal imbalance can’t be corrected, but in many cases, it can. Testing your fertility can identify imbalances and define solutions if needed.

Although some factors can be more or less out of your control, many factors that affect fertility can be directly influenced by your choices. Being informed about these factors and how your choices affect each one offers opportunities to take more control and reduce the number of unknowns in your fertility equation.

4. Sleep

More than one-third of adult Americans do not get enough sleep on a regular basis.1 Sleep deprivation is linked to increased risk for many chronic conditions, including high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and obesity. Lack of sleep can also reduce your ability to cope with stress and increase the likelihood you will require a medication that is not compatible with pregnancy. Making good sleep a priority could be one of the simplest things you can do to improve your fertility. 

5. Stress

Life is stressful. It comes from external sources like finances and internal sources like an illness. Stress is linked to health ramifications that adversely impact every system in the body, including reproduction. It makes sense, then, that learning to manage your stress and reducing its impact on your health would not only benefit your overall well-being, it would benefit your fertility as well.  

6. Nutrition

There is definitely some truth to the saying “you are what you eat.” Your body requires raw materials to build, repair, and grow, and these raw materials come from the food you eat. If your diet is lacking necessary nutrients, then your body will not have the resources it needs to maintain good health, let alone conceive and grow a child.

Although there is no universal agreement about what constitutes a healthy diet, most agree that the more fresh and natural the food the better, and that adequate water and fiber are important. There are also several vitamins and minerals, such as folic acid, iron, and calcium, that are known to be critical prior to and during pregnancy.

Many health experts also recommend a quality prenatal vitamin as a safety net to fill in inadvertent gaps in the diet. Switching to more fresh, unprocessed foods, and consulting a health-care practitioner for nutrition advice is a good place to start if you are unsure about how to improve your diet.

7. Toxins

The modern world presents numerous toxic insults, from air and water pollution to chemicals in processed foods. Many of them, like smog, are difficult to avoid, while others, like alcohol, nicotine, and illicit drugs are voluntarily introduced. Assessing your personal toxic load (including things like caffeine and exposure to second-hand smoke) is a good way to identify and target the toxins you can actively avoid.

Good rest, nutrition, and hydration also help your body cope with toxins that can’t be avoided.  Seeking help for substance abuse or addiction is very important when considering becoming pregnant because these things can seriously affect the developing baby, sometimes for their entire life.

8. Exercise

You know exercise is good for you, but fitting it into your day is tough. If you haven’t been able to develop an exercise routine, then now is the time. Not only does regular exercise benefit all of your body systems, it helps you reach a healthy weight and reduce stress. And, for most women, an established exercise routine can be safely continued throughout pregnancy, which means you and your baby can continue to benefit from this important lifestyle change.

If you do already have an exercise program, then it is important to know that you can get too much of a good thing. Extremely strenuous exercise can drain your body of resources and diminish your fertility. So if you are an elite athlete or involved in extreme or impact sports, then now might be a good time to scale back and find a pregnancy-friendly outlet for your physical aspirations. You can go back to killing it with the best of them when you’re not also trying to make a new person.

9. Weight/Body Fat

A dreaded topic for many of us, body weight imbalance is linked to myriad health problems, including infertility. With more than one-third of Americans medically obese and another one-third overweight,2 it makes sense that excess body fat is discussed more often than insufficient body fat, although both are scenarios that cause health and fertility disruptions.

The good news is that your effort to improve your fertility through the other factors – exercise, nutrition, stress reduction, etc. – are very likely to improve your weight/body fat as a convenient side effect. And even a 5-10% change in your weight can have a positive effect.3 If you are unsure if your body weight is affecting your fertility or you aren’t sure what to do about it, then consult a health-care practitioner for guidance.

The links among these factors

Working on these nine factors isn’t always easy. But many of them are linked, which means your efforts to improve one of them can yield positive results for the others. For example, exercise can reduce stress, which can improve sleep and eating habits, and all of these can help reduce body weight. Toxin exposure is likely to go down and a healthier body weight can have a positive effect on those harder to change factors.

If looking at this list seems overwhelming, then pick just one to work on this month, and next month you can add another. And, if you successfully conceive before you get through all nine, then congratulations and keep going because these are all good for being pregnant, too.

Thorne's Fertility Test provides insights by measuring a woman’s reproductive hormones, thyroid function, and stress responses


References

1. https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/data_statistics.html [Accessed on 10/10/17]

2. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-statistics/overweight-obesity [Accessed on 10/11/17]

3. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/losing_weight/index.html [Accessed on 10/12/17]