Matthew Prior
Matthew Prior
MBBS, PhD, MRCOG, Newcastle Hospitals

How lifestyle affects fertility – Tips to improve female fertility

When trying to conceive it is important to prepare your body for pregnancy. Making positive lifestyle changes will not only ensure the best start in life for your baby it will also improve the chances of getting pregnant.
Lifestyle affects fertility and some of the factors to consider are diet and exercise as well as considering the effects of smoking and alcohol.

Weight

 

Women with a low body weight may find their periods come less often and may even stop having periods all together. Having regular periods is a good sign of ovulation and releasing an egg is essential to getting pregnant naturally.

Overweight women also take longer to conceive with time to conception taking longer the more overweight, or obese, a woman is. Weight loss in this situation has been shown to improve fertility. The exact reason why being overweight reduces fertility is not properly understood. Theories include that more body fat alters hormones levels which affect ovulation and implantation. All of us come in different shapes and sizes, and this needs to be factored in when assessing weight. Doctors assess weight using body mass index (BMI) calculated based on weight and height. A normal body mass index is between 18.5 and 29.0 (see table). A BMI over 30 is classified as obese and fertility treatment is not recommended as it is less effective and there are increased health risks of pregnancy for these women.

BMI

Category

Effect on fertility

Below 18.5

Underweight

May stop ovulation

18.5-24.9

Normal

Positive effect

25.0–29.9

Pre-obesity

Reduced fertility

Over 30.0

Obesity

Reduced fertility and fertility treatment not recommended until BMI below 30.0

Let’s not pretend weight loss is easy. The only way to manage weight is through a combination of diet and exercise. Diet is more effective, as it is very hard to lose weight through exercise alone. Cut out snacks and refined carbohydrates (sugar, fruit juice, white rice) and replace with complex carbohydrates such as brown rice and cereals. Keep a food diary and set realistic targets. Joining a slimming/weight loss group can really help keep you motivated.

Exercise

Health organisations recommend 30 minutes of exercise five times a week for everyone. Keeping active has positive effects on physical and mental health and help fertility. Exercise doesn’t have to mean going to the gym. Anything that increases your heart rate and makes you a little bit sweaty is enough to be considered exercise.

An unhealthy lifestyle affect fertility

Smoking

Women who smoke are more likely to have fertility problems than those who don’t. Smoking stops the ovaries working as effectively, damages eggs and alters hormone levels. Smoking may also stop the fallopian tubes from properly collecting an egg and transporting the embryo to the womb.
Little research has been done on the effects of vaping and fertility, so the advice for women trying to conceive is to avoid.

Alcohol

Heavy drinking has a negative effect on fertility. This again is likely due to effects on hormone levels. Alcohol can also cause harm to the developing baby. The safest approach for pregnant women or those trying to conceive is not to drink alcohol at all, to keep risks to your baby to a minimum.

Caffeine

Women who drink an excessive amount of caffeine (500mg a day) have reduced fertility. Nevertheless, this is a lot of coffee and equivalent to 5 brewed cups of coffee a day, or 10 espresso shots. Moderate caffeine intake has no impact on fertility.

Pre-natal Vitamins

Women trying to conceive are recommended to take folic acid and vitamin D. These can be found in most over the counter conception vitamins. Folic acid prevents a condition called spina bifida and vitamin D has been shown to be helpful in pregnancy

Pap Smear Tests

It is ideal to have a Pap Smears (which looks for possible abnormal cell changes of the cervix/opening of the womb) before a pregnancy, so make sure you’re up to date before trying to conceive.​

Lifestyle affect fertility, including huge amount of caffeine