40 Is The New 30: Preserving Your Fertility
It is no secret that women spend significant amounts of time and energy trying to block conception, with a variety of different contraceptives readily available, but for those thinking about getting pregnant later in life, extending your reproductive abilities can seem like a daunting task.
Everywhere you look, there’s an article, book, or even a relative (like say, your own Mom!) to remind you that your fertility decreases every year you wait, rattling off scary statistics like women reach their reproductive peak in their twenties, or how by age 35, the risk of infertility jumps to 22 percent.
While these stats may seem daunting, keep in mind that every woman’s body is different. Some women can get pregnant easily at 40, while others run into problems as early as their twenties. So before you’re resigned to freeze your eggs or spend the rest of your life childless and alone with your cats, remember there are a number of lifestyle choices that you can make now to improve your chances of conceiving later.
If you want to get pregnant in five years, there are a few simple steps you can take:
1. See your doctor. To keep your body baby-ready and in top physical condition, it is imperative that any health issues are diagnosed and treated. See your doctor to make sure that fertility-sapping issues like diabetes, polycystic ovary syndrome (POS), and STD’s are under control and that you have a healthy exercise and diet plan in place to increase your success rate.
2. Floss and brush. It may sound too simple to be true, but something as seemingly insignificant as flossing your teeth could help keep you fertile. “Several studies have indicated that a woman’s oral health may be related to her reproductive success,” says Susan Karabin, D. D. S., a spokesperson for the American Academy of Periodontology.
3. Snuff out cigarettes. If higher rates of lung and breast cancer haven’t made you steer clear of cigarettes, consider this: The American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) estimates that lighting up is linked to 13 percent of infertility cases. The good news though, is that once you do quit smoking, your fertility level will return to normal in about a year.
4. Take your vitamins. “Every woman of reproductive age—even if you’re not actively trying to get pregnant—should take a multivitamin containing folic acid,” says Jorge Chavarro, M. D., an instructor at Harvard Medical School and co-author of The Fertility Diet. Women who took iron supplements were 40 percent less likely to have fertility problems, so look for a vitamin with at least 40 milligrams of iron and 400 micrograms of folic acid, and get in the habit of downing the pill every morning.
For those who want to get pregnant in two years, do all of the above, plus:
1. Choose your food wisely. There are some striking connections between food and fertility, and if you’re planning on eating for two, there are four basic rules of a baby-friendly diet you should follow:
- Choose slowly digested carbohydrates (such as vegetables and whole grains) over highly processed ones (such as white bread and white rice).
- Eliminate trans fats (aka partially hydrogenated oils).
- Pick unsaturated fats over saturated fats.
- Get the majority of your protein from plants rather than animals.
2. Maintain a healthy weight. When it comes to your weight, the “fertility zone” is a body mass index (BMI) between 20 and 24, with 12 percent of infertility cases attributed to weight problems. Weigh too much and you have a greater likelihood of irregular periods and ovulation disorders; weigh too little and you may not ovulate at all, since body fat triggers the hormones that tell your ovaries to release an egg.
3. Get moving! “Our research found that 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise each day on most days of the week is related to a lower risk of infertility,” says Chavarro. A mix of strength training, stretching, and aerobic exercise such as biking, hiking, or swimming is a good way to keep your body healthy and in peak physical shape to improve your chances of conceiving.
If you want to get pregnant in one year, do all of the above, plus:
1. I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!? The tastiest health tip ever! Adding one serving of full-fat dairy to your diet per day, such as whole milk with your cereal instead of skim actually increases your chances of getting pregnant. But before you head out to the nearest Coldstone, remember to make adjustments elsewhere in your diet to avoid gaining weight. And once you have a baby in the belly, you can go back to drinking skim milk and eating low-fat frozen yogurt. Guess all good things do come to an end!
2. Reconsider your birth control. Whatever the method of contraceptive, be it IUD, the pill, or another, your fertility will return as soon as you stop. There is only one form of birth control that takes time to exit your system before you can get pregnant: If you’ve had Depo-Provera injections, it can take up to 10 months to become fertile again.
3. Cut down the alcohol and caffeine. Some studies show that having one to five alcoholic drinks per week can drop your chances of conceiving that month by as much as 50 percent. While other studies have found little connection between moderate drinking and fertility, the consensus is that sobriety certainly couldn’t hurt, and it might help. Same goes for that triple-shot latte.
4. Reduce stress. While reducing stress isn’t limited to those trying to conceive, studies show that stress can put a damper on fertility by messing with the brains signals that tell your body to ovulate.
So remember to take at least 15 minutes a day to meditate, do yoga, read a book, listen to soothing music, or whatever activity you enjoy to help relax, wind down, and give yourself the best possible chance to get pregnant.
A few years from now, when that baby you’ve waited for has finally arrived, and you’re happily exhausted dealing with bottles and diaper rash, those relaxation skills will most certainly come in handy!