Fertility worries for women

800px-Woman-typing-on-laptopNew research has suggested that many young women are worried about their fertility, and that conflicting information and pressure from friends and family all contribute to the problem. It is not clear from the press release for this study how many women were surveyed or how the survey was carried out, but it has apparently suggested that:

  • Nearly half (47%) of under 45s surveyed said they worry about not being able to have a baby and this rose to 62% among 18-24 year olds.
  • Almost two thirds (63%) reported feeling upset, stressed or pressured by conflicting fertility advice, with one in three women saying that they found it hard to get information that they could trust.
  •  Women aged 18-24 said pressure to have a baby came from family and friends (33%), the media and celebrity culture (18%), or even people they didn’t consider close friends (8%).
  •  Women aged 25-34 reported the highest level of pressure from family and friends (52%), while older women (aged 35-44) felt less pressure from the media and celebrity culture than younger women.

For women who were concerned about getting pregnant, nearly half (49%) of those surveyed were worried that they may have a fertility problem that they didn’t know about..

Dr James Nicopoullos, Consultant Gynaecologist at The Lister Fertility Clinic, said:
“It’s understandable that women are feeling both worried and confused about their fertility. There is so much information (and also misinformation) out there which in some situations is causing unnecessary stress, but the truth is that there’s no one size fits all approach to fertility advice.”

The consumer research apparently suggested there was some confusion about factors that can affect fertility, and James Nicopoullos, Consultant Gynaecologist at The Lister Fertility Clinic, has addressed some of these issues.

Respondents to the survey said: Being on the pill for a long time could make it harder to get pregnant (41%)

James said: This is a common myth that I hear, but it’s actually false. 75% of women ovulate and cycle normally within a month of stopping the pill and 90% within 3 months. Those who don’t have regular cycles thereafter may have some underlying issue causing this (such as polycystic ovarian syndrome).

They said: Doing regular exercise can help improve fertility (64%)

James said: There is no consistent evidence that regular exercise negatively effects fertility so I would always suggest keeping in shape is a good thing. In extreme cases, there have been instances where women have decreased their body fat stores through exercise, leading the body’s hormonal production to switch off and prevent periods, which negatively impacts on fertility.

They said: Drinking alcohol can make it harder to get pregnant (60%)

James said: Some studies have indicated that alcohol can affect fertility so decreasing intake or stopping completely is never a bad thing. The evidence, however, at low levels is inconsistent. National guidelines suggest no more than 1-2 units of alcohol once/twice per week.

They said: Smoking can affect your fertility (66%)

James said: Smoking tobacco even a small amount can significantly impact on fertility and the evidence for this is much more clear-cut than with alcohol. There is evidence of a negative effect on natural fertility, an increase in miscarriage risk, ectopic pregnancy risk as well as lower chances with assisted reproduction. There is even a significant risk of earlier menopause. Some studies have also shown a correlation with number of cigarettes smoked. Just as important are the increases in risk in pregnancy of complications such as preterm labour, stillbirth and placental problems.

They said: A positive state of mind can help improve fertility (47%)

James said: Stress is a very hard thing to quantify but my motto is “don’t be stressed about being stressed”. At extremes, it can again cause periods to cease but in most this will not be an issue. A large study in the British Medical Journal suggested that stress caused by fertility problems or other life-events did not seem to impact on the outcome of fertility treatment.

They said: Being overweight or obese can make it harder to get pregnant (71%)

James said: Both extremes of weight can be detrimental. Those underweight may have issues with their cycles stopping affecting chances of natural conception and as body mass index rises above normal there are risks to fertility and once pregnant. Studies have shown that it may be harder to conceive naturally, as well as lower chance of success with fertility treatment. Miscarriage rate is also higher as BMI increases. Ideally we should aim for a BMI of 19-25 and strongly recommend a BMI of <30 when trying to conceive.

They said: ‘Wearing loose clothing can help improve fertility’ (12%)

James said: This is a myth. While some studies have suggested that wearing tight underwear may affect sperm production in men, the same can’t be said for women.

They said: Pilates and yoga can improve your fertility (21%)

James said: Anecdotally, I would say that being calm, happy and in good shape could help you conceive, but whatever works for you. I think it would be false to attribute good fertility to doing yoga.

New research suggests a healthy lifestyle does make a difference

120px-Fruit_and_vegetables_basketNew research from Italy suggests that a healthy diet is linked to fertility. A study of more than one thousand people found that those who were fertile ate more fruit, vegetables and eggs than those who were not.

The research was carried out over a period of a year, asking those involved about their diet and lifestyle.  If found that those who were fertile were less likely to smoke, to consume excess alcohol or to use recreational drugs. They also ate vegetables, fruit and eggs more frequently.

Why does diet make a difference to fertility?

The research team suggested that excessive consumption of artificial fats could disrupt ovulation, conception and early embryonic development and advised eating more healthy fats found in avocados, eggs, olive oil and salmon. For men, they advised food which is rich in zinc and antioxidants, such as fruit and vegetables, as well as selenium which is found in eggs.

When you are trying to conceive, it is easy to get very carried away about what you eat and don’t eat – but the general advice here is that you should follow the basic principles of healthy eating. There is no need to panic about an occasional glass of wine or piece of chocolate or to follow a hugely restrictive diet, but rather to make sure that most of what you eat is good for you.

You can read more about the research here

What should you give up – or take up – to get pregnant?

images-12Yet more new advice about what to do to improve your fertility… We know that too much caffeine isn’t good for us, but should you give it up entirely if you are trying to have a baby? It’s often women who try to cut back but a new study from the States suggests that male caffeine consumption has an impact on the chances of IVF success – those who drank more coffee (and what constitutes more I’ve seen described as three cups in one place and one mug in another!) were only half as likely to have a positive outcome. Perhaps slightly unexpectedly, when it came to alcohol, drinking seemed to improve rather than reduce the chances of success for men. The study results suggest that men who drink around three units are more likely to have a successful outcome than those who don’t drink at all. Meanwhile, another group of researchers looking at diet and male fertility found that being vegan or vegetarian was linked with lower sperm counts.

So, yet more advice – yet more to do, or not to do. What makes it difficult is that it can seem that the advice changes from week to week – and is often contradictory. At the end of the day, perhaps it’s best to think along the lines of moderation in all things…


Can I have a glass of wine?

I can’t quite remember when it became accepted wisdom that anyone trying to conceive should be cutting out alcohol entirely, or giving up all caffeine, or taking loads of vitamin supplements… When I did my first IVF cycle, the consultant did mention that smoking wasn’t a terribly good idea – but that was about it.  Of course, IVF success rates have gone up since then, but I suspect that’s more to do with advanced techniques than the fact that so many of the patients are teetotal, caffeine-free and rattling with vitamin pills.

It goes without saying that you shouldn’t drink excessive quantities of alcohol when you’re trying to conceive – or excessive amounts of caffeine – but is an occasional glass of wine really going to stop you getting pregnant? I’ve never seen any convincing evidence to show that’s the case.

I was thinking about this at a fertility support group I facilitate last night and realised that I’d only ever been to one support group where wine was offered to all the members as they arrived.  Interestingly, it was in a fertility clinic and run by a consultant who clearly didn’t think a glass of wine was going to ruin the members’ chances of getting pregnant…

If giving up alcohol and caffeine entirely makes you feel better, if you happen to prefer herbal tea and you find the vitamin pills are boosting your energy – then so much the better. But if it’s making you miserable, I’d be a bit kinder to yourself.