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.

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