If you are considering becoming pregnant, and particularly if you are struggling to conceive, ensuring a healthy lifestyle makes good sense. You might be surprised to learn how much your lifestyle can impact on your reproductive health, and the health of a developing foetus.
Preconception care is about ensuring the health of the sperm, eggs, and fertilisation process, as well as the developing baby. Did you know that the formation of healthy sperm takes around 2 months, and the maturation of eggs occurs roughly 100 days prior to ovulation? This means that your diet, lifestyle and general health today will be impacting on your reproductive health 2-3 months from now.
Diet and Exercise
Optimal wellbeing is essential for overall health and fertility fitness. Following a sensible diet and exercise program can help boost your reproductive health. A healthy diet including whole grains, legumes, fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds and some good quality protein such as meat, fish eggs or milk is essential for both partners. Also ensure an intake of at least 8-10 glasses water daily.
The taking of folic acid supplement (400-500 micrograms per day) by the mother for the month around the time of conception has been shown to reduce the risk of neural tube defect (spina bifida) in the baby. If the woman has a body mass index greater than 27kg/m2, diabetes or a family history of neural tube defect or some other conditions she should take 5 mg of folic acid per day. Excess vitamin supplements may be harmful and women should avoid excess vitamin A ingestion prior to pregnancy. Iodine supplement of 150 mcg should be taken around the time of early pregnancy. Vitamin D should be checked and confirmed as adequate.
Men may wish to use vitamin E, C, zinc and selenium to improve fertility, but there is no proof of benefit in studies performed to date. In particular Menevit ™has been studied on a few men, whose partners were undertaking IVF, and there was no improvement in live birth rate or embryo quality when the men had taken Menevit™ compared to the men who took a placebo tablet.
To maintain fitness and a healthy weight, aim to undertake moderate regular exercise 3 times per week, for around 30 minutes per session. Excessive exercise for women, particularly that associated with significant increase in the heart rate may reduce fertility but this is uncertain. It is best to discuss the type and level of exercise with your doctor.
There is a clear relationship between weight and fertility, and being markedly overweight or underweight may result in difficulty conceiving. As weight moves away from the normal range, fertility decreases and the miscarriage rate increases. If a woman is obese, a weight reduction of even 5kg can start to make a significant difference to your conception chances. Weight loss is however difficult to achieve and requires diligent attention to reduce the intake of food. For some women who are underweight a small gain in weight can improve spontaneous fertility dramatically.
Both men and women are advised to cease or reduce drinking alcohol prior to trying for a pregnancy. Even low levels of alcohol consumption can reduce spontaneous conception in women. For women, alcohol can increase the risk of birth defects in babies. In men, high levels of consumption can reduce male fertility.
Women who smoke are 2 ½ times more likely to be infertile than are non-smokers. Women who smoke also have a significantly higher incidence of miscarriage, premature birth and low birthweight babies than do non-smokers. Women who smoke also have a higher incidence of miscarriage, premature birth and low birth weight babies than do non-smokers. Women who smoke have poorer responses to fertility treatment, earlier onset of menopause and a high rate of intrauterine growth retardation, congenital abnormalities and infant death. In addition the risk of cot death is increased in the children of smokers.
Men who smoke have a reduction in sperm count, motility and normal appearance. There is also an association with male impotence. In the children of male smokers, there are increased birth defects, childhood cancer rates and asthma.
It is therefore essential to reduce and cease smoking prior to conception. See your doctor or speak to the nurse in the IVF unit if you wish to get some further information.
Illicit or recreational drugs
The use of any recreational drugs should be avoided while trying to fall pregnant. Marihuana use by the male has been linked to sperm abnormalities. If you or your partner uses illicit drugs, and you are having trouble ceasing use, you should discuss this with your doctor.
Ensure that you discuss any medications with your doctor prior to trying for pregnancy.
Having difficulty conceiving is very psychologically stressful for the couple and both the male and female partners as individuals. It is most important to address these issues as reducing the stress experienced allows the couple to follow healthy lifestyle behaviours. Many couples do not wish to discuss the difficulties they have conceiving with family and friends and this may reduce the support they receive. Sometimes family and friends increase the distress experienced by couples trying to conceive inadvertently. Many couples find seeking the advice and support of nursing staff affiliated with an IVF unit helpful. Some couples find support in other couples who have infertility. Some couples find benefit in consulting a psychologist with experience in the needs of couples with infertility. It is important for both the male and female partner to share their experiences with each other and decide on the most appropriate support for them as a couple.
Complementary therapies including, acupuncture, herbal remedies and aromatherapy are often used as part of preconception care. These are unproven as either beneficial or harmful. Make sure your doctor knows if you are taking herbal medications.