How Lifestyle Can Impact Fertility
It can be such an exciting time when you decide you are finally ready to have a baby. While you may be financially and emotionally prepared, you might ask yourself, “Is my body physically ready to carry a baby?” There are many steps you can take to improve your health and overall lifestyle that will help optimize your fertility and the challenges of pregnancy. Here, the physicians and clinical staff at RMA of New York weigh in on a few factors you should pay particular importance to as you prepare for this journey.
Nutrition and Weight
One of the first lifestyle factors you should consider is diet and weight. Obesity, defined as abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health, can affect reproductive function. Dr. Erkan Buyuk emphasizes to his patients that appropriate caloric intake and a healthy diet are the main determinants of a healthy life and reproductive function. “Obesity is a state of chronic inflammation. Markers of chronic inflammation are elevated in the serum and follicular fluid and may attract cells that can damage the organs (like the ovaries and hence the eggs) and reduce the fertility potential of a woman,” says Dr. Buyuk.
The types of foods you choose to eat, therefore, play an important role in not only your health, but also that of your future baby. Dara Godfrey, registered dietitian at RMA of New York, suggests consuming a variety of nutrients, especially if you are trying to conceive, including folate, vitamin D, omega 3s, iron, and calcium. While there is no specific diet, incorporating foods with these nutrients, such as asparagus, salmon, walnuts, lean beef, and milk, into your daily meal prep will certainly help improve your overall health and get you ready for pregnancy.
Dr. Lucky Sekhon says that the most common questions she gets asked is around exercise: is it safe?; how much is enough vs too much?; and what kind of exercise is OK? In general, she advises that women who are physically active can safely continue their exercise regimen while trying to conceive and once pregnant. However, there are some caveats. “The most important restrictions to keep in mind apply to women undergoing fertility treatments that involve stimulation of the ovaries, such as IVF or egg freezing. I’m concerned about the potential effects of high impact exercise on large ovaries,” Dr. Sekhon states. Women should avoid high impact exercises, such as running or the elliptical, that can cause an enlarged, stimulated ovary to become lodged in a position in the pelvis which cuts off its blood supply. As always, your safest bet is to ask your doctor and get their advice on your specific fitness regimen.
Though the published data on the correlation between sleep and reproductive function is minimal, it cannot be denied that getting the proper amount of sleep and being well rested is worth pursuing under any circumstance. Lack of sleep has been linked to cardiovascular problems, obesity, depression, and diabetes –health conditions not ideal for reproductive success. Interestingly, the part of the brain that regulates sleep-wake hormones (such as melatonin and cortisol) also triggers a daily release of reproductive hormones. Dr. Tanmoy Mukherjee explains that for women, a long-term lack of sleep may directly affect the release of luteinizing hormone (LH) – the hormone that triggers ovulation as part of regulating your menstrual cycle. “The resulting menstrual irregularity may mean it takes longer for you to conceive,” he says.
To get a good night’s sleep, Dr. Mukherjee suggests keeping your sleep and wake times consistent, avoiding activities that keep your mind racing rather than relaxing right before bed, and adjusting your lighting to be dimmer when you are ready to go to sleep. If you can, avoid working odd hours as shift work can affect fertility and keep a space cushion between stimulants and sleep: consumer caffeine and alcohol in moderation when you’re trying to get pregnant and limit use to no more than 5 hours before bedtime.
Your best bet – stay away from cigarettes and cigarette related toxins. The toxic effects of cigarette smoking on fertility have been documented for decades. And while the full impact of vaping on reproductive function is currently undergoing evaluation in multiple studies, the sum of the data collected so far suggests that “vaping may be detrimental to fertility,” says Dr. Mukherjee. “The safety of vaping is open to question as vaping can negatively impact sperm,” he adds. However, if quitting smoking is not an option for you right now, you may consider switching to vaping. As Dr. Mukherjee explains, "e-cigarettes could be less harmful to fertility because they contain less nicotine.”
The effects of alcohol on female fertility have not been clearly established and studies have shown conflicting data on whether it has an impact. In general, it is best to stick to moderation when it comes to alcohol and trying to conceive. “Most of the data that supports an impact on fertility are from higher levels of alcohol consumption (more than 2 drinks per day). There is limited evidence to indicate that more moderate alcohol consumption adversely affects fertility,” says Dr. Kimberley Thornton. Dr. Thornton recommends that once a woman is pregnant, she cease all alcohol consumption. “Alcohol has clearly documented adverse impacts on a developing fetus and there is no established safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy.”
Whether it’s a cup of joe or matcha, you may require caffeine to jumpstart your morning. It’s a very common habit and one that is not recommended if you are trying to conceive or are pregnant. It’s advised to keep caffeine intake to less than 200-300mg per day when pregnant which is the equivalent of 1-2 cups of coffee. However, if you find yourself at that 4pm slump and in need of a little caffeine, decaf coffee might be the answer. “Most teas’ caffeine content ranges from 35-90 mg, which is much higher than a single cup of decaf coffee,” says Dr. Sekhon. She advises to be mindful of the guidelines and keep caffeine consumption under the recommended 300 mg.
Sexually Transmitted Infections
The sexually transmitted infections (STIs) Chlamydia trachomatis and Neisseria gonorrhea are bacterial infections typically transmitted via intercourse. While these infections can give you acute symptoms such as abnormal vaginal discharge, vaginal itching and burning, and pelvic pain, the long term effects may be more significant, especially those on your fertility. “Both of these infections lead to infection of reproductive organs (including the cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries) and can lead to permanent damage of the female and male reproductive tracts,” says Dr. Jovana Lekovich. In fact, chlamydia infection represents a significant risk factor for permanent fallopian tube damage and tubal factor infertility. Because a large proportion of individuals are often asymptomatic when infected, Dr. Lekovich cautions that “it is important to undergo routine STI screening your gynecologist at the time of your annual visit.” STIs are not something to ignore, especially when trying to conceive.
As you start trying to conceive, keep in mind the helpful guidelines the physicians at RMA of New York have recommended. It can be challenging to quit old habits and start new ones so be kind to yourself as you embark on this journey. Ultimately, your goal is for a healthy baby and a healthy body to carry that baby. Do what feels best for you and be sure to consult with your doctor whenever you have a question about a new routine. For more information on pre-conception care and fertility, contact 212-756-5777.