women

More women are having fertility problems than ever before – we’ve got the latest advice on how you can boost your chances of conceiving

Women are leaving it later than ever before to start a family – the number of new mothers in their late 30s and 40s is soaring. But while leaving pregnancy until you feel ready brings with it the freedom to develop your career and find the right partner – it can also bring concerns about whether you’re still fertile.

With infertility rates at an all-time high, many women are finding that getting pregnant isn’t quite as easy as they’d expected. Meanwhile, modern lifestyles, with unprecedented amounts of junk food, toxins and alcohol, may also be taking their toll.

Description: Alcohol, junk food and toxins take their toll

Alcohol, junk food and toxins take their toll

“A healthy couple at prime reproductive age has a 25 per cent chance of conceiving each month – but this declines dramatically after 35,” says Dr Marilyn Glenville, author of Getting Pregnant Faster (Kyle Cathie, $15). “It’s estimated that one in six couples are struggling to conceive and one in four women will miscarry”

Data presented at the latest American Society of Reproductive Medicine Annual Meeting shows many of us underestimate the degree to which fertility declines with age. Celebrity mums such as Salma Hayek (daughter at 41), Marcia Cross (twins at 44) and Mariah Carey (twins at 41) suggest giving birth after 40 is easy, but the reality is somewhat different. By the age of 40, the chance of conceiving drops to just five per cent per month – women in the study wrongly assumed it remained at 60 per cent.

But whether you’re trying to conceive now – or putting it off until you feel ready – fertility experts say that making lifestyle and diet changes now will give you the best possible chance of conceiving.

“A study conducted by the University of Surrey showed that couples with a history of infertility who made changes in their lifestyle and diet and took supplements had an 80 per cent success rate,” says Glenville. “So start making positive changes as soon as you can.” She recommends a fertility-boosting diet and lifestyle plan for three months before trying for a baby. Considering what you need to change now, such as quitting smoking, will also help boost your long-term fertility. Try these research-backed tips to start protecting your fertility.

Swap your supplements

You probably already know you should take folic acid if you’re trying to conceive, but it might be time to add a multivitamin to your shopping list. A study at University College London found that 60 per cent of women taking micronutrient supplements with folic acid while undergoing IVF became pregnant, compared to just a quarter who didn’t take them. The study used Vitabiotics Pregnacare Conception ($16 for 30 tabs, vitabiotics.com). Of the women taking just folic acid, 25 per cent got pregnant. “Supplements are necessary for couples trying to conceive because, even with the best intentions, it isn’t easy to get sufficient nutrients from the diet,” says Glenville. She recommends:

Folic acid: This crucial pre-conceptual nutrient for women can boost fertility and reduce the risk of genetic defects in your baby, especially spina bifida.

Zinc: This mineral boosts fertility in both sexes. A deficiency can cause chromosome changes in men and women.

Selenium: This antioxidant helps protect your body from free radicals that can trigger chromosome damage and infertility in men and women.

Essential fatty acids: Crucial for healthy hormone balance in women and healthy sperm in men. In men it helps sperm production: sperm is rich in prostaglandins, which are formed from these fats.

Vitamin E: This powerful antioxidant can increase fertility in both sexes. It reduces age-related ovulation decline.

Vitamin C: This antioxidant improves sperm quality and can help boost ovulation.

L-Arginine: This amino acid is essential for sperm production.

L-Carnitine: This elevates men’s sperm count.

Take a sunshine break

It’s time to book that babymoon. Taking a holiday in a sunny climate may help increase your chances of falling pregnant. A study published in the European Journal of Endocrinology found that sunlight can boost fertility in both sexes by increasing levels of vitamin D. It’s thought that this helps to explain why colder northern European countries have lower rates of conception in the winter. Vitamin D may regulate your menstrual cycle and help balance hormones in women, boosting progesterone by 13 per cent and oestrogen by 21 per cent. It can also increase sperm production, testosterone levels and libido. A sunshine break may also improve your fertility in other ways – by reducing anti-fertility stress levels. If you can’t escape to the sun, take a multivitamin supplement that contains vitamin D.

Description: A holiday in the sun may help you get pregnant

A holiday in the sun may help you get pregnant

Floss your teeth

Brushing and flossing may help your chances of getting pregnant. Women with gum disease can take up to seven months to conceive compared to the usual five, reveals a study of 3,500 women by the University of Western Australia. It is suggested that inflammation in the mouth may set off a reaction that disturbs fertility. In the study, blood tests showed higher levels of inflammation in the women with gum disease. People with gum disease are also more likely to have heart problems, type 2 diabetes and miscarriage. It has also been linked to poorer sperm quality in men.

Balance your blood sugar

Avoid refined carbohydrates and sugar-laden products for at least three months before trying for a baby. Opt instead for wholemeal versions of pasta, bread and rice as well as carbs with the lowest glycaemic index. Ensure your diet is packed with fruit, veg, whole grains and healthy protein such as pulses, fish and lean meat. A Harvard Medical School study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at the link between carbohydrates and infertility. It found that women eating diets that triggered the highest levels of blood sugar were 92 per cent more likely to suffer from infertility. It is thought that refined carbs can hamper fertility by unbalancing hormones – as well as leaving less room in the diet for fertility boosters like fruit and veg.

Sleep well

Hit the sack early if you want to get pregnant. Insomnia and late nights can make conceiving more difficult. More research is needed to prove a link, but a lack of sleep can disrupt your body clock, which regulates your hormones and body temperature. It may also increase stress, disturb your menstrual cycle and lead to weight gain. A Harvard University study found that women who slept six hours or less a night were more likely to be overweight – which reduces the chances of conception. In his book Perfect Hormone Balance for Fertility: The Ultimate Guide to Getting Pregnant (Three Rivers Press, $17), Robert Greene, a reproductive endocrinologist, points out that research shows that 80-90 per cent of ovulation occurs between midnight and 4am – insomnia may upset ovulation and conception.

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