Winter is the biggest season for baby making around the world. Perhaps it's all that tucking into warm places and togetherness. Even lambs give birth in the Spring. Chances are if you are in the baby making frame of mind, the cold weather breezes are nipping at your biological clocks.
Let’s say that the calendar doesn’t stop after December 23, 2012. You are still right here, and really want a baby! What then? What’s your action plan? And perhaps the bigger question is what do you know about your fertility? Having a basic understanding of what is going on with you and your partner when it comes to healthy fertility, putting fertility myths behind you and understanding fertility and your age is a great way to start!
I talk with couples about fertility myths, age and fertility, and facts about conception all the time in my fertility coaching classes. Generally speaking, what most people know about their fertility is pulp fiction. The blurring of fact, opinion, myth and misunderstanding makes for a treacherous misinformation landscape. The knowledge gap has claimed countless victims, people who learned about the fundamentals of protecting and preserving fertility too late to help them have genetically linked offspring they always assumed would be theirs. Armed with essential and accurate information, you don’t have to join their ranks.
What's Your Fertility Resolution?
The one of the top fertility myths is the time line of the biological clock. Did you know that female fertility takes its first tiny nose dive at age 27? Did you know that male fertility also declines with age?
So the big question is – what do you know about your fertility?
Well, if you’re like most people, the answer is not as much as you might believe. Just to give you a little perspective, an overview of recent surveys reveals that the overwhelming majority of U.S. women:
Think that overall good health means that they are fertile! However wonderfully youthful and fit woman in her 40′s might be, her eggs are operating on an independent and fixed timeline.
Believe they can conceive a child easily until their 40s. The stark truth is women over the age of 40 are very likely to need medical intervention.
Are unaware that sperm viability and sperm count are on a ticking reproductive timer.
Yet this basic information can make a critical difference in the life of every person who dreams of having a child this year, next, or 10 years down the road. If you know about your body’s reproductive lifecycle, you can take steps to protect and preserve your fertility. That way you can have the children you want– if and when you choose.
What’s Your Fertility Baseline?
Statistics and general truths aside, each woman and man is unique. Given just how complicated it is to make a baby in the first place, understanding your own body’s reproductive capability and the changes it might undergo from year to year are invaluable planning tools. Consider an annual fertility evaluation or screening. For men, a great and simple way to start is by using an at home male fertility test. Women can do one round or two of fertility temperature charts just to see if they are indeed ovulating. I do not recommend using fertility temperature charts as a way to conceive as it only indicates that ovulation has already occurred! At home fertility tests such as ovulation kits for women and SpermCheck for men are great ways to begin evaluating your fertility.
What is a Fertility Evaluation?
It’s okay. Most people, even your gynecologist may not know what a Fertility Evaluation is. That’s because it’s a relatively new concept for women who are planning for a baby. Simply put, the screening involves a few simple blood tests and an ultrasound to get a handle on your ovarian function. These tests have been around for years, tried and true tools in the diagnosis and treatment of compromised fertility. The piece that’s different is using them in the context of preventative fertility.
Taken together with your individual and your family’s medical histories, the screening helps establish where you are on your personal fertility curve. The first screening establishes your baseline, subsequent annual evaluations will flag changes in key hormone levels and mature egg production that could signal potential trouble. Mind you, any warning flares are just that and may mean nothing. But they could indicate that follow-up with your doctor, gynecologist or a fertility specialist is warranted. And if there is problem, you’re ahead of the game with the opportunity for early intervention and, where possible, corrective action.
Fertility and Age
Each woman’s egg supply is limited. The millions of eggs that we are born with, actually do run out. That means the body doesn’t produce new ones. So the 7 million or so eggs each female is born with is all she’s going to have. Ever. By the time the average girl hits puberty, only about 250,000-300,000 eggs remain in her ovaries. With each menstrual cycle one egg becomes ripe enough for fertilization and is released. An additional thousand eggs each month are lost through a process called Atresia, the natural breakdown of the eggs by the body. After ovulating an average of 400 times through her life, typically around 50 years of age, the store of eggs is used up. That’s when we hit menopause.
Unfortunately, before they get used up, they decline in their quality and ability to conceive a baby. Eggs age along with the rest of the body. The older eggs are more likely to have chromosomal abnormalities making them unlikely to become viable embryos. It’s important to note that a fertilized egg with abnormal chromosomes is the single most common cause of miscarriage. A woman in her 20s has only a 12%-15% chance (about one in every eight pregnancies) of having a miscarriage each time she becomes pregnant. On the other hand, a woman in her 40s faces a 50% risk of miscarriage (that’s one in every two).
Despite the amount of ink and airtime that’s been lavished on the biological clock, most women still don’t know about the direct, inverse relationship between age and fertility. The bottom line is the older we get, the less likely we are to conceive and have a successful pregnancy. What’s harder to grasp is that in this context, women qualify for “older” at 27. You read it right. Statistically speaking, when a women hits 27, her fertility begins an exorable decline. When she hits 35, it takes a sharp downturn. At 40, fertility falls off the edge of the earth.
Of course, some women in their late 30s and a few in their 40s conceive effortlessly, carry and deliver healthy babies. But the likelihood of that happening without medical intervention becomes more remote with each passing year. For women under 30, the estimated chance of becoming pregnant in any one cycle is between 20% and 30%. When women turn 40, that probability plummets to approximately 5%.
Great! Now what?
Take a breath and don’t push the panic button! You don’t have to marry the toad or quit your dream of becoming a doctor. Rather this is a call to arms. Women deserve to know the full truth about their fertility, so they can take the family-planning reins and make informed decisions. The goal is to help you and every woman of childbearing years make the choices that help protect and optimize fertility.
New Year’s Resolutions About Diet and Fertility
When it comes to conception it’s not about the hard abs or the bikini belly. It’s about balance. You absolutely can be too thin or too fat. A woman’s body is at its reproductive best when it’s within 15% of the ideal weight. And by ideal, we don’t mean runway ready. It’s the weight at which your body and its hormonal systems hum like a finely-tuned Ferrari. There are individual variations, but, many women experience problems when they’re less than 95% or more than 124% of that weight. Using a standardized measure called the Body Mass Index (BMI) you can determine your “ideal” weight. The same thing goes for the men. If you have a beer belly, your sperm count is probably lagging too! And if you spend too much time at the gym and riding that exercise bike, your muscles may look great but your sperm motility may not win any races!
Eat all the things you know you should but probably don’t, including fruits, vegetables and low-fat protein. In fact, adequate protein is absolutely essential because without it, estrogen breaks down into inactive byproducts more rapidly and menstrual cycles become longer. Watch your caffeine and alcohol drinks to one a day. Heavy drinking is a fertility wrecker for both women and men.
And yes, exercise! Regular, moderate workouts are the gift of the fertility gods. They help keep your hormones happy, your weight under control and bring down your stress levels. Heavy exercise, say running 35-40 miles a week, can trigger amenorrhea (no periods), diminish progesterone levels making it difficult for an embryo to implant and, sperm detection hard to find.
Forget the tobacco! It’s no friend of fertility. It increases susceptibility to sexually transmitted diseases in both men and women, increases the likelihood of tubal pregnancies, cervical cancer pelvic infection, and it will make your sperm count plummet. It’s just plain bad. So if you are planning for a baby in 2013, quit the habit!
So get your base line fertility in hand. Is the woman ovulating? Is the male producing a healthy sperm count? Check it out, and make your fertility resolutions to optimize your baby making potential for 2013. If the woman is ovulating (try the fertility temperature trick or an ovulation kit), the man passes the home male fertility test, and the woman is under the age of 35 you have a year to try to conceive before seeking professional help. If the woman is over the age of 35, please do not wait longer than six months to seek a fertility doctor.
Wishing everyone a baby filled 2013!