With Fertility Awareness Week (October 30 to November 5 2017) upon us, IVF babble talks to Dr Geeta Venkat, of the Harley Street Fertility Clinic to quash the myths surrounding fertility . . .
It’s a woman’s problem
Fertility issues affect both men and women alike. For one-third of couples the issue is related to the female, for another third, it’s related to the male partner and then for the other third, both partners have a fertility issue. If you are experiencing problems getting pregnant, it’s important for both partners to undergo health checks. The earlier you’re diagnosed, the more likely you are to go on to have a baby.
Fertility treatment is the only option
For some of those couples experiencing problems falling pregnant, lifestyle advice could resolve their fertility issues. This includes accurate knowledge and information on timing and frequency of intercourse, the importance of adopting a healthy lifestyle by eating and exercising properly, as well as maintaining a healthy BMI.
I found it easy first-time round, so I won’t have any problems falling pregnant again
It’s really not uncommon for women to suffer from ‘secondary infertility’. If a couple has been trying unsuccessfully for up to a year, I would recommend they visit a fertility expert who will be able to investigate their situation and help them get to the bottom of what might be wrong. There can be a number of issues which cause secondary infertility including a declining ovarian reserve from the aging process or more serious complications that can occur as a result of a previous pregnancy such as infection and blockage of fallopian tubes.
Age is just a number
Age is the single most important factor when it comes to fertility in women. The key to fertility is a woman’s ovarian reserve ie. the availability of healthy eggs. A decline in ‘ovarian reserve’ means that not only do the ovaries have fewer eggs to offer, but the eggs they do have are of poorer quality. The challenge for many women choosing to have their first child mid-30s or later is that as part of the body’s natural aging process, a woman’s eggs age too. This can lead to infertility and/or miscarriage. The ‘best’ time for women to have children is between the ages of 20 and 35 years of age. Fertility decreases dramatically after the age of 35 and earlier in some ethnic groups this is even earlier.
I should get pregnant within a month
Many of us spend a significant part of our life trying not to get pregnant and then are surprised when it doesn’t happen straight away when we want it to. In reality, most women will fall pregnant within a year of trying. I recommend that if you are aged 35 or older, give yourself around 6 months before seeking help. If you’re younger, then you may want to try for up to 12 months before going to your GP for advice.
All couples are entitled to at least one round of IVF on the NHS
Sadly, access to IVF treatment on the NHS has hit a record low. Under health service guidance those with fertility problems under 40 years should be offered up to three cycles of IVF. Yet for a long time now, those of us working in the field of fertility are deeply concerned by the impact of cuts. Also, if your partner has a child from a previous relationship, you may find that you aren’t eligible for any help.
You’ll know if you are suffering from a women’s health condition
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) and endometriosis are just two of the conditions which can have a huge impact on a woman’s fertility. Unfortunately, many women are undiagnosed before they start trying for a baby.
Polycystic ovary syndrome or PCOS as its commonly referred to, is an endocrine disorder which affects around 1 in 5 or 20% of women in the UK. No one is completely sure why some women are affected but the condition tends to run in families and is related to hormonal imbalances – it is one of the leading causes of fertility problems. Endometriosis is a fairly common condition in women, where tissue that behaves like the lining of the womb is found outside the womb itself. The condition is estimated to affect around two million women in the UK alone and most of them are diagnosed between the ages of 25 and 40 years. Symptoms to look out for include painful and heavy periods, and pain during intercourse.
Exercise isn’t important
The benefits regular exercise has on your general health are plentiful. Exercise lowers your blood pressure, lessens anxiety, treats depression and encourages sound sleep – all of which is helpful if you’re trying for a baby. That said don’t overstrain your body, try for an optimum 30 minutes exercise a day and keep at a stable, healthy weight to increase your chances of conceiving. Excessive exercise can be detrimental in some instances – for men with sperm problems, is may be best to avoid vigorous activity that overheats the testes (e.g cycling). Extreme sports, such as triathlons can also affect a woman’s reproductive cycle – as with all things moderation is key.
Weight doesn’t impact fertility
We all know that maintaining an ideal weight is important for our overall health and wellbeing, but what we have come to learn from recent studies, is that weight can cause complications during pregnancy and also has a profound effect on fertility. In fact, research shows that overweight and obese women also have poorer outcomes following fertility treatment. If you’re planning on trying to get pregnant, it’s really important to get your diet on a healthy track to prepare your body for pregnancy and birth.
However, it’s not just women who need to keep their weight in check when trying for a baby, but men may need to review their diet too. Men who are overweight or obese have a higher risk of fertility problems too. For most adults, an ideal BMI is between 18.5 – 24.9. Making sure your BMI stays within this parameter helps to achieve optimal wellness – it’s equally detrimental to be underweight too.
Fertility issues aren’t linked to stress
Stress and its impact on fertility is difficult to quantify, but managing stress is important. Try going for a swim or a walk or using relaxation methods like yoga or mindfulness. For some women, severe stress may delay ovulation, resulting in irregular cycles and making it more difficult to conceive.