How Women Can Stay Fertile Longer

The question of preserving fertility is something very much on our minds. I spoke to infertility specialist, Dr.Cliff Librach about steps women can take to prolong their childbearing years.

Q: What can women do to improve their fertility?

A: Certainly, there are things that can prevent your infertility. The first thing is even when you’re not trying to have a baby and you have multiple partners, it’s very important to use barrier contraception. That way you can avoid sexually transmitted diseases that can affect your fertility in a profound way by blocking your tubes.

Q: What about the birth control pill? Can that make it more difficult for people to get pregnant?

A: The birth control pill doesn’t really have any effect on your fertility. In fact, the pill may even improve your fertility but you don’t want to use it without a condom. The pill doesn’t protect you against sexually-transmitted diseases. Then there are other forms of birth control like Depo Provera (birth control shot). The problem with that is if you want to get pregnant you may have to wait quite a long time until your periods come back, so I wouldn’t use it if you’re 35 or older. IUDs are safer than they used to be but they wouldn’t be my first choice for someone who wants to get pregnant.

Q: What sorts of things are most detrimental to fertility?

A: You should avoid smoking because smoking can cause your menopause to come earlier. Secondary smoke is also a problem. Also, avoid drugs and excessive amounts of alcohol. All the common social practices that are bad for your health are also bad for your fertility as well.

Q: What about diet? Apparently omega-3s found in fish can boost fertility, whereas too much meat can raise ammonia levels interfering with the implantation of eggs. Soy is supposed to contain hormones harmful to ovulation. What kind of diet should women follow to maintain their reproductive function?

A: The main thing is you should eat healthy. If you’re trying to get pregnant, you should take folic acid because it’s hard to get enough of that from fruits and vegetables. You need to take it to prevent birth defects.

Q: Exercise? I know it’s helpful to do things like Pilates that can help your core muscles and Kegels but what about other forms of exercise?

A: Exercise is good but excessive exercising like marathon running and excessive weight loss is not good. You can still run and swim but if you’re running marathons that could have an effect on your fertility.

Q: I read a study claiming that women who are overweight can have problems ovulating and have more difficulty getting pregnant. How does weight play a role in fertility?

A: You want to avoid being very underweight and very overweight. Underweight people like the ballerinas and excessive exercisers can actually stop their periods. Being very underweight is a bad thing for fertility. On the other hand, being very overweight can make your cycles become irregular. Complications of pregnancy are higher in overweight women.

Q: Apparently anti-depressants and tranquilizers can affect conception. How do you know which medications could jeopardize your fertility or your baby if you’re trying?

A: If you’re on medication for some conditions, you want to check that they’re not going to have any damage to your baby. The best route in Canada is to check with your doctor or go to the Mother Risk website where you can get free advice about any medications you may be taking.

Q: What about supplements such as vitamin A? Is there a problem with supplements?

A: You want to have balance and make sure you’re not overdoing one thing versus another. Having a good diet and taking a multivitamin is no problem. I don’t know whether one particular thing is bad for your fertility.

Q: What about exposure to chemicals like lead, toxic fumes or pesticides?

A: Number one is radiation. If you work in a place with radiation, you have to be careful of that. You want to be avoiding toxic chemicals and make sure you’re in an environment where that doesn’t exist. For people who live near toxic dumps, there’s some potential for them to be exposed. Dioxin from toxic waste could cause endometriosis, which causes fertility problems.

Q: What about for the neurotic stressed out person? Are they jeopardizing their baby making potential?

A: There’s no question that stress has an impact in fertility. Stress releases hormones in your body that counteract your reproductive system. Animals won’t reproduce when they’re under stress from predators or there isn’t enough food around. Human beings have similar mechanisms to turn off reproduction when they’re under a lot of stress. Anything you can do to reduce the stress in your life is a good thing for your health in general but can also have some benefits for fertility as well whether it’s acupuncture, massage therapy, meditation or yoga. It’s important to stress to readers that if your tubes are blocked that’s not going to help you get pregnant.

Edited and condensed by Margo Varadi