Infertility is a minefield of unknown factors, all of which are totally screwing with your life plans. Am I not getting pregnant because of air pollution? My addiction to gas station slushies? The toxins in my night cream? Probably not. But there do seem to be three factors that most fertility experts agree do affect your odds of conception in one way or another: weight, age and stress. We took a deep dive into each of these factors to find out how they can affect your chances at pregnancy, and most importantly, what you can do about them.
As we get into this, please keep this super-important message in mind: none of this is your fault. Let’s stop with the blame game and start educating ourselves. Got it? Ok, let’s go.
Dr. Jaime Knopman, reproductive endocrinologist at New York fertility clinic Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine (CCRM) points out that being both under- and overweight can be detrimental to women’s fertility:
- Being too thin can lead to a condition called hypothalamic amenorrhea, stopping ovulation and therefore making pregnancy impossible.
- Being overweight can also result in anovulation, possibly due to PCOS. Furthermore, “the additional risk when you’re overweight is that often times your response to medication, particularly injectable medication, can be blunted because there’s more subcutaneous fat to get through,” says Dr. Knopman, noting that this could negatively impact the effectiveness of fertility treatments.
The same seems to be true for men, with studies showing that both weight extremes can impact both sperm quantity and quality.
Here’s the good news: you can totally do something about it. Address your diet by getting the advice of a registered dietician who specializes in fertility. He or she can tailor a plan to your body’s specific needs. “Exercise for most of us is very positive,” adds Dr. Knopman. “It can also be a great way to reduce stress” (more on that later). You got this.
There’s no way around this one—age is the biggest risk factor for infertility. The older you are, the more likely you’ll see a decrease in quality for both eggs and sperm (though time is slightly kinder to sperm than it is to eggs). “I feel like a broken record sometimes. It’s ‘age, age, age,'” says Dr. Knopman. Because while other factors may be at play, “the reality is that [age is] the one thing that cannot be changed.”
That doesn’t mean you’re without hope if (like some of us) you’re already beyond the ideal age for conception. If you’re thinking about doing something about your fertility, there’s no time like the present. Whether you’re thinking about egg freezing, embryo freezing, or trying to get pregnant, your age today is the youngest you’ll ever be going forward. So no pressure, but if you’re not on the train already, climb aboard.
Are you ready to punch the next person who tells you that all you have to do to get pregnant is “relax” or “stop thinking about it?” Us too. The good news is, they’re wrong. A recent study published by Social Science and Medicine shows that stress and anxiety are probably not what’s preventing you from getting pregnant—and that’s true no matter how old you are or how long you’ve been trying to conceive.
That said, stress definitely doesn’t exactly help you, either. We could probably all benefit from a little less stress. Some things to keep in mind:
- You’re stronger than you think: Think about it: women get pregnant in war zones, in refugee camps, during the Great Depression; if an embryo can endure those conditions, odds are it can survive your 60-hour work week.
- Give yourself tunnel vision: Fertility treatments themselves are very stress-inducing, so the trick is to not let them overwhelm every aspect of your life. Bring your Kindle with you to every appointment, so you’re never stuck in the waiting room (or the stirrups) with nothing to think about but how the treatment is going.
- Don’t stress about stress: The real problem with stress is that sometimes, we become stressed about our stress. And that wreaks havoc on our mental health, making an already challenging process even harder. So it’s time to ditch the self-blame and the worry and focus on things we can control: like self care.
“I’m always a fan of acupuncture,” recommends Dr. Knopman. “In addition to its Eastern Medicine benefits, it can help moderate stress just by being in a dark room and chilling out.”
She also suggests sharing what you’re going through, whether it’s with your friends, family, or even in a support group. “The more you can communicate with other people, the more you find community,” Says Dr. Knopman. “Community is so important because we feel good when we’re with people who have similar challenges. When you let people in, it’s so much easier.”