One in six couples in Australia has difficulty conceiving.
Understanding the factors that can affect a person’s chance of becoming pregnant naturally or with IVF treatment can make a big difference to a person’s fertility journey.
So, if you are thinking about having a baby soon, here are the 7 things you should know…
7 things you should know about having a healthy baby
1. Get the timing right
Pregnancy is only possible during the five days before a woman ovulates through to the day of ovulation – the time known as a woman’s fertile window. During that window, the chance of conceiving rapidly increases in the three days leading up to, and including, ovulation. For women who find it hard to work out when they are ovulating, it may be just be easier to have sex every two to three days to cover all bases.
2. STIs can affect fertility
Sexually transmitted infections, particularly gonorrhoea and chlamydia, can affect the fertility of both women and men. To avoid this issue, people should practice safe sex and to be tested for STIs if they suspect that they have been exposed to one. Earlier detection and treatment significantly reduces the risk that STIs will lead to infertility.
3. Age really matters
There is nothing we can do about our age, but it is important to understand how much age can impact on fertility and the ability to have a healthy baby. As a woman gets older, her eggs reduce in quantity and quality and her risk of age-related infertility, miscarriage and pregnancy complications increases. Men’s age can also affect chance of conception and a couple’s chance of having a healthy baby. For people who want a baby (or another baby), trying sooner rather than later could make all the difference.
4. Being healthy before you conceive is also important
There is growing evidence that conditions before and at the time a baby is conceived affects its short and long-term health. Parents who are overweight, or obese, who smoke, or who are exposed to environmental toxins could find that their child’s future health is affected by their circumstances. Parents can improve the potential health of their children by optimising their own health – both before they get pregnant and during pregnancy.
5. How smoking, alcohol and caffeine can affect fertility
Caffeine: To be on the safe side it is recommended that women trying to conceive and those who are pregnant do not have more than two cups of coffee a day.
Alcohol: Even just a few drinks of alcohol can reduce a woman’s chance of conceiving. In men, heavy drinking can cause impotence, reduce libido and affect sperm quality. It is well known that alcohol consumption during pregnancy can be harmful to a baby. The best advice for women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy is that not drinking is safest.
Smoking: Smokers take longer to get pregnant because of the damage smoke does to sperm and eggs. Second-hand smoke is also seriously damaging. The good news is that the effects of smoking on eggs and sperm – and general fertility – are reversible. Whether it’s the male or the female partner (or both) who smokes, quitting will increase a couple’s chance of conceiving and having a healthy baby.
6. Weight makes a difference
Being overweight or obese can cause hormonal changes that interfere with ovulation and fertility. As a result, overweight women take longer to conceive, on average, than women in a healthy weight range and are more likely to experience pregnancy complications and have newborns with health problems. Excess weight can also lower male fertility due to hormone problems, erection problems and other related health issues.
Fortunately, for women who are overweight, even a modest weight loss of 5-10 kilos can improve their fertility and pregnancy health. Exercise can also improve a couple’s chances of having a baby.
7. The vitamin and mineral supplements to know about
Folate helps prevent neural tube defects like spina bifida in babies. Women are advised to supplement their diet with 500 micrograms of folate daily from at least one month before conception and during the first two months of pregnancy.
Iodine can support the development of the baby’s brain and nervous system. For women who are pregnant and breastfeeding – or those thinking about having a baby – it is a good idea to supplement their diet with 150 micrograms iodine per day.
Zinc and Selenium. High levels of so-called ‘free radicals’ in the body can pose health risks. Micronutrients such as zinc and selenium can reduce the damaging effects of free radicals. Studies have found that zinc and selenium can reduce the damage to sperm caused by free radicals and improve sperm quality. It may be a good idea for men who want to be fathers to boost their zinc and selenium intake.