Ways a Woman May Protect Her Fertility
You want a baby one day, just not now. Take steps that may protect your fertility today. Here’s how.
Maybe you’re finishing school. Maybe you’re establishing yourself in your career. Or perhaps you don’t have a partner with whom you want to start a family. There could be medical issues that force you to put off pregnancy.
But some day, you might want to have a child. Even if it is a long way down the road, you can plan now. In some cases, it may not be possible to prevent or avoid infertility. However, you may be able to help protect your fertility by making healthy lifestyle choices.
What you can do now
There are lifestyle choices that you can make now that may help to maintain or improve fertility.
- Avoid behavior that risks a woman’s fertility. These include excess alcohol, drug use, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and smoking.
- Reach or maintain a healthy weight. Twelve percent of infertility cases are due to a woman’s weight — either too much or too little. Either one can affect the ovulation cycle, the pattern of the egg’s release from the ovaries each month. The best way for an adult to keep fit is to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week and muscle-strengthening activities two or more days a week. Excessive exercise can be an issue. Be sure to check with your doctor about the right amount of exercise for you.
If you are normal weight or overweight, you can keep your weight in check by eating foods with vital nutrients. These include:
- Whole grains
- Low-fat or fat-free dairy, or other fortified dairy-like beverages such as soy milk
- Lean meats and poultry
- Beans and peas
- Nuts and seeds
- Healthy oils such as olive and canola oil
Limit your intake of saturated and trans fats, as well as sodium (salt) and added sugars.
- Practice safe sex. Sexually transmitted diseases can cause infertility. Chlamydia is the most common in the United States. Both Chlamydia and gonorrhea can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which may cause scarring of the fallopian tubes. The scarring may trap eggs before they reach the uterus or cause pregnancy to occur inside the Fallopian tube which usually has to be terminated surgically or medically as it can be life threatening.
You can keep from getting infected by taking these precautions:
- Use condoms every time you have vaginal, oral or anal sex.
- Don’t depend on other forms of birth control to protect you. Birth control pills, shots and implants provide no protection. A diaphragm will not keep you from getting a disease, either.
- If you are in a monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner, talk to your partner about any sexually transmitted diseases they may have or had. Being faithful to each other will limit your risk of getting a new infection from someone else — or from your partner.
- If you are not in a mutually monogamous relationship, follow the practices for safe sex. Also try to limit the number of sexual partners you have. Be sure each partner is tested for STIs and treated, if necessary, before having sexual contact with them. Following these practices may reduce your risk for contracting STIs.
- Don’t have sex. The surest way to prevent sexually transmitted diseases is to avoid sex.
- Get immunized. Immunizations may help prevent infection from Hepatitis B and human papillomavirus (HPV).
- See your doctor regularly. He or she can assess whether your regular checkups include tests for STIs. These may include chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis and HIV. Many STIs come with few or no symptoms.
You should be tested for chlamydia and gonorrhea once a year if you are:
- Having any symptoms of chlamydia
- 25 or younger and having sex
You should also be test for chlamydia once a year if you are older than 25 and:
- Have a new sex partner
- Have more than one sex partner
- Have sex with someone who has other sex partners
- Have had chlamydia or another sexually transmitted infection in the past
- Have traded sex for money or drugs
- Do not use condoms during sex within a relationship that is not mutually monogamous, meaning you or your partner has sex with other people
Regular pelvic exams and Pap tests can detect cervical and other types of cancer. Your doctor can also give you advice about birth control and make sure that your general health is good. Experts recommend that most women ages 21 to 65 should have a Pap test every 3 years. For women ages 30 to 65, screening with combined crytology and human papillomavirus (HPV) testing can be done every 5 years.
- If you smoke, quit. It may surprise you to learn that smoking can have a considerable effect on your ability to get pregnant. The more and longer you smoke, the more harm is done. Smoking can damage your ovaries. Chemicals in cigarettes, including nicotine, can get in the way of estrogen production. They can also increase the risk of genetic abnormalities. But stopping earlier rather than later prevents greater damage.
Watch your biological clock
Whether you’ve completed your family or not, your body will eventually decide that your childbearing years are over. It’s more and more common for women in the United States to wait until their 30s and 40s to have children. And about one-fifth of all women have their first baby after the age of 35. But one-third of couples in which the woman is over 35 have fertility problems.
The reasons include these:
- Fewer eggs left in the ovaries
- Eggs that are not as healthy
- Decreased ability of the ovaries to release eggs
- A greater likelihood of miscarriage
By Emily Gurnon, Contributing Writer
United States Department of Agriculture. 2015-2020 Dietary guidelines for Americans. Accessed: July 15, 2016.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. STDs and infertility. Accessed: July 15, 2016.
Womenshealth.gov. Sexually transmitted infections fact sheet. Accessed: July 15, 2016.
Womenshealth.gov. Infertility fact sheet. Accessed: July 15, 2016.
Last Updated: July 18, 2016