If you are trying to get pregnant but struggling to conceive, it’s likely you’re already on the hunt for answers and solutions.
If only it were as simple as knocking gin on the head for a while and slamming back the folic acid instead.
In reality, everybody’s fertility journey is different, and there are several reasons why even the most precisely timed, ovulation-tastic baby-making sessions don’t pan out.
Today, we’re going to introduce four significant factors that can affect fertility and some suggested solutions.
What we’ll be deep diving into:
- Infertility can be down to several factors, some clinical, some lifestyle
- The impact of Polycystic Ovaries Syndrome on fertility
- Endometriosis and infertility
- The effect of weight on conception
- Facing the age clock when trying to get pregnant
Infertility: A difficult and heart-breaking subject
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, let’s take a moment to acknowledge what an emotional experience trying to get pregnant can be.
For every couple that hits the jackpot on try one, many more of us endure a much longer road to having the babies we so desperately want.
Stress and disappointment can take a massive toll on both partners, so be sure to look after yourselves and be kind to each other.
Why can’t I get pregnant?
It’s the question many women ask themselves during their fertility journey, and there’s rarely a simple answer.
However, factors that impact fertility usually fall into the clinical or lifestyle category.
We will look at two major clinical factors and two important lifestyle considerations.
Hopefully, a brief introduction to these four topics can be a good starting point for you.
1. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome – and its impact on pregnancy
The NHS estimates that one in every ten women in the UK is living with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS).
If you have PCOS, there is a hormonal imbalance in your body, often caused by excess insulin.
This occurs when the ovaries produce too many androgens (male sex hormones like testosterone) and too few of the four hormones that induce ovulation.
Low levels of oestrogen, follicle-stimulating hormones, progesterone, and luteinizing hormones impact the menstrual cycle, which is why PCOS can disrupt your periods.
The ovaries will also create multiple cysts which contain immature eggs that never reach the point where they’ll be released.
Disrupted ovulation can drive down your opportunities to conceive, therefore impacting fertility.
Expert view: what causes PCOS
According to the NHS, “the exact cause of PCOS is unknown, but it often runs in families.”
That means if your mother or sister has PCOS, you may well have it too.
NHS experts tell us that the hormonal imbalance is often linked to high levels of insulin in the body.
People with PCOS are often insulin resistant, so the body overcompensates by producing more and more insulin.
The NHS website explains that the knock-on effect is “increased production and activity of hormones like testosterone.”
However, it’s worth noting that scientists have yet to establish a direct cause for PCOS.
How to treat PCOS
There are two different approaches to treating PCOS – medication and lifestyle changes.
If you seek medical help to deal with infertility, your GP might prescribe androgen-blocking treatments, fertility drugs, or medication that helps with insulin use.
As dull as it sounds, overhauling your diet and fitness regime is also key to improving PCOS.
Chuck out the processed foods in favour of leafy greens, fruits and whole grains, and forget you’ve ever heard of chocolate and ice cream.
2. Endometriosis – does it cause infertility?
Women with endometriosis will tell you that it’s nobody’s idea of a good time.
Endometriosis occurs when the tissue that’d usually be the lining of the uterus starts growing in the ovaries and the fallopian tubes.
When you have severe endometriosis, you often experience high levels of pelvic pain, which is often much worse during your period.
Other unpleasant symptoms include nausea, constipation, diarrhoea, pain during sex and difficulty getting pregnant.
Expert view: what causes Endometriosis
In the US, OASH, aka the Office on Women’s Health, tells us that nobody has established the direct cause of endometriosis.
It’s almost as if there’s nowhere near enough funding and research into women’s health issues.
Researchers are currently looking at four possible causes:
Problems with menstrual flow
– The tissue supposed to be shed during your period gets backed up inside the pelvis.
– Endometriosis could be inherited in the genes passed down in families.
Immune system problems
– Instead of locating and destroying the tissue growing outside the uterus, the immune system fails to deal with it.
– According to scientists researching endometriosis, it could be promoted by the hormone oestrogen.
– There could also be a link with abdominal surgery, such as caesareans, as tissue can be moved around the area by mistake.
How to treat endometriosis
You can try a host of pain relief and complementary medicines to help manage endo pain, but if you are trying to get pregnant, it can be a tricky journey.
Many doctors try to treat the condition through hormonal birth control or an IUD, but that’s no good if you want to have a baby.
Two main options, according to OASH, are surgery to remove and destroy areas of endometriosis or hormone treatments.
If you want to get pregnant, doctors might put you on a temporary course of synthetic gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonists to create temporary menopause.
It works by preventing the body from making ovulation-triggering hormones to stop the spread of endometriosis before withdrawing the treatment.
The idea is that by temporarily stunting the growth of endometriosis, your menstrual cycle can start afresh, and your fertility should improve.
3. Excess weight and fertility
Weight is one of the most challenging and emotive subjects for many women.
We believe in body positivity and that every woman should feel beautiful and confident in their own skin.
However, being overweight does have an impact on fertility, and it’s vital to look at why that happens.
After all, if you desperately want a baby, you’ll want to be in full possession of the facts.
Expert view: Weight and Infertility
In their paper Obesity as disruptor in female fertility, authors Erica Silvestris et al. found that being overweight can impact how women’s bodies store sex hormones.
According to their research, obesity can cause ‘perturbations’ of the system controlling reproduction and interfere with ovarian function.
Hormonally, the problems come from increased androgens and oestrogens, issues with gonadotropin secretion and insulin resistance.
They found the risk of infertility is “threefold higher” in obese women and cite a study which found that the probability of spontaneous conception declined with each BMI point over 29.
How to treat obesity
If we had the easy answer to this question, we’d be multi-zillionaires far too busy slinging ego-fuelled rockets into space to be writing fertility articles.
So, let’s keep it real – you need to eat less and move more to shift excess weight.
Start by calculating how many calories you need to consume daily and prioritizing unprocessed, protein-packed food in your diet.
Fill your plate with vegetables, whole grains and other foods that don’t cause inflammation.
Move as much as possible and try to elevate your heart rate with cardio exercise a few times per week.
Some studies into weight loss and pregnancy have found that shifting 5-10% of body weight can improve fertility.
4. Age and pregnancy
Are you looking for a subject equally contentious to that of weight’s impact on conception? Meet the age conundrum.
Many of us don’t feel ready to have babies when we’re younger for plenty of good reasons.
Careers, money worries, life experience and finding the right partner can all play a role in when we decide to try for children.
Unfortunately, while we can argue amongst ourselves until the cows come home, there’s no reasoning with the biological clock.
Expert view: Age and Pregnancy
Most women experience the highest fertility levels from their late teens to their late 20s.
According to medical experts at the Babycentre UK, the most common cause for declining fertility after age 35 is problems with ovulation and damage to the fallopian tubes.
As we age, the number of eggs we hold in our ovarian reserve decreases and therefore, so do the chances to conceive.
Our fallopian tubes can become impacted by surgery, infection, and conditions like endometriosis.
It’s also important to remember that the risk of complications during pregnancy for women over 35 is higher.
What to do about age?
We’d never suggest that you throw caution to the wind and get pregnant before you feel ready to start a family.
When you do decide the time is right, the experts suggest that you and your partner have unprotected sex regularly (around two to three times a week).
Keep track of your menstrual cycle and go to your GP if you have irregular periods or notice other symptoms that may suggest fertility complications.
Consult your GP about vitamin supplements, including folic acid, stop smoking and limit your alcohol intake.
Also, give yourself the best chance of success by eating nutritious food and exercising regularly.
If you struggle to conceive, talk to the experts about fertility treatments as soon as you feel ready.
Taking the next step
We hope you’ve found this overview helpful, but please remember it’s just a brief introduction to the vast topic of infertility.
Talk to the experts, pay attention to your body and how it functions and read as much as possible.
Trying to get pregnant can be challenging and emotional. Approaching the journey in good health with all the knowledge you can collect will help.
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