Planning or dreaming about having a baby can be a joyful and exciting time for many couples. But 1 in 8 couples have trouble getting pregnant or sustaining a pregnancy, and that statistic can become a couple’s reality when trying to conceive. Sometimes, trying to conceive isn’t as easy as just having sex.
Generally speaking, infertility is defined as not being able to get pregnant (conceive) after one year (or longer) of unprotected sex. And because we know that fertility in women tends to decline steadily with age, it’s recommended that women aged 35 years or older should consider scheduling a consultation (fertility evaluation) with a fertility specialist (reproductive endocrinologist or RE) after 6 months of unprotected sex. (Source: CDC)
A fertility specialist is a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating fertility challenges. They are OBGYNs specially trained to advise on and administer assisted reproductive technology (ART) such as in vitro fertilization (IVF), as well as diagnose and treat physical or genetic fertility challenges. (Source: Fertility Out Loud)
1. Fertility is both a female and male health issue.
People of all genders can experience infertility and reproductive health conditions. There are also many factors that can affect fertility and reproductive health, including age, menstrual cycle irregularity, 2 or more miscarriages, medical conditions, genetics, hormone imbalances, infections of the reproductive tract, medications, reproductive structural blockages, weight or BMI, and unhealthy lifestyle choices–to name a few.
2. Fertility evaluations and treatments can also cause financial distress.
Although insurance may cover some or all fertility services, there are many that do not have coverage, have high deductibles or have out-of-pocket expenses that can cause financial burdens.
3. The word “infertility” can cause a whirlwind of negative emotions and fear of the unknown.
The stigma around infertility is often associated with feelings of shame, which can lead couples to secrecy, which can then lead to a negative feeling of being “different” compared to others in society and contrary to social norms.
If infertility is experienced as a stigma, it has the potential to deprive the person or couple of social and family support. Living an infertility diagnosis can also increase stress levels that lead to symptoms of depression, anxiety, feelings of guilt, and relationship problems. (Source: International Journal of Infertility & Sterility) Research has found that women with infertility can experience similar levels of psychological stress as those who face cancer, HIV and chronic pain.
So, here we’ll try to take a step away from living the infertility stigma, and head towards proactive steps to living “in fertility,” with a focus on reproductive health and wellbeing.
Education, resource awareness, and being proactive when planning to grow your family now or in the future can change the overall perception from negative language to language that promotes hope when trying to conceive. Living an overall healthy preconception lifestyle is a great place to start.
4. Taking an inventory of your unique habits may bring awareness to changes that you are ready to make.
Consider taking a self-evaluation of your lifestyle habits. Taking control of what you can change activates hope and resilience that may enhance fertility or affect overall reproductive health.
Here are a few examples of items on an inventory list that encourage healthy preconception lifestyle habits:
- Smoking and recreational drugs should be discouraged in men and women attempting pregnancy.
- Alcohol and caffeine use should be limited to minimal to moderate use while trying to conceive.
- A healthy lifestyle and diet should be encouraged in men and women attempting to achieve pregnancy for their effects on general health.
- Women wishing to become pregnant should take a daily folic acid supplement (400 mg). Always discuss with your healthcare provider prior to starting any vitamin or supplement support.
- Reproductive-aged men and women should be encouraged, to the extent possible, to consider limiting exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals in food, air, water, and personal care products, and to air pollution.
5. In general, robust evidence is lacking to show that dietary and lifestyle interventions improve natural fertility.
However, making dietary and lifestyle modifications to improve overall health is ideal when planning for pregnancy, whether it be now or in the future.
It’s not about perfectly incorporating recommendations that give a guarantee of good eggs or sperm, or even a healthy pregnancy–it’s the proactive steps incorporating what’s good for your unique needs in body, mind, finances and relationships that promote overall well-being to last a lifetime in all paths of life.
6. It’s never too late or too early to start considering how to be your best self when planning for pregnancy.
Living “in fertility” provides a hopeful foundation of options and resources that can help guide you closer to parenthood.
I have coached and witnessed hundreds of successful outcomes with people and couples on the path to parenthood. Many successes may not have been what or how they thought their journey would be, but what I have learned from them is having a fertility coach at their side to lean on, encourage and even challenge change made a lifetime difference that enhanced them on their path to parenthood and personally in their life’s journey.