Many lifestyle choices are shown to have a big impact on fertility, with some choices reducing your chances of conceiving (such as caffeine, smoking, recreational drugs, excess alcohol, BMI and stress). The good news is that you have control over these choices, so you can start making changes today that will improve your fertility and chances of conceiving.
How lifestyle factors can affect your fertility:
- BMI - a very low or very high BMI in both men and women can impact on your chances of conceiving. It is recommended that you aim to get your BMI within the recommended levels (18.5 and 24.9) to increase your chances of conceiving, and in some cases it may be required by your clinic for you to start treatment.
- Oxidative stress - Eating a diet that is high in sugar and fat can increase your risk of oxidative stress, which can impact on egg quality and sperm quality and motility.
- Impact of smoking - smoking (whether first hand or second hand) can impact your fertility at all stages, reducing your chances of getting pregnant. So the advice is to stop smoking as soon as you can if you are trying to conceive (and that applies to smoking other substances too).
- Alcohol - as with smoking, alcohol can also impact fertility in both men and women, and it is recommended that you stop drinking while going through treatment and TTC. Speak to your clinic about their guidelines and any support they can give you in cutting down/out alcohol.
- Caffeine - caffeine has been found to have a negative impact on female fertility, with research showing that it can increase the time it takes to get pregnant and creates an increased risk of miscarriage and stillbirth, especially if you are having more than 100mg per day.
- It's important to remember that it’s not just the female partner that has to look at their lifestyle choices - they can impact male fertility too, so both partners need to take responsibility for making changes to improve your chances of conceiving.
How you can improve your lifestyle to support your fertility?
There are a few changes you can make to what you are putting in your body to improve your health and your fertility:
Look at your diet - it is recommended to consider fertility friendly foods (as well as eating a wide variety of foods) - fruit and vegetables that contain antioxidant properties are great when TTC. It’s also advisable to avoid junk foods and foods that are high in trans fats.
Vitamins - clinicians recommend that you take supplements that at least include folic acid and vitamin D, but speak to your fertility clinic about the range of vitamins they recommend you both take.
Look for fertility friendly recipes, including some that are quick and easy, for days when you are feeling tired, or for treatment days, so you make sure you still eat well when you don’t feel like cooking. The Leeaf app features over 80 fertility boosting recipes to help you get started.
Get more sleep
Getting more rest is shown to have significant benefits, both physically and emotionally, including reducing feelings of stress, making it easier to lose weight and less illness.
Think about how much sleep you are getting, aim to bed to bed earlier and think about how you can create a more restful bedtime routine so you fall asleep more quickly - for example cut out caffeine, no devices after a certain time, have a bath, read a book or listen to some music and aim to have a calm evening - create routine that's right for you.
Although there is no definitive link proven between stress and infertility, it is important to reduce the level of stress in your life to help you cope with the stress of TTC and going through treatment, and to protect your physical and emotional health. Everyone copes differently with stress, so work out what works for you and put some coping techniques into practice. This could be meditation, journaling, going for a walk or going to an exercise class.
Also look at your support network to help you cope with the stress of treatment. Talking to others who understand what it is like can validate your feelings and help you feel less alone.
Lose weight/reduce BMI
I know this can seem overwhelming, needing to lose weight to start treatment, but you have a much higher chance of conceiving and maintaining a healthy pregnancy if your BMI is within the healthy range. The best way to do this is to reduce your calorie intake and increase the amount of exercise that you do.
Look at low calorie recipes that you find appealing and easy to make, so when you are feeling tired, you are less likely to opt for unhealthier options like a takeaway or ready meal. Check out the recipes on the Leeaf app, and maybe batch cook some meals for a quick option on busy days.
If you are struggling to get your BMI down, you could look for a fertility friendly dietician or nutritionist who can support you in making healthy changes that will work alongside your treatment.
As well as looking at your calorie intake, think about increasing the amount of exercise you do. If you don’t usually do any exercise, then think about the sort of thing you enjoy doing and start small and build up so that it’s not too overwhelming (you could always work with a personal trainer to support you in reaching your goal).
This applies to both male and female partners - not only will it improve the health and fertility of you both, you can support each other in making healthy changes.
Increasing your BMI
If you have been advised by your clinic that you need to increase your BMI then have a think about how you can safely and healthily increase your calorie intake, whilst looking at your exercise routine in case you need to reduce the frequency or intensity.
Speak to a nutritionist about how you can healthily increase your BMI, and talk to your clinic about your exercise regime, to look at whether there are changes you can make while you are going through treatment.
If increasing your BMI is causing you anxiety, it may be worth speaking to the fertility counsellor to help you find some coping techniques to help you.
Make healthy lifestyle choices
As we talked about above, some lifestyle choices can significantly impact on your fertility, but you can start making positive changes as soon as you make different choices, improving your physical health and your fertility.
- Cut out (or at least cut right down) your caffeine intake - look at caffeine free options to replace your coffee/fizzy drink fix.
- Stop smoking and taking recreational drugs.
- Cut down, or ideally cut out alcohol. If you don’t want to feel left out on nights out, there are lots of tasty, alcohol free options available now.
A lot of patients are unsure on whether it is safe to exercise during treatment, but research shows that it is beneficial to do low intensity exercise during treatment (especially during the stimulation phase) and it's good for your mental health, especially if you currently exercise a lot and use it to help with your emotional health.
Low intensity workouts, including activities such as yoga, swimming, pilates, walking, tai-chi are all great, it’s just advisable to avoid activities that put a lot of strain on your uterus and stomach as they can impact on your chances of treatment working. You could explain to your instructor that you are going through treatment so they can create a workout plan that supports you.
It is recommended to NOT do high intensity workouts during fertility treatment, especially around egg collection when your follicles are enlarged and more sensitive (as it could increase the risk of ovarian torsions) and after the embryo transfer (where it may reduce the chances of the embryo implanting).
If your body is used to doing high intensity workouts on a regular basis, then speak to your clinician about their thoughts on the level of exercise that is appropriate. They might advise reducing the intensity slightly.
Always check with your clinician when you are going through treatment, especially around key points of treatment such as EC and ET, when certain activities may not be advised.
Remember to stay hydrated when you are working out and that you don’t need to exercise seven days a week, take some time out to let your body rest. Listen to your body, if you feel discomfort or are feeling tired, then it's ok to stop and take a rest.