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15 percent of couples trying to have a baby struggle with infertility. There are a number of causes of infertility and barriers to conceiving, but for some, even the smallest of lifestyle changes can make a difference. Couples struggling with these issues may find experts at a fertility center will have additional health advice.

lifestyle and fertilityWeight and BMI (body mass index) for both male and females can affect infertility. A woman needs a healthy amount of fat in order for her reproductive system to function correctly. Being underweight may cause women to ovulate infrequently or not at all. Even a modest weight gain can help restart the reproductive system. Many overweight women will experience insulin resistance. Unbalanced insulin levels can make managing weight difficult and may also cause the ovaries to stop releasing eggs due to production of excess amounts of male hormones. Studies have shown that women losing as little as five to ten percent of body weight can dramatically improve the chances of pregnancy occurring. Overweight men have been shown to have abnormal semen, which manifests as low sperm count and low sperm motility. They are also at risk for impaired spermatogenesis (the process by which sperm are formed) because of increased scrotal temperatures.

Smoking presents risks to your overall health, but what many do not realize is the effect that it can have on their fertility. Studies have shown that women who smoke have a 54 percent chance of taking a year or longer to conceive compared to non-smokers. The delay in conception correlates with the daily quantity of cigarettes smoked. More cigarettes equal more chemicals which increase the rate of follicular depletion and reducing estrogen levels in the body. Smoking cigarettes can also affect a man’s sperm quality. Men who smoke regularly have been found to experience a 22 percent decrease in sperm count. The morphology or shape of sperm and the motility (or ability to swim forward) may also be affected by smoking. Sperm regenerates every 74 days, enabling sperm generated after smoking has ceased to be unharmed. Smoking cessation is suggested at least two to three months prior to attempting pregnancy to improve overall sperm quality.

If you’re trying to get pregnant, you may consider cutting back on alcohol consumption. Alcohol can impact both male and female’s ability to conceive. The U.S. Surgeon General recommends complete abstinence in women planning pregnancy, at the point of conception and during pregnancy.

Diet and stress may not directly cause infertility but both could be considered when trying to conceive. Eating a healthy balanced diet is recommended for managing a healthy weight. Stress levels are commonly high when coming into treatment. Managing some of that stress can make treatment processes easier to go through. Ways of dealing with stress include joining a support group, yoga, acupuncture, and meditation. Pregnancy success rates may not directly correlate with these methods but can help to reduce anxiety and improve how you feel.

Good overall health does not ensure your fertility success. If you have been trying to conceive for 12 months, it is recommended to consult with a fertility center. Barriers can be identified and ways to overcome them can be explored. If you are over 35 years old or you have a condition known to lead to infertility, seeing a Reproductive Endocrinologist after six months of trying would be wise.