Let’s face it, most of us are guilty of ‘not-right-now’ syndrome when it comes to starting a family. Whether it’s financial constraints, travel and career ambitions or simply that you haven’t met the right guy that’s holding you back, there are plenty of reasons to put motherhood in the file marked ‘future goals’. And why shouldn’t we? After all, we’re meant to be the have-it-all generation, and there’s nothing wrong with chasing your own dreams before you start painting the nursery and shopping in H&M Mama, right?
But just because you’re not feeling broody right this minute doesn’t mean you can’t prepare for the future – come on, you’ve probably already picked out baby names and decided how many kids you want – so there’s no reason your body can’t be just as pre-primed for motherhood, too. Whether your biological clock is booming in your ears or you’re more focused on the boardroom than babies right now, there are steps you can be taking to boost your fertility – whatever your life stage.
“Looking after your fertility starts years before you start planning a family,” says Michael Dooley, consultant gynaecologist at London’s King Edward VII’s Hospital and author of Fit For Fertility. “It’s about looking after your health and making sure you don’t get a disease which might damage your fertility.”
One of the downsides of being part of the have-it-all generation is that age is often working against us. The headlines are quick to remind us that our fertility is dropping like tiny eggs through the hourglass as we age. Dr Michael Fakih from the Fakih Fertility Centre says, “It is always better to try to conceive when you are under the age of 35, and the earlier the better because every month and every year a woman is prone to having an infection or a reduction of the quality and number of eggs.”
However, you can reduce your chances of future complications, whatever your age, by taking good care of your body now, says Dr Marilyn Glanville, author of Getting Pregnant Faster. “Five years in advance of trying to get pregnant, we recommend being mindful of diet and lifestyle, especially if you are an older couple because certain negative dietary and lifestyle influences can affect fertility, particularly for the woman,” says Dr Glanville.
We asked the world’s leading fertility experts what you can do right this minute to boost your future fertility. So whether you’re five years or five weeks away from conception, read on to discover how to maximise your chances of motherhood...
Tick Tock: You’re still single, so won’t be thinking about having a baby for at least five years, but you can still...
1 Be prepared. It’s always better to prevent than cure, so protect yourself from infections that might affect your fallopian tubes, warns Dooley. “If you do think you have an infection, get it treated immediately,” he adds, “as infections such as chlamydia can seriously damage your fallopian tubes.”
2 Stop dieting. It’s no secret that being out of shape can limit your fertility, but did you know that being too thin can be equally as damaging? “Being overweight can have a significant impact on fertility,” says Dooley. “But being underweight is just as dangerous. I often treat anorexic people who have fertility problems that need to be addressed. Five years before you want to get pregnant, the focus is on good living to protect your fertility health. Get a good amount of exercise, but not an excessive amount of exercise. Eat sensibly and don’t drink excessively,” he adds.
3 Talk to your mum. “Get a family history because if your mother had the early menopause, then you are at risk of going through the menopause early, too,” says Dooley. While Dr Fakih adds that talking through your family history will also determine if you are at risk from any hereditary disease. “It is important to find out if you are a carrier (through a blood test) and eliminate any chances of passing it onto your child,” he says.
On the male side...
Put love on ice. You haven’t met Mr Right yet, so without a crystal ball, there’s not much you can do to ensure he’s keeping up his part of the fertility-boosting bargain. But you can make provisions for his late arrival: if you are in your mid-30s, you can have a simple blood test to look at your ovarian reserve to see how many eggs you have left, suggests Dooley. After that, he says, it’s worth having a discussion about the possibility of freezing your eggs.
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1 Get your five a day. We already know the diet benefits of snacking on fresh fruit and veg, not to mention the beauty perks of shiny hair and clear skin, but did you know that the green stuff can also help nurture your eggs? “So make an extra effort to increase your fresh fruit and veg intake, and the darker colour the better,” says Dr Glanville. “Go for dark green spinach and bright orange sweet potatoes, which are full of antioxidants that help egg quality.”
2 Ditch the toxins. As well as being more aware of what you’re putting into your body, start paying attention to what you’re putting on your body – particularly your hair and skin. “Look at external pollutants in cosmetics and hair colour which may disrupt hormones,” says Dr Glanville. The buzz word to avoid on labels is anything ending in ‘paraben’ (common culprits are methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben and butylparaben).
3 Get your jabs. Not had your rubella jab yet? Once you get pregnant, it’ll be too late, so get immunised against German measles now, if you’re not already, suggests Dooley. Additionally, if you’ve had any abdominal operations or had a ruptured appendix which is most often associated with blocked tubes seek help now, he urges.
4 Sort your supplements. Omega-3 fats found in fish oil have anti-inflammatory properties which can help if you suffer from endometriosis (excess tissue growth in the pelvic region).You should also start to boost your body’s B-vitamins. “Start taking a prenatal supplement and fish oil,” suggests Blakeway. You can up your oily fish intake by including mackerel, salmon and tuna in your diet. “Now’s also the time to reduce or cut out caffeine and limit yourself to four drinks a week,” she adds.
On the male side...
Check up on old body worries. If your guy has had any medical issues in the past (even childhood injuries) they could come back to haunt him, so see your doctor sooner rather than later. “If he has had a hernia in the past, seek medical advice now, as these are factors which can damage reproduction,” says Dooley.
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1 Track your cycle. When you don’t have babies on the brain, you’re probably paying little attention to your periods, save checking that it comes every month. But paying attention to your flow and seeking advice for any irregularities in your cycle can help you avoid disappointment in the future. “If you are not on the pill, start tracking your cycle, so that you are familiar with your body’s own rhythm and understand how to know when you are ovulating,” says Jill Blakeway, co-author of Making Babies: A Proven 3-Month Program for Maximum Fertility and of The Fertility Plan.
2 Get help for PCOS. Women in the Middle East are especially prone to PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome), according to Dr Fakih, and many sufferers are placed on the pill to regulate their flow – concealing what their natural flow is like. “If you have been diagnosed with polycystic ovaries, you should come off the pill sooner so you can establish what your natural cycle is like, and seek medical advice early,” suggests Dooley.
3 Think big picture. You know that fantasy you have of your future life? The one with the big house with the white picket fence and huge garden? Well, if you’re imagining more than one child running around the lawn, then consider adjusting your own timeline to accommodate for that, suggests Dooley. “It’s very easy to wait until 34 or 35 for your first baby, and that’s fine, but you’ll be 38 or 39 when you have your second. One’s got to think of the whole thing as a journey. In your thought process, you have to think of the age you’ll be when you have your last child, not your first child,” he adds.
On the male side...
Get him checked out. Any irregularities on the male side can be a precursor to future fertility problems, so get him to check himself out now to avoid nasty surprises down the line. “Men in their 20s to 40s are at greater risk of testicular cancer. Also if he’s had an injury, infection, operations or swelling, it is worth going to see the doctor, sooner rather than later.”
Tick Tock: You want a baby right now. It’s time to...
1 Enjoy your love life. According to West, a lot of women who are trying to conceive become fixated on dates and timings of ovulation, reducing the act to a chore – and in more extreme cases, something that is insisted upon! Put down that stopwatch and learn to enjoy each other again, she urges. “There is usually a great amount of concern about targeting ovulation, but there needs to be more focus on ensuring it just happens more often.”
2 Have a holiday. “Stress encourages adrenalin which is known to disturb hormones,” says Dr Glanville. “We want hormones to be balanced when trying to conceive. So look at ways stress can be reduced through acupuncture, meditation and gentle exercise.”
3 Be patient. Don’t be alarmed if you come off the pill and don’t get pregnant straight away. “Maximum fertility takes about three months to occur,” says Dooley. “The chance of conception is only about 20 per cent per cycle, so it takes time to get pregnant. Keep thinking about the journey and don’t get despondent.”
On the male side...
Take his man minerals. Zinc is such an important fertility mineral for both women and men, as is the right balance of essential fatty acids and vitamin D. You should both be taking good multi-vitamins, minerals and fish oil at this stage, says Dr Glanville. “We recommend NHP Fertility Support for Women and Men, NHP Vitamin C Support and NHP Omega 3 Support (available at naturalhealthpractice.com),” says Dr Glanville.