If you’ve been having trouble getting pregnant, you may be wondering whether or not you’re infertile. It’s a common concern when couples have been trying for over a year with no results. The good news is that there’s no reason to fret just yet. It’s likely that you are not completely infertile at all.
“Infertility” refers to when couples can’t get pregnant after one year of frequent unprotected sexual intercourse. Personally, we feel that this is a slightly misleading term, because most fertility issues are not permanent. We prefer to describe couples as “subfertile,” until proven otherwise. By definition, subfertile couples are not 100% infertile, but they can indeed conceive — they’re just not able to do so as quickly as the average couple.
Fortunately, in many cases, this delay isn’t due to anything serious, such as a major health problem. Instead, it’s often just caused by the effects that a bad habit or two has had on the couple’s overall health. This means that most couples experiencing problems can easily take control of any fertility issues they’re having right at home. So if you’re experiencing long-term trouble conceiving, we recommend considering whether these common sources of such a delay apply to you:
- Weight: Weighing too much – or too little – can affect fertility in both men and women. If your BMI is too low (i.e. below 20) or too high (i.e. above 25), it can affect estrogen levels in women and testosterone levels in men. Studies have shown that this can lead to a lower sperm count in men and an irregular menstrual cycle in women. This doesn’t mean that you need to panic if your weight isn’t in the optimal zone, especially since the BMI system isn’t perfect. However, it is worth reviewing this possibility with your doctor.
- Diet: Diet and weight tend to go hand-in-hand. If you have a habit of overeating or binge eating, you’re more likely to gain weight, which can cause the problems we mentioned above. Fertility experts also believe that the extreme spikes in blood sugar caused by overeating could have an effect on your overall fertility. So instead of reaching for junk food or highly processed foods, we recommend investing in a diet that will support not just your overall health, but also help nurture a growing fetus.
- (Too Much) Exercise: It’s no secret that regular exercise is healthy, but too much can be a problem, especially if you’re trying to get pregnant. Excessive or strenuous exercise can impact both men and women by putting unneeded strain on the body. Stress can shut down the reproductive hormones in both men and women, which can then disrupt a woman’s ovulation cycle and lower a man’s sperm count. To ensure your workouts aren’t making it harder to get pregnant, try following the ACOG guidelines for exercise during pregnancy.
- Lubricants: If you use lubricant to help spice things up in the bedroom, you may want to research your favorite lube brand. Certain ingredients in lubricants might negatively affect sperm motility and even hinder their efforts to reach an egg while it’s still viable. While there’s some debate as to whether or not this is actually true, you should use a “sperm-friendly” lubricant that is specifically designed for trying-to-conceive couples.
- Alcohol: You’ll want to consider passing on your favorite alcoholic beverage for a while if you’re trying to conceive. Though experts aren’t 100% certain why it happens, they have confirmed that heavy drinking can affect fertility. Some research has shown that even light drinking might reduce your likelihood of conceiving. It’s believed that alcohol can reduce testosterone levels and therefore reduce the production rate of healthy sperm, and may also interfere with an egg’s ability to implant or survive long enough to come to term.
- Smoking: This one’s probably not a big surprise. Smoking tobacco has been linked to a myriad of health problems, and your reproductive health is no exception. Smoking can cause poor sperm quality, as it can lower sperm counts and result in sluggish motility; it also affects how receptive the uterus is to an egg. Smoking also increases the chances of a miscarriage significantly. With smokers twice as likely to experience infertility as nonsmokers, this is one habit that’s definitely worth breaking if you’re trying for a baby.
- Caffeine: There’s good news and bad news when it comes to caffeine. Most studies have not found a major link between male infertility and caffeine. However, drinking too much coffee can impair a woman’s fertility. Having one or two cups a day is fine, but with multiple studies suggesting that caffeine consumption increases the risk of miscarriage, it’s best to go easy on this stimulant when trying to start a family.
- Sleep: If you constantly feel exhausted, this may be the biggest point you need to address if you want to have children. The latest research says that there’s a major connection between sleep deprivation and infertility. Sleep helps keep your body healthy overall, so missing out on too much of it can affect your stress levels, hormone levels, and more. However, a healthy sleep pattern will help keep your circadian – and reproductive – rhythm on track, and make it easier to conceive.
- Stress: Stress affects every part of your health, including your reproductive health. Stress levels often interfere with the production of many types of hormones, including those involved with reproductive health. As a result, women who experience lots of stress are less likely to ovulate regularly, and men who are extremely stressed often experience lower sperm counts. While stress is not 100% avoidable, taking control and managing your stress could go a long way if you currently need help conceiving.
- Review your medications with your doctor: If you’re on any medications to manage health issues outside of your reproductive health, look into whether or not they’re the source of your conception delays. Certain medications can interfere with your reproductive abilities, depending on how they interact with your body. Your best bet is to review your current medications with your doctor or a fertility expert.
- Don’t hold back – or go overboard – on the sex: There’s a lot of debate out there on whether or not men should “save their sperm” for the right time when trying to conceive. Many experts are quick to point out that limiting sex with your partner can actually cause you to miss your optimal chance to conceive each month. Instead of trying to “save yourself” for the right moment, it’s advised that couples engage in sex as often as they want, and that they give special attention to when a woman nears her ovulation days. That said, there’s no need to go overboard by having sex multiple times throughout the day. Your best bet is to find the balance between enjoying yourselves and pacing yourselves.
- Finally, men should avoid activities that may raise the scrotum’s temperature: Elevated scrotal temperatures have been linked to male infertility. This means that regular exposure hot laptops, and even hot baths and saunas, could be reducing your sperm count. Fortunately, this one is an easy fix: all you need to do is avoid using your laptop on your lap and limit your time in hot showers and saunas.
These 12 tips highlight exactly how much our reproductive health is influenced by our health overall. For couples that are experiencing trouble getting pregnant, addressing any issues on this list may be the change it takes to finally conceive. We fully recommend working with a doctor if you suspect any of these points may be the source of your infertility before you begin looking at more expensive, invasive and potentially unnecessary fertility treatments.