Written by Lauren Smith
Whether you’re planning on falling pregnant, or family planning is the LAST thing on your mind, you’ve probably wondered at some point about your fertility. But which fertility issues are actually worth thinking about in your twenties, and which are nothing more than scaremongering about our biological clock? We spoke to fertility experts Zita West and Dr Geeta Nargund to find out more.
1. First off, you SHOULD care about your fertility and reproductive health
While it’s difficult to even think about your fertility when babies are a long way off, both experts insist that it’s super important to be aware of your reproductive health, aka what’s going on in your ovaries, from periods to hormonal changes.
Geeta says that if having children is one of your priorities, then being aware of your reproductive health is crucial. “Lifestyle choices you make in your teens and twenties, as well as genetic health issues, can have a significant impact on your fertility in later life. Being aware of this now will increase your chances of falling pregnant naturally later on” she says.
2. Your fertility can decline after 35 – but it’s not all doom and gloom
Many people believe their biological clock runs out as soon as they hit 30 – but it’s just not true.
“Don’t believe the hype” says Zita West. “Everyone is different – and some women will have better fertility than others for their age.”
Geeta adds: “Biologically speaking, the quality and number of eggs a woman has usually declines quite rapidly after 35. We are born with a finite number of eggs that deplete as we age. However, every woman is different and will have a personal fertility timeline that could be earlier or later depending on health, medical and family history.”
3. There is no ‘normal’ amount of time to try for a baby
Geeta says that the time it takes varies from person to person, and couple to couple. There are a number of influencing factors including your age, reproductive health, general health and of course the amount of times you have sex that mean some couples will fall pregnant within weeks, others may take months or years. But she advises a visit to the GP if after 12 months of trying naturally you haven’t managed to conceive.
4. But it might not be as instant as you’d think
Zita says that “Quite often, women will come and see me at the age of 30 and say that they’re going to wait a year or two before they start trying. I always encourage them to start as soon as they can, because it can take a while to conceive and a miscarriage is really common when you first get pregnant, which means you have to pick yourself up and try again”.
5. Missed a period? Don’t freak out – but keep an eye on it
Irregular periods happen to many women, and for most, it’s not a cause for alarm. There’s a myriad of reasons why you might miss a period, from weight gain, to being underweight, a bad diet, new medication and even stress.
But Geeta advises that if you start to miss periods regularly you should see your GP: “Missed periods do not necessarily mean you are infertile or cause infertility, but could indicate underlying health issues that could affect your fertility, such as PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome).
6. The same goes for irregular bleeding
When starting hormonal contraception, such as the pill or implant, irregular bleeding is common for the first 3 months. There are many different causes of bleeding between periods, most are not anything to worry about, but seek medical advice if it lasts longer than 3 months.
7. Your painful periods are probably normal – sorry!
Sadly, discomfort during menstruation isn’t uncommon, especially in young women. However, if your cramps are stopping you from going about your normal life or not responding to over the counter painkillers then you need to see your GP.
8. Fertility tracking apps have their place
There has been an explosion of fertility-related app technology in recent years. Geeta says that while they are useful for tracking your cycle, they shouldn’t be relied upon in isolation of specialist medical or fertility advice.
9. Certain lifestyle factors actually DO impact your fertility
Geeta says that lifestyle factors such as your BMI, diet and smoking have a significant impact on fertility health and “it’s important to be conscious of the longer-term damage you can do to your fertility health, even at a young age”.
When it comes to smoking – time to give it up! The advice from the NHS is that “smoking may reduce fertility in women by reducing egg quality”.
10. Caffeine should be treated with caution
Zita says that “For women, caffeine can put stress on the adrenals and cause blood sugar to rollercoaster with high peaks and low troughs which also affects energy levels, mood and irritability”.
However, researchers don’t yet know for certain how caffeine levels relate to conception itself. Coffee, tea, over-the-counter medications, chocolate and fizzy drinks all contain caffeine – so her advice is to try to cut back on caffeine-containing foods and drinks during the week, treating yourself at weekends. If you do need a shot of caffeine, take it from tea, which has much lower caffeine levels than coffee.
11. And the same goes for booze.
According to Zita, alcohol may contribute to irregular periods, irregular ovulation and luteal phase defects, reducing chances of conception.
“Studies show that if neither you nor your partner drinks at all you will typically get pregnant more quickly than couples who drink regularly” she says. “However, I’m a realist – it’s fine if alcohol forms part of your normal life, as long as you drink at the lower limits of what is recommended for your age and gender.”
12. Exercise is good for your fertility – but don’t overdo it.
“Being underweight or overweight affects fertility in both women and men, so I advise that you try to do 30 to 60 minutes of exercise daily” Zita says.
This is because regular exercise ensures that endorphins circulate your body and improves general circulation. Better circulation means that more nutrients can reach your ovaries and will improve your blood-sugar balance, which will be good for your fertility.