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4 Surprising Factors That Can Affect Fertility

December 27, 2017

1 in 8 couples struggle with infertility or the ability to keep a pregnancy.

Infertility, which is defined as trying for a year to get pregnant, can be due to several factors. It can be an issue with the male partner’s sperm, a woman’s reproductive system or age and health issues that make it more challenging for a couple to conceive.

 However, there are some not-too-commonly known issues that can affect fertility. Here are some of them.

Exercise

When we talk about lifestyle factors that affect fertility, we often mention weight. While it’s true that being overweight or obese can affect a woman’s chances of becoming pregnant, exercise also may play a role in infertility.

Excessive exercise has been associated with infertility. Strenuous exercise may prevent the pituitary gland from producing hormones that stimulate ovulation. Exercising too much also can lead to excessive weight loss that cause an imbalance in estrogen levels and lead to irregular periods or even a lack of a menstruation. Men who exercise too much may overheat, creating an environment that isn’t the best one in which sperm can thrive.

While I’d never encourage anyone not to exercise, it might be best to shift your routine to less intense workouts or to do a mix of vigorous, moderate and light workouts like walking, yoga, swimming or Pilates to encourage fertility. Try to stick to the recommended guideline of 150 minutes a week of moderate physical activity and you should be fine.

Lubricants

Lubricants can make the baby-making process more enjoyable, but these products also can obstruct sperm.

Lubricants that contain petroleum can change the vagina’s PH levels, creating an unwelcoming environment for sperm. Lubricants that contain glycerol also can affect sperm motility, or the ability of sperm to move up the reproductive tract and fertilize a waiting egg. Rather than grabbing a petroleum or glycerol-based product, opt for a natural lubricant like coconut oil or a product like Preseed, a sperm-friendly lubricant designed to aid fertility.

Medications

Getting pregnant has a lot to do with hormones, but sometimes the medications we take can affect our hormone levels. Antidepressants, for example, can increase the level of a hormone in the brain that hinders ovulation. Even some over-the-counter medications, like Motrin or Advil, may have a small effect on fertility, research suggests.

But before you stop taking your medication, talk to your doctor about how to proceed. He or she may recommend different medications or a different course of treatment that will manage your condition and reduce the chances of infertility.

Genetics

We often talk about genetics as they relate to to risk factors for various diseases, but genetics also may play a role in infertility. That’s because if your mother or another first-degree relative experienced early menopause, had difficulty getting pregnant or had endometriosis, you might encounter similar challenges on the path to conception. That said, for many couples it can take a long time to get pregnant. There are so many issues at play that can affect infertility, many of which have more of a role than genetics in infertility. Still, talk to your doctor about your family history if you’re trying to conceive and find out what you need to do increase your odds of conception and a healthy pregnancy.

About 6 million women and 12 percent of couples deal with infertility or with challenges keeping a pregnancy, so it’s important to know that you aren’t alone. Infertility can be due to several different factors, and pinpointing which one is the culprit can be a frustrating and time- consuming experience for many families.

However, most of the factors that cause infertility that I’ve outlined above are fairly easy to change. You can mix up your exercise routine, use a different lubricant or consult with your doctor about how to adjust your medications to improve fertility. If you do these things and are still facing challenges getting pregnant, it may be necessary for your doctor to run some tests. While getting pregnant can be both an enjoyable and vexing process depending on your situation, the most important thing to remember is that as doctors we’re here to support you and provide you the best help we can. 

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