Planning for a baby? Listen up! We interview a fertility specialist to find out how you can get your body in tip-top condition to prepare for pregnancy.
If you’re thinking of adding to your family in the near future, you’re not alone. However, getting pregnant (especially if you’re not in your 20’s) isn’t simply a matter of hitting the sack for under-the-covers action. And if, like most women in Singapore, you are starting your family later in life, you may need some prep.
Why? One word – age. Biologically, the best time for a woman to conceive is in her early 20s. As we get older, we produce fewer eggs each year, and our chances of conception declines. For example, upon turning 36, our chance of conceiving naturally is half of what it was when we were 20. By the time we’re 41, it’s a measly 4 per cent (!).
Lifestyle choices as well as health issues can also have a significant impact on future fertility. If children are in your plans for the future, it’s important to be aware of your reproductive health now. So we asked Dr Liow Swee Lian, Scientific Director at Virtus Fertility Centre Singapore for advice on how to get our bodies prepped for optimum fertility and pregnancy. Here’s what he says:
1. Stop smoking
Smoking can have negative effects at every stage of the reproductive process, from egg maturation to hormone production, embryo transport, and the environment in the uterus. Smokers are also more likely to go through menopause at a younger age. Quitting smoking can enhance both natural fertility and IVF outcomes.
2. Maintain a healthy weight
If you’re significantly overweight or underweight, your body may produce more or less of the hormones that regulate ovulation. Having a very high BMI (greater than 35) may decrease fertility rates and also increase the risk of pregnancy-related complications such as miscarriage, gestational diabetes and hypertension.
The good news? A mere five per cent weight reduction can improve ovulation and enhance your chances of fertility. However, note that weight loss may not always be the result of a healthy lifestyle. If you work out and build muscles (highly encouraged), your body weight can increase. Hence, focus on lifestyle modification, and not weight loss specifically.
3. Get medical advice for menstrual irregularities
If you regularly experience menstrual cramps, abnormal or heavy menstrual bleeding, and pelvic pain, get a fertility screening. These could be signs of more severe underlying fertility issues.
However, having painful cramps does not mean you won’t get pregnant. Ovulation pain is common among women. It is of more concern if it interferes with your daily living, causes painful sexual intercourse, or is severe (even if sudden).
In more serious cases, ovulation pain can be a symptom of endometriosis. In women with endometriosis, the eggs, and subsequently the embryos are of poor quality. This means that chances of becoming pregnant are reduced.
4. Watch your alcohol and caffeine intake
Women who imbibe more than three alcoholic drinks a day are more likely to have heavy or irregular periods and fertility problems. Drinking too much coffee or caffeinated drinks can also affect fertility. Stick to no more than two cups of coffee and five cups of tea a day. In addition, be mindful of hidden caffeine in soda drinks and chocolates.
5. Have a well-balanced and nutritious diet
A diet rich in vitamins and minerals, as well as low in trans-fats, helps to improve the chances of pregnancy. In addition, to improve and protect your future fertility, take enough protein. Protein helps to make new hormones which could help in enhancing fertility. Good fats found in avocados and tomatoes are helpful too.
A general rule of thumb would be to avoid processed foods, high sugar diets, and junk food. Also, watch out for saturated fats in takeaway and processed foods like biscuits and snack bars. Eating out at a hawker centre or coffeeshop? Start choosing “healthier options” — look out for the sticker.
While exercise is great, over-doing it can cause more harm than good. Over-exercising may disrupt your regular menstrual cycle and make implantation of embryos more difficult. It can also lead to drastic weight loss. Women who are underweight (below 18.5 BMI) risk having irregular ovulation. So exercise with moderate intensity for optimum benefits. Maintaining a healthy BMI while taking note not to over-exercise will help boost and preserve your future fertility.
7. Superfoods can help too
Research has shown that plant-based fat (like those in avocados and nuts) can reduce inflammation in the body and promote regular ovulation. Also, fruit and vegetables give the body a rich supply of glutathione, which is beneficial in boosting egg quality.
8. Consider supplements and vitamins
Folic acid reduces the risk of certain birth defects when taken before and during pregnancy, and omega-3 can help in keeping some heart diseases under control by lowering blood pressure.
However, everyone reacts differently to what they consume, so do not take supplements excessively. Even though vitamins and supplements have their benefits, there is a limit to what one can gain from consuming them. More does not always mean better.
If you have an existing prescription from a health professional and wish to include dietary supplements, consult your doctor. A healthy lifestyle and diet are still fundamental for good fertility health.
9. Make self-care a part of your lifestyle
Are you taking care of you? Self-care is often neglected when we overwork, do not take adequate rest, or when we face immense stress. Incorporate a holistic lifestyle, balance your general health with a wholesome diet and an adequate amount of exercise. Fertility can be improved by lifestyle changes, and this is one area that you definitely do have control over.
10. Take care of your uterus
Start taking better care of your uterus. Surprised? Why? The uterus is one of the most important muscular organs in your body, and where the foetus grows. It’s only logical to ensure that your future baby’s first home is a perfect place for them to grow and develop, isn’t it? Here are some ways to give your uterus TLC:
• Natural Therapies – Therapeutic massage oils such as rose and castor oils work well with regular massages to enhance blood circulation and promote organ and tissue healing. They also soften the tissues around the uterus and help tone uterine muscles.
• Exercise – Exercise promotes healthy blood circulation in the pelvic region. Pilates, yoga, and swimming improve pelvic muscle strength, reduce incontinence, build core strength, and relieve menstrual cramps.
• Eat a Healthy Diet – A well-balanced diet makes you feel healthier and strengthens your body’s immune system. Take vegetables, fish, and whole-grain meals, which have been proven to reduce the risk of fibroids, and increase estrogen production in women. Try to avoid processed foods.
• Maintain a Healthy Body Weight – Adequate body fat and muscle strength can help prevent a “dropped uterus”, which could result in pelvic infections and menstrual cramps.
• Reduce Caffeine – Caffeine consumption elevates estrogen production, increasing your risk of breast and endometrial cancer.
While some factors regarding your fertility are out of your hands, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do to improve your chances of conceiving. Whether you’re planning for a baby now or in the near future, there’s no better time to start taking care of your fertility health than today!