A couple is considered infertile if they have not been able to become pregnant after one year of regular intercourse. Couples over 35 years of age may be considered infertile after only six months of routine sex without pregnancy. Although there are several potential causes of infertility stemming from the man, the woman, or both, in about a third of cases, it is from the woman. Even so, in many of these cases, there are ways to boost fertility naturally and eventually conceive.
A woman is fertile at the point of her menstrual cycle when an egg is released from one of the ovaries in what is called ovulation. The egg travels down the fallopian tube and then, if fertilized along the way, implants on the uterus lining. An issue in any of these steps can result in infertility. In many cases, it is because ovulation fails to occur.
Infertility and hormones
The menstrual cycle - including ovulation - is controlled by hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone. If something is amiss with these hormone levels, it can disrupt menstruation and therefore fertility. In other words, when a woman is experiencing hormonal imbalance, ovulation may not occur, or another problem hindering fertility may arise.
Infertility and other conditions
Certain medical conditions - such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and endometriosis - can impact a woman's ability to become pregnant. These conditions are also related to hormone levels. If a woman is having trouble conceiving, she should check with her gynecologist to see if she has an underlying condition, especially if she is experiencing the following symptoms:
- Painful, heavy periods
- Irregular periods
- Excess body hair growth
Tips for Boosting Fertility
In many cases, by balancing her hormone levels, a woman can increase her chances of becoming pregnant. Through adjustments to her lifestyle, she can balance hormone levels and take steps towards a healthy pregnancy.
There are several methods a woman can use at home to identify her fertile window.
- Basal body temperature method
- Calendar method
- Cervical mucus method
Many women use a combination of these methods to help time intercourse.
Eating a healthy diet
Consuming a healthy diet will not only support fertility, but it also helps a woman prepare her body for pregnancy. One vitamin that is especially important before conception is vitamin B9 (folic acid). About 400 - 800 micrograms daily of this vitamin lowers the risks of birth defects. A woman may also consider replacing some of her animal protein and carbohydrate intake with plant-based protein, such as beans, to boost fertility. Replacing trans-fats with unsaturated fat can also help.
Regulating portion sizes is essential. Since women who are underweight or overweight often have a harder time becoming pregnant and carrying a pregnancy to term, a woman may need to gradually reduce or increase her calorie intake, whichever may apply to her.
Regular physical activity is another important part of keeping BMI between the healthy range of 18.5 - 24.9. Oftentimes, women with obesity do not ovulate, but losing even 22 pounds (10 kg) can help induce ovulation again. A minimum of two and a half hours of aerobic exercise a week is ideal to achieve this goal.
However, over-exercising can cause temporary infertility. Women with a BMI under 25 should ensure that their calorie intake and physical activity are balanced. Intense exercise can impact the menstrual cycle and halt ovulation and periods.
Manage stress and seek support
Psychological stress and overwork can lower a woman's chances of falling pregnant. It's important to take out time from the day to relax and relieve stress. Each woman relaxes in her own way, but common techniques include meditation, taking a hot bath, reading a book, or spending time with a pet.
It's also important that a woman keep a strong support network, especially if she has already been diagnosed with infertility. Support groups are available, and they can help boost a woman's psychological health. Even the helping hand of friends and family makes a difference.
Women who smoke are more likely to experience infertility than their nonsmoking counterparts. Not only does smoking reduce estrogen and progesterone levels, but it also impacts the function of the ovaries. Quitting smoking is also imperative to protect the health of the baby that will hopefully be conceived.
Moderating alcohol and caffeine intake
Drinking alcohol in excess is linked with infertility, though exactly what equals “too much” is not clear and likely varies from woman to woman. Heavy drinking can impact hormone levels, which in turn influences the menstrual cycle and can cut a woman's chances of conceiving in half. Alcohol can also cause birth defects, so it's crucial that women who are looking to become pregnant eliminate alcohol intake.
Likewise, women who consume high amounts of caffeine have a harder time becoming pregnant and carrying to term. Since women who consume more than 100 mg of caffeine a day are more likely to experience miscarriage, limiting or even eliminating consumption of coffee and soft drinks is ideal.
Natural Infertility Treatments
Balancing hormone levels can get ovulation back on track and boost a woman's fertility. Herbal supplements are the most effective form of alternative medicine for this purpose.
- Phytoestrogenic supplements. These products are derived from herbs like soy, black cohosh, dong quai, and red clover. They contain phytoestrogens, or plant-based compounds that behave like estrogen in the body. They can help raise estrogen levels when they are low. However, high consumption of phytoestrogens, especially soy, can negatively impact the function of the ovaries, having the opposite of the intended effect.
- Hormone-regulating supplements. These products, such as Macafem, work by inducing the optimal functioning of the hormonal glands. Rather than introducing plant-based hormones into the body, they provide the hormonal glands with nutrients that help them produce hormones at balanced levels. This helps not only with estrogen imbalance, but also with progesterone and other hormones that influence the menstrual cycle and fertility.
When a woman boosts her fertility with the relevant lifestyle adjustments, she is also improving her overall health and taking the first step on the path towards a healthy pregnancy. Hormone-regulating herbal supplements serve as a complement to these holistic lifestyle changes.
- Jefferson, W.N. (2010). Adult Ovarian Function Can Be Affected by High Levels of Soy. The Journal of Nutrition, 140(12), 2322S-2325S. doi: 10.3945/jn.110.123802
- Kammel, H.H. (2013). Role of phyto-oestrogens in ovulation induction in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome. European Journal of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Biology, 168(1), 60-63. doi: 10.1016/j.ejogrb.2012.12.025
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- Office on Women's Health. (2012). Infertility fact sheet. Retrieved November 10, 2016, from https://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/infertility.html
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- Sharma, R. et al. (2013). Lifestyle factors and reproductive health: taking control of your fertility. Reproductive Biology & Endocrinology, 11, 66. doi: 10.1186/1477-7827-11-66
- University of Maryland Medical Center. (2016). Infertility. Retrieved November 10, 2016, from http://umm.edu/health/medical/ency/articles/infertility