The female reproductive system is beautiful in its complexity. While women work, sleep, and eat, their bodies take one tiny step after another to prepare for and grow new life. But the more complicated a process is, the more opportunities there are for malfunction. And if your mom or other women in your family had fertility problems, you might be questioning whether you can even conceive.
Before you lose hope, understand that only some problems are hereditary, and many are not out of your control.
What Causes Infertility?
There are three major problems that contribute to infertility:
Egg Quality: When you’re young and your body is vibrant, your eggs are generally high-quality. As you age, their quality decreases. Poor-quality eggs are more difficult for sperm to fertilize, lack the energy required to perform rapid cell division to grow and implant in the uterine wall, and tend to have more chromosomal abnormalities, which can cause a miscarriage.
Rather than being hereditary, egg quality is most closely related to age. And while you can’t stop the clock, you can make simple lifestyle choices to help preserve your eggs. Eating better, avoiding smoking and heavy drinking, supplementing your diet with key nutrients, and keeping away from environmental toxins can go a long way toward slowing the aging process.
Overall Health of Reproductive Organs: Both your uterus and fallopian tubes (or at least one tube) must be functional to conceive and carry a baby to term. Common problems with the fallopian tubes include damaged or blocked tubes as a result of pelvic inflammatory disease (as a result of a sexually transmitted disease) or endometriosis. A tube may also be damaged or removed as a result of an ectopic pregnancy.
While ectopic pregnancies and STD-related problems are not hereditary, endometriosis runs in families, so some women are more susceptible to it. But keep in mind: Even if you are more susceptible to a hereditary disease, there’s no guarantee you will have one. Lifestyle choices often trump genetics.
Other common problems include having an “abnormally shaped” uterus or a thin uterine lining. Whether or not an abnormally shaped uterus impacts your fertility depends on the specific shape. However, thin uterine lining is an issue tied to hormone levels. We can’t always pinpoint the cause of hormone imbalance, but genetics may be partly to blame.
Ovulation Frequency: It is estimated that 25 percent of female infertility cases are due to ovulatory dysfunction, which means infrequent or absent ovulation and/or menstrual cycles. Most often, the root of the problem is hormonal, but again, that can mean a number of things.
Hereditary factors might be involved, but there are many factors to consider and just as many potential solutions to explore. Lifestyle and overall health are significant, including psychological issues like severe and chronic stress or eating disorders that affect body weight.
Focus on You
The journey to parenthood contains many unknowns, but focusing on the things you can control will help you understand that you’re not a helpless bystander. Every woman has different needs, but here’s a general list of things you can do today to increase your chances of conceiving, no matter your family history:
- Chart your fertility: When trying to conceive, timing is everything. A couple must be able to identify when the woman is ovulating to have the best chance of getting pregnant.
- Exercise and eat healthy foods: Regular physical activity and a balanced diet will maintain the overall health of your body and mind.
- Advocate for yourself: No one cares more about you getting pregnant than you do, so ask your healthcare provider lots of questions prior to trying to get pregnant and learn as much as you can about reproductive health.
- Manage your stress: Stress can be detrimental to your body — especially when trying to conceive. Create a plan to manage your anxiety levels, and incorporate activities like meditation or yoga.
Remember that a complication doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t conceive. While your mother may have had trouble getting pregnant, there have been many female reproductive health advances since her time. And in the end, your body is its own unique ecosystem. By focusing on your health and lifestyle, you can work toward fulfilling your ultimate goal: becoming a mother.
Ethan Lynette is Partner for Fairhaven Health, a company that manufactures products that help couples conceive naturally and provides support to women throughout pregnancy and nursing. Fairhaven believes it’s crucial to get to know its customers well and provide support and education to couples desiring to start a family. Follow him on Google+.
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