Female Infertility

Infertility in women can be linked to a number of factors. Due to women generally waiting later in life to have children, advanced maternal age has recently become one of the most common.

Age plays a big role because females are born with a fixed number of eggs in their ovaries. These eggs are continually lost through menstruation until the woman reaches menopause.

This reduction of the ovarian pool (also known as ovarian reserve) makes it more difficult for women to become pregnant. Studies indicate the probability of pregnancy decreasing from 55 percent for women younger than 30 years of age, to 40 percent for women between the ages of 31 and 35, to less than 10 percent for women aged 35 and older.

Additionally the risk of miscarriage increases with age. Women in their 30s or older who have not been able to conceive for six months should seek a fertility evaluation – as should their male partners. Time is of the essence: A woman’s chances of having a baby decrease rapidly every year after age 30.

If you are younger than 30, you shouldn’t worry too much about infertility unless you’ve been trying to get pregnant for at least a year. If this is the case, you and your male partner should ask your doctor about getting a fertility evaluation.

Ovulatory & tubal disorders

While age-related factors are an increasing barrier to female fertility, ovulatory disorders play a significant role as well, accounting for 25 percent of infertility cases. Common symptoms include excessive weight fluctuation and extreme emotional stress. Even women who have regular menses might have an ovulatory problem since pregnancy is the only proof that a normal ovulation has occurred.

An even more frequent problem is a disorder of the fallopian tubes, an intricate and fragile part of the reproductive system. If the tubes become blocked, sperm cannot fertilize the egg and the embryo cannot settle in the uterus.

Tubal problems are responsible for 35 percent of infertility cases. blocked fallopian tubes due to pelvic inflammatory disease, endometriosis, or surgery for an ectopic pregnancy.

Health & lifestyle influences

In addition to age and specific reproductive functions, overall health can greatly affect a woman’s fertility. For example, some evidence suggests that smoking may contribute to infertility.

In one study, fertility among heavy smokers–defined as people who smoked more than 20 cigarettes per day–was 57 percent of that of nonsmokers. Additional evidence indicates that the function of the fallopian tubes may be impaired in smokers.

Can Lifestyle Choices Be Causes of Infertility?

A number of factors can lead couples to infertility, but not all of them are medically related. Certain lifestyle choices can affect fertility just as much, if not more, than medical conditions.

It is important for hopeful parents to practice a healthy lifestyle while trying to conceive. The lifestyle choices that both men and women make can play a large part in whether or not they can get pregnant and have a healthy child.

Most of these lifestyle issues can be resolved through a personal choice to improve. Couples should be aware of the lifestyle issues listed below that may contribute to infertility, and help one another improve their daily habits.

If these issues become unmanageable, couples are encouraged to discuss further options with their healthcare provider or with an infertility physician.

Women’s lifestyle issues

Maintain a healthy weight

When it comes to female fertility, a woman’s weight can greatly impact her hormone production. Being significantly overweight or underweight can inhibit normal ovulation. Women who are obese can have a harder time getting pregnant and can take longer to achieve pregnancy than a woman of normal weight. It is important for women to maintain a weight that is considered medically healthy, measured by a body mass index (BMI) calculator.

Eat healthy

Bodies perform best when they are fueled by healthy nutrients, and pregnancy is no exception. It is important to eat nutritious foods likes fruits and vegetables as opposed to foods that are high in fat and preservatives. Conditions caused by food intake, including celiac disease (gluten sensitivity), can also affect a woman’s fertility. 

Prevent sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)

Effects of STDs, specifically chlamydia and gonorrhea, can lead to infertility in women. The best way to avoid contracting STDs is to practice safe sex and limit the number of sexual partners.

Don’t smoke

In addition to other health concerns, smoking ages a woman’s ovaries and depletes her eggs prematurely. If a woman does not have healthy eggs, she will struggle to become pregnant.

Limit alcohol consumption

An increase in ovulation disorders is associated with heavy drinking. Women who are trying to get pregnant are encouraged to avoid alcohol completely. 

Curb caffeine

Though there are not clear links between caffeine and infertility, many reproductive experts recommend limiting daily caffeine consumption to less than 200 to 300 milligrams (or two cups).

Be wary of vigorous physical activity

While exercise and maintaining a healthy weight are important, physical activity should be done in moderation. Excessive physical activity can inhibit ovulation and reduce production of progesterone, which are essential in becoming pregnant. Doctors recommend that women who are trying to become pregnant should not exercise more than five hours weekly.

Avoid exposure to toxins

Exposure to toxins can affect hormones and the health of a woman’s eggs. Certain jobs can result in over exposure to these toxins. For example, dental assistants are exposed to high levels of nitrous oxide and industrial workers are exposed to drugs and chemicals during manufacturing processes. Agricultural workers and hair stylists are among other careers that may lead to reduced fertility due to toxic exposure.

Learn more about female infertility