As a woman, your reproductive system is made up of the following parts, and they all need to be in working order before you have a chance of falling pregnant.
- The Fallopian tubes: These small tubes carry the egg to the uterus. Fertilisation happens in the fallopian tubes, and the fertilised egg is then gently carried along by fine little hairs and deposited into uterus where it can implant in the lining of the womb and continue growing. Any blockage of the tubes or damage to the small hairs can lead to either the egg not being fertilised, or the fertilised egg not being able to reach the uterus – which results in an ectopic pregnancy. Sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea can damage these your fallopian tubes.
- The Ovaries: Every cycle, hormone levels determine whether or not you will ovulate, and the ovaries are responsible for producing the eggs. Ovulation happens mid cycle, and things that prevent this from happening include conditions such as PCOS.
- The Uterus: Your womb is home to the developing baby. Fibroids (benign growths) and developmental abnormalities of the uterus can make it difficult for you to fall pregnant
- Endometriosis: The endometrium is the lining of the uterus, and sometimes this tissue is found outside of the uterus, which can lead to fertility issues
- Age: This is a major factor of female fertility. Quite simply, the older you get, the less fertile you are. Fertility levels significantly decreases after the age of 35 years, and this is because older eggs are less easy to fertilise and more likely to result in an unsuccessful pregnancy. Chromosomal abnormalities such as Down’s Syndrome are also more common as you get older – a woman of 30 has a 1:1000 chance of having a Down’s Syndrome baby while a woman of 40 has a 1: 100 chance. Women are born with all their eggs, our “ovarian reserve” of about 1 million. As you age, eggs deplete and not all will mature. In fact, by the time you reach puberty, half of your reserve have already gone, and eventually, your viable eggs will be completely depleted.
Remember, while most of these factors are out of your control, there are a number of things you CAN do to increase fertility – and these include lifestyle choices.
- Your weight: Being overweight can result in anovulation (not ovulating at all) or irregular ovulation. A normal BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9. Studies have found that for every 1 BMI unit over 30, your chance of falling pregnant is reduced by 4%! On the other end of the scale, being underweight can also result in anovulation. If your body doesn’t have enough energy for your own bodily processes, it’ll “shut off” your reproductive cycle as you won’t be able to supply the energy needed for pregnancy.
- Your Diet: Heavy or even moderate drinking, any amount of smoking and caffeine all negatively impact your fertility. Smoking damages the eggs and ages your ovaries. By avoiding all of this, following a healthy diet and taking pregnancy multivitamins to ensure you’re getting enough folic acid and iron, you can help improve your chances of conceiving.
- Exercise: Moderate, regular exercise is essential, but over exercising can be detrimental. Anything over 7 hrs a week of intense aerobic exercise can inhibit ovulation. Rather aim for 30 minutes of moderate exercise, 3-5 days a week.
- Sexual practices: By practicing safe sex and avoiding STD’s you can prevent damaging you pelvic organs.
- Stress: The impact of stress on fertility is enormous, so as far as possible do what you can to eliminate stress from your life. Whether that means delegating tasks at work and home, or joining a yoga class – it will all help.
Find out what factors affect male fertility.