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Female fertility: Why lifestyle choices count

Medically reviewed on April 14, 2018

If you're hoping to get pregnant, you might wonder about your fertility and whether you can improve it. Some factors might be beyond your control, such as medical issues that affect the ability to conceive. But your lifestyle choices can have an effect on your fertility, too.

Here's what you need to know to promote and protect your fertility.

What is female fertility?

Female fertility is a woman's ability to conceive a biological child. You and your partner might question your fertility if you've been trying to get pregnant with frequent, unprotected sex for at least one year — or at least six months if you're older than 35 — with no success.

What causes female fertility problems?

Various medical issues can contribute to female fertility problems, including:

  • Ovulation disorders, which affect the release of eggs from the ovaries. These include hormonal disorders such as polycystic ovary syndrome, hyperprolactinemia and thyroid problems (hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism).
  • Uterine or cervical abnormalities, such as polyps or fibroids in the uterus.
  • Fallopian tube damage or blockage, which is often caused by pelvic inflammatory disease.
  • Endometriosis, which occurs when tissue that normally lines the inside of the uterus grows outside the uterus.
  • Primary ovarian insufficiency (early menopause), which occurs when the ovaries stop working and menstruation ends before age 40.
  • Pelvic adhesions — bands of scar tissue that bind organs after pelvic infection, appendicitis, or abdominal or pelvic surgery.
  • Medical conditions associated with the absence of menstruation, such as poorly controlled diabetes, celiac disease and some autoimmune diseases such as lupus.

Age also plays a role. Delaying pregnancy can decrease the likelihood that you'll be able to conceive. A decline in the quantity and quality of your eggs with age makes it harder to conceive.

What can I do to promote female fertility?

Healthy lifestyle choices can help you promote fertility. Take steps to:

  • Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight or significantly underweight can inhibit normal ovulation.
  • Prevent sexually transmitted infections. Infections such as chlamydia and gonorrhea are a leading cause of infertility for women.
  • Avoid the night shift, if possible. Regularly working the night shift might put you at higher risk of infertility, possibly by affecting hormone production. If you do work the night shift, try to get enough sleep when you're not working.

While stress won't keep you from getting pregnant, consider minimizing stress and practicing healthy coping methods — such as relaxation techniques — when you're trying to conceive.

What's off-limits?

Healthy lifestyle choices count here, too. To protect your fertility:

  • Don't smoke. Tobacco use is associated with lower fertility. Smoking ages your ovaries and depletes your eggs prematurely. If you smoke, ask your health care provider to help you quit.
  • Limit the amount of alcohol you drink. Heavy drinking is associated with an increased risk of ovulation disorders. If you'd like to get pregnant, consider avoiding alcohol completely. Abstinence at conception and during pregnancy is generally recommended because a safe level of fetal alcohol consumption hasn't been established.
  • Curb caffeine. Female fertility doesn't seem to be affected by caffeine intake below 200 milligrams a day. Consider limiting your caffeine intake to one or two 6- to 8-ounce cups of coffee a day.
  • Be wary of overexercise. Too much vigorous physical activity can inhibit ovulation and reduce production of the hormone progesterone. If you have a healthy weight and you're thinking of becoming pregnant soon, consider limiting vigorous physical activity to less than five hours a week.
  • Avoid exposure to toxins. Environmental pollutants and toxins — such as pesticides, dry-cleaning solvents and lead — can adversely affect fertility.

What's the bottom line?

If you're thinking about becoming pregnant and you're concerned about the impact of your lifestyle choices on your fertility, consult your health care provider. He or she can help you identify ways to improve your fertility and boost your chances of getting pregnant.

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