When trying to get pregnant there is a wealth of information on the internet, but how do you know what is correct and what is scaremongering by 'Dr Google'.
Common sense is the best approach.
Infertility is a disease and should be treated as such. In fact the World Health Organisation defines infertility as 'a disease of the reproductive system defined by the failure to achieve a clinical pregnancy after 12 months or more of regular unprotected sexual intercourse'. Would you order pills online if you thought you were suffering a heart attack or would you contact a real-live doctor?
The same approach should be taken when trying to get pregnant. The internet can be a great resource for general information but should not be used to self-diagnose. I meet so many people who start sentences with 'well I read on the internet about a medication......' or 'a woman in *** discussion group advised me to...'.
Always remember that when it comes to getting pregnant, everything is individual to you and your partner. Of course there are some generalities that can be applied but your body is unique and what applies to someone else may not necessarily apply to you.
Misconceptions and lack of support in relation to basic reproductive facts are genuine obstacles when it comes to accessing basic information on fertility. There are numerous reasons why a couple may not conceive quickly and my Top 10 Do's and Don'ts cover the most common ones.
- DO contact a fertility specialist if you have been diagnosed with a medical condition which may impact on your fertility level. For example endometriosis, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), overactive or underactive Thyroid. If you or you partner have ever been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease then you should seek medical advice sooner rather than later if it is taking time to conceive.
- DON'T think that you are the only ones experiencing this. In Ireland, 1 in 6 couples experience difficulty conceiving. This means that it is likely that at least one of your close friends is also experiencing difficulty gettting pregnant or staying pregnant.
- DO track your menstrual cycle carefully to figure out what is normal for you. Most women fall outside the textbook definition of a normal menstrual cycle. If your cycles are very irregular or absent then you should seek medical advice as it may take longer to conceive.
- DON'T fall into bad eating habits. Overeating or bingeing on the wrong foods can be detrimental to the health of eggs and sperm. Our reproductive systems are controlled by hormones which in turn are controlled by the foods we eat.
- DO check your BMI. Being underweight (BMI<18) can cause menstruation and ovulation to stop. Overweight women tend to have lower pregnancy rates and higher miscarriage rates. Men who are overweight have been shown to have lower sperm counts. If you are overweight even a 5% reduction in weight can significantly improve fertility.
- DON'T ignore your vitamins. A male multivitamin supplement taken daily can improve sperm production and sperm quality. Women trying to conceive should take a multivitamin supplement containing Folic acid daily.
- DO avoid alcohol and cigarettes. Even moderate alcohol consumption can lower fertility levels. Women who smoke have reduced ovarian reserve, decreased egg quality and quantity. Smoking and alcohol have been shown to damage Sperm DNA.
- DON'T avoid intercourse just because you are not in your 'fertile window'. Frequent ejaculation is important to maintain healthy sperm production. Long periods of abstinence (> 5 days) will increase the sperm count but decrease the overall sperm quality as the older sperm will affect the fertile sperm and increase the levels of DNA damage in the sperm cells.
- DO contact a fertility specialist if you notice any testicular swelling or large veins or the testicles (varicocele). Infections or overheating of the testicles can interfere with sperm production and can often be successfully treated with surgery.
- DON'T suffer in silence. A recent study has shown that up to 50% of couples experiencing difficulty conceiving do not seek medical advice. There is nothing that you should be too embarrassed to ask. Believe me I have been asked some strange questions over the years so I think at this stage I have lost the ability to be shocked. Something that's embarrassing for you to ask may actually be quite a common problem so never be afraid to ask for advice.