Female fertility can be affected by your lifestyle choices. Consider simple steps to keep your reproductive system healthy.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

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 female fertility — but that isn't the end of the story. Your lifestyle choices can have some effect on your fertility, too.

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

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

  • Conditions affecting ovulation
  • Endometriosis — a condition in which tissue that normally lines the inside of the uterus (endometrium) grows outside the uterus
  • Bands of scar tissue between pelvic organs (pelvic adhesions) caused by a previous surgery or infection
  • Blockage of the fallopian tubes, often caused by pelvic inflammatory disease, or a tubal abnormality
  • Excessive prolactin in the blood (hyperprolactinemia)
  • Conditions affecting the uterus

Age also plays a role in female fertility. Delaying pregnancy can decrease the likelihood that you'll be able to conceive. An older woman's eggs aren't fertilized as easily as a younger woman's eggs — and might not develop normally even after fertilization occurs.

Healthy lifestyle choices can help you promote fertility. For example:

  • Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight or significantly underweight can affect hormone production and inhibit normal ovulation. Maintaining a healthy weight can increase the frequency of ovulation and likelihood of pregnancy.
  • Prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Sexually transmitted infections — such as chlamydia and gonorrhea — are a leading cause of infertility for women. To protect yourself from STIs, practice safe sex. Limit your number of sexual partners, and use a condom each time you have sex — or stay in a mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who isn't infected.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Untreated celiac disease can harm fertility. Otherwise, there isn't enough research to suggest a specific diet to promote fertility. Of course, eating plenty of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and a variety of protein sources will serve you well whether or not you're trying to conceive.
  • Schedule regular checkups. Regular visits to your health care provider can help you detect and treat health conditions that might threaten your fertility.
  • 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.

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

  • Don't smoke. 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.
  • Curb caffeine. Most research doesn't support a clear link between too much caffeine and infertility. However, most reproductive experts recommend limiting the amount of caffeine in your diet to less than 200 to 300 milligrams a day — if you're trying to conceive.
  • Be wary of vigorous physical activity. 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. If you're overweight, ask your health care provider how much physical activity is OK.
  • Avoid exposure to toxins. Agricultural workers, hair stylists and certain other groups might be at risk of menstrual disorders. Dental assistants exposed to high levels of nitrous oxide, anyone exposed to elevated levels of organic solvents — such as dry cleaning chemicals — and industrial workers exposed to drugs or chemicals during the manufacturing process also might be at risk of reduced fertility. Share any concerns you might have with your health care provider.

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.

June 12, 2015