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Hope Award

Tips for Enhancing Your Fertility

1. Make Sure You're Cleared For Take-Off
Ideally, a woman planning to conceive should have a complete physical exam, make sure she's up-to-date on all of her vaccinations and review any medications she is taking with her doctor. She should inform her doctor of her plans and ask if there are any specific lifestyle, medical, or risk issues she needs to address.

2. Make Healthy Lifestyle Changes

Exercise and eat right. Get close to your ideal weight -- that means not too fat and not too thin -- and start exercising to help strengthen and tone your muscles. On the other hand, over-exercising, for example in the case of elite athletes, can impair fertility. You should also eat a well-balanced diet and begin taking prenatal vitamins, including folic acid, 400 mcg/day, to reduce the possibility of birth defects when you do conceive. Folic acid is found in orange juice, beans, and dark green, leafy vegetables.

Don't smoke, don't smoke, don't smoke. Not only is it bad for you for about 1,000 reasons, smoking can also significantly reduce both his and her fertility. In addition, smoking has potentially serious consequences for a pregnant woman and her unborn fetus.

Cut out all Alcohol and Caffeine. If you drink, the alcohol may interfere with the amount of hormones that you produce, making it more difficult to conceive. Alcohol can also endanger a pregnancy and/or cause miscarriage. In men, alcohol can reduce sperm counts.

Treasure his jewels. Tell your partner to avoid hot water and tight pants, and choose boxers over briefs -- a man's sperm work best in temperatures slightly below normal body temperature.

Relax. Stress and depression may make your menstrual cycle irregular. In men, stress can be associated with abnormal sperm development.

"Natural" doesn't mean safe. Researchers have found that even tiny amounts of St. Johns wort, echinacea and ginkgo biloba can change the genetic material of human sperm and reduce sperm's viability. Reevaluate your reasons for taking these herbal preparations and whether you really need them. One supplement that has been shown to be safe and may enhance fertility in one small study is the product Fertility Blend™ for Women, which contains chasteberry (vitex agnus-castus), folic acid; green tea; vitamin E; selenium; L-arginine; vitamins B6 and B12; iron; magnesium; and zinc.

Carnivores have an edge. Women with difficulty conceiving who are vegetarians may have reduced fertility because of skewed levels of reproductive hormones; they metabolize estrogen to inactive products more quickly. They also have longer menstrual cycles than women who eat meat do.

3. Make Sure You're Doing It At The Right Time: Timing Is Everything
The majority of women are unaware of their most fertile time and how to identify it. Here are four options:

Basal Body Temperature: The simple, inexpensive way of finding out the approximate time when you ovulate is to take your basal temperature first thing every morning, before even getting out of bed, and record it on a chart. A slight rise in temperature indicates ovulation, or the time you are most likely to conceive. You can buy a special Basal Body Thermometer at your drug store for $5-10. Save all your charts so you can review them with your doctor. Three or four months of charting should be adequate.

Ovulation Kits: There are several commercial home ovulation kits designed to identify when a woman is ovulating. By measuring the amount of luteinizing hormone (LH) in the urine, these kits can predict ovulation within a range of 24-36 hours. Cost is about $20-$30 each.

ClearPlan Easy Fertility Monitor™: More than the other two techniques, this product removes the guesswork about your most fertile days, thus reducing a significant amount of stress. It is a noninvasive, palm-sized electronic monitoring system designed to identify a woman's most fertile days by testing her urine for estrogen and luteinizing hormone (the two hormones that control fertility) approximately ten days per month. The monitor cues the patient when to test her urine and lets her know her days of low fertility, high fertility and peak fertility. This allows some advance planning. This product is not suitable for women whose monthly cycle is normally shorter than 21 days or longer than 42 days, however. Cost is less than $200.

The Cue™: Unlike the Clear Plan Monitor, this electronic monitoring system is based upon measuring the electrolyte changes in saliva that accompany ovulation and peak fertility and is able to give up to 7 days advance notice of ovulation. Using an additional vaginal sensor (purchased separately), the Cue will also confirm ovulation on the day it occurs. The Cue costs $385 and the optional vaginal sensor costs an additional $85. A more advanced model, OvaCue is able to store and retrieve data from month to month. This monitor costs $485, plus $85 for the vaginal sensor.

4. Have Fun!
A satisfying sexual experience can also be a more "productive" one -- the cervical and uterine movements of a woman's orgasm can help the sperm along their path to the egg.

a. Remember the romance: Your passion for having a baby should not replace your passion for each other
b. Be careful when you chose a lubricant. Some creams or lotions are thick enough to reduce the number of sperm that get into the cervix.
c. Don't douche: Same reason.
d. Consider your position: The best way to conceive is the traditional way with the man on top and the woman on the bottom. This allows the penis to penetrate deeply and puts the sperm close to cervical entry to the uterus.
e. After lovemaking, it may help for a woman to lie still for 20- 30 minutes. Putting a pillow under your hips can help the ejaculate slip towards your cervix.

5. It Takes Two To Make Three
Couples who are doing everything "right" for 6 continuous months but still haven't conceived should be sure both partner's fertility is evaluated. Remember that in normal healthy couples having regular, well-timed, unprotected intercourse, only 8 out of 10 will conceive in one year. Sometimes it just takes time.

Infertility simply means the inability to conceive in 12 cycles in which you were both together. . .or the inability to carry a baby to term. Infertility is not just a female problem, however: 40 percent of infertility is from a female factor (e.g. tubal blockages, endometriosis), 40 percent is from a male factor (e.g. low sperm count), and 20 percent have unknown causes.

6. When All Else Fails

FERTILITY DRUGS: There are several choices, and your doctor will make the appropriate recommendations. Remember that these drugs have limitations and potential complications -- they should not be regarded as prenatal vitamins. They can be used on their own, or together with assisted reproductive technologies, such as artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization.

IN VITRO FERTILIZATION (IVF) -- IVF is a method of assisted reproduction in which the man's sperm and the woman's egg are combined in a petri dish, where fertilization occurs. The resulting embryo is then transferred to the uterus to develop naturally. Usually, two to four embryos are transferred with each cycle.

DONOR EGGS -- Assisted reproductive techniques makes it possible for women to donate their eggs to women who can't produce their own.

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Created: 11/2/2000  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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