Your age and your health can affect your chances of falling pregnant. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle may help you improve your fertility.
Age and fertility
When it comes to fertility, age matters. Many people today wait until they're older to have children. But fertility declines over time, and you should consider this if you plan to have children later. Both women and men are most fertile in their early twenties.
In women, fertility declines more quickly with age. This decline becomes rapid after the age of 35. There are a number of reasons, but particularly the decline in the quality of the eggs released by the ovaries. Around 1 in 3 of couples in which the woman is over the age of 35 have fertility problems. This rises to 2 in 3 when the woman is over 40.
Women over 35 are also less likely to become pregnant as a result of fertility treatments, including IVF, and are more likely to have a miscarriage if they do become pregnant. Men's fertility gradually declines from around the age of 40, but most men are able to father children into their 50s and beyond.
Smoking and female fertility
Smoking can cause problems for virtually all aspects of the reproductive system. Women who smoke are more likely to have difficulty conceiving, may not respond as well to treatment for infertility, experience earlier menopause and have an increased risk of cervical and vulval cancer. Smoking is associated with an increased risk of infertility, for both women attempting to become pregnant for the first time and women who have previously been pregnant.
Women who smoke also have a poorer response to in vitro fertilisation (IVF). Smokers will also have an increased risk of ectopic pregnancy and miscarriage. Smoking during pregnancy has been linked to a variety of health problems in the baby including premature birth, low birthweight, cot death (also known as sudden infant death syndrome or SIDS) and breathing problems in the first 6 months of life.
Smoking and male fertility
Research has shown that male smokers have lower sperm quality and count than non-smokers. Smoking can also lead to male erectile dysfunction. Two of the main chemicals in cigarettes are nicotine and carbon monoxide, which narrow the arteries and reduce the blood flow through the body, affecting the blood flow to the penis.
By quitting smoking you reduce the risk of impotence and improve your sperm quality, and are less likely to have delays in falling pregnant or experience infertility.
Sexually transmitted infections, such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea, can damage a woman's fallopian tubes, which may make it more difficult to become pregnant. If you think you might have contracted an STI, go to your doctor or a sexual health clinic.
Be a healthy weight
The government advises that for women planning a pregnancy, not drinking alcohol is the safest option. This is because no studies have found a safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy and many women don’t know exactly when they become pregnant.
Men who exceed 3 to 4 units of alcohol a day may damage their sperm.
Keep your testicles cool
A man's testicles should be one or two degrees cooler than the rest of their body. Tight underwear, hot showers and hot baths can all raise the temperature of the testicles.
Avoid radiation and dangerous chemicals
Exposure to radiation and chemicals such as glycol solvents, found in some paints, can damage fertility.
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Last reviewed: September 2019