Ditch the birth control and get busy. That's all it takes to make a baby, right? Not always: Many lifestyle factors may impede on your journey to motherhood. Still, many women are ill-informed when it comes to fertility, according to a new study published in Fertility & Sterility.
When researchers at the Yale School of Medicine surveyed 1,000 American women from 18 to 40-years-old, they found that many women are unaware of factors that affect their fertility. (They also found that 30 percent of the same group visit an OB-GYN less than once a year or—gulp—never!)
Here, what many women don't know about fertility, according to the study, and what you can do to put the baby-making odds in your favor.
Despite the March of Dimes' efforts to spread the word, 50 percent of women of reproductive age are unaware that they should be taking multivitamins with folic acid to prevent neural-tube defects, such as spina bifida. Folic acid is a B-vitamin that helps build healthy cells, like those involved in helping the spinal column close; it may even improve your egg quality.
When trying to conceive, take a daily prenatal vitamin—most contain 800 to 1,000 mcg—which covers your folic acid needs during pregnancy. (All women of child-bearing age should take a daily supplement of 400 mcg, in case of an unplanned pregnancy.) The vitamin doesn't stay in your body very long, so remember to take it every day.
"Excess weight may be associated with other health issues, such as thyroid disease, prediabetes, diabetes, and polycystic ovarian syndrome, which can affect ovulation," says Sara Pentlicky, M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Pennsylvania. If you're having abnormal or irregular periods, like cycles that last more than 35 days, you may not be ovulating every month, making you less likely to become pregnant.
The good news: If you're overweight, losing five to 10 percent of your body weight can improve your chances of conception. If you haven't conceived after 12 months of trying, make an appointment to see your OB-GYN, Dr. Pentlicky says.
Smoking increases the risk of blockages in your fallopian tubes, and damages your eggs. Lighting up also boosts your risk of miscarriage, birth defects, and a baby with low birth weight. Don't wait until you get pregnant to give up the habit, since the process of quitting can be stressful on your body and, potentially, your developing baby.
It's harder to conceive with each passing year. At 30-years-old, you have a 20 percent chance of becoming pregnant each cycle, and the likelihood shrinks to 5 percent per cycle by the time you're 40.
There's also a greater risk of miscarriage and birth defects as you age. "If you're over age 35, see your doctor if you're not pregnant after six months of trying," says Dr. Pentlicky. "Your doctor can identify and treat issues, like a blocked tube."
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