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How to protect and maximize your fertility

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Whether you’re trying to get pregnant right now or are thinking about kids in the future, here’s what you can do to support your reproductive health.

Maybe you’re thinking about starting a family soon, or you’d like to grow your family. Or maybe having a child is something you hope to do in the years ahead. Either way, there are things you can do now that may help boost your chances of getting pregnant.

Good fertility is important for women and men for a successful pregnancy. These tips can help get you started.

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Fertility tips for men

Men’s fertility mostly depends on sperm count and quality. Sperm fertilizes a woman’s egg. If you don’t make enough sperm or if they don’t move well, the chance of pregnancy is lower. You can help keep your sperm healthy. Here’s how:

Lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese is linked to lower sperm counts, says Jeffrey Lumerman, MD. He’s a urologist in Lake Success, New York, and chair of urology at Optum.

Eat healthy foods. A Mediterranean-style eating plan may lead to better sperm quality.1 That’s a diet rich in foods such as:

  • Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, trout and sardines
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Healthy fats such as olive oil
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Whole grains

These foods are rich in antioxidants, including omega-3 fatty acids. Antioxidants help protect your sperm from damage. Other nutrients with antioxidant properties that support sperm health include zinc and selenium. You can get those minerals from foods like seafood, nuts and seeds and meat. Or, ask your doctor if you could benefit from taking a supplement.

You can buy omega-3 and other supplements at the Optum Store — all from the comfort of home. Start exploring.

Limit alcohol, tobacco use and other drugs. “They all damage male fertility,” says Dr. Lumerman. For example, a study found that smokers were more likely to have low sperm counts and sperm defects, compared with nonsmokers.2

But the good news is that these effects are reversible. If you stop these habits, your sperm can bounce back within six months, says Dr. Lumerman. And always smart: Stay on top of your regular checkups with your doctor. Those can help you identify any other health issues that could impact fertility.

Fertility tips for women

Regular ovulation and menstrual cycles (periods) are key. Ovulation occurs when an egg is released from the ovaries. It typically happens about once a month. During ovulation (and in the days just before) is the time when you’re likely to get pregnant.3

Stay at a healthy weight. Your weight can have a big impact on your menstrual cycle and ovulation. Being overweight or underweight can make it harder to get pregnant. In fact, about one in 10 cases of infertility may be due to weight.4

“It’s important to keep a normal body weight,” says Ana Madariya, MD. “It helps keep the ovaries healthy so they can ovulate.” She’s an ob/gyn at Reliant Medical Group, part of Optum, in Auburn, Massachusetts. She explains that fat produces estrogen, which is a hormone. Extra fat means more estrogen, which can affect ovulation.

Being underweight can also affect fertility. “If you’re too thin, your body will try to save energy. This shuts off ovulation,” says Dr. Madariya

Limit alcohol. Dr. Madariya suggests drinking no more than seven drinks a week. Less may be better. Drinking as few as three drinks a week can make it harder to get pregnant.5 If you’re actively trying to conceive, it may be helpful to not drink at all.

Get a baseline health check. There are many health issues that can affect your fertility. And you may not know you have them. “If you have type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure or undiagnosed thyroid disease, you may feel fine, but those problems can impact your fertility,” explains Dr. Madariya. “Definitely see your primary care doctor or ob/gyn. They can do a baseline assessment of your health.”

How age impacts your fertility

It’s possible to get pregnant when you’re older. But it does become harder.

“A lot of women are not aware how much fertility goes down with age,” says Dr. Madariya. They may see other older women having kids and assume it will happen for them too, she says.

In fact, your fertility starts to decline at around age 30. And that decline speeds up in your mid-30s. By age 45, it can be very hard to get pregnant naturally.6

Men lose fertility as they age, too. One study found that men over 45 are five times more likely to take more than a year to get their partner pregnant, compared with men age 25 or younger.7

“Fertility in men begins to drop after age 40. And there are many reasons for it. But it’s a slower decline than in women,” notes Dr. Lumerman.

When should you seek help from a fertility specialist?

If you’re struggling to get pregnant, your doctor can help. Are you and your partner both under 35? If you’ve been trying to get pregnant for a year, Dr. Lumerman advises that it might be time to see a specialist. If you’re over 35, you’ll want to seek help after about six months.

A fertility doctor can check for problems that might make it harder to get pregnant. And they can offer ways to help. If you’re not trying to get pregnant now but know you’ll want to later, talk with your doctor about your options.

Paying for family planning care

Your insurance likely covers some family planning care like doctor’s visits and birth control. Many family planning costs can also be paid for with a medical expense account. That could be a health savings account (HSA) or flexible spending account (FSA).

For example, you might be able to use HSA and FSA funds to pay for things like:

  • Egg and embryo storage fees
  • Egg donor fees
  • Fertility tests
  • Fertility treatments like in-vitro fertilization (IVF) and surrogacy
  • Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
  • Pregnancy tests

Once you’re pregnant, you can use your medical expense account for other costs related to your pregnancy and childbirth. Check out more eligible expenses with our free medical expense tool.

You don’t have to have it all figured out right now. But a little planning now can help you grow your family later.

Sources

  1. Fertility and Sterility. Diet and men’s fertility: Does diet affect sperm quality? Published September 2018. Accessed March 10, 2023.
  2. BMC Public Health. Tobacco smoking and semen quality in infertile males: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Published January 2019. Accessed March 10, 2023
  3. National Library of Medicine. Physiology, ovulation. May 8, 2022. Accessed March 29, 2023.
  4. American Society for Reproductive Medicine. Weight. Accessed March 10, 2023.
  5. Human Reproduction. The association between alcohol intake and fecundability during menstrual cycle phases. Published September 2021. Accessed March 10, 2023.
  6. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Having a baby after age 35: How aging affects fertility and pregnancy. Last updated February 2023. Accessed March 10, 2023. 
  7. Maturitas. Maternal, infant and childhood risks associated with advanced paternal age: The need for comprehensive counseling for men. Published March 2019. Accessed March 10, 2023.

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