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Lifestyle Changes to Manage Infertility in Women

Maintain an Appropriate Body Weight

Women who are very thin as well as those who are substantially overweight may have fertility problems. Low body weight disrupts hormonal function and can cause:

  • Anovulation—no ovulation
  • Oligomenorrhea—few menstrual periods
  • Amenorrhea —the absence of a menstrual period

Being overweight can also disrupt hormone levels and can lead to irregular menstrual cycles.

Before attempting to change your weight, you should consult with your doctor who may recommend a referral to a dietitian. Dietitians are trained health professionals who can help you determine what weight range is right for you and the best plan to get to that weight. When you do become pregnant, eating a healthy, balanced diet in the months before pregnancy can help to support a healthy pregnancy.

Stop Smoking

Talk to your doctor about strategies to stop smoking.

Avoid Excessive Alcohol

Chronic, heavy drinking negatively affects ovarian function and can lead to irregular menstrual cycles, loss of ovulation, and cessation of menstruation. Even moderate drinking (five or fewer drinks per week) has been associated with reduced rates of conception and increased risk of miscarriage. Remember that any drinking during pregnancy increases the chance of birth defects.

Plan Sexual Activity According to Ovulation

Conception is more likely to occur when you have intercourse in the days surrounding ovulation. You can find out when you are ovulating by taking your body temperature (at rest, when you first wake up) and recording it on a chart. Your temperature drops just before ovulation, and then rises at ovulation and remains elevated during the second half of your cycle and throughout pregnancy. Consider buying an ovulation calendar to help you calculate your ovulation times. There are also kits available in pharmacies that predict ovulation by testing your urine for the luteinizing hormone (LH) surge that occurs just before ovulation. A good rule-of-thumb is that ovulation occurs fourteen (14) days prior to onset of a period flow. You will need to record several months of periods to determine the regular length of your cycle.

Manage Stress and Depression

Depression and high levels of stress hormones can affect ovarian function. Try to develop a system for managing stress and depression, through regular exercise, yoga, or fulfilling leisure activities. To help reduce mental and emotional stress in your life, consider learning relaxation exercises, yoga or tai chi, or talking to a counselor about problems or stressful relationships in your life. Talk to your health care provider about which stress management options may be best for you, and request a referral to a stress management program.

When to Contact Your Doctor

  • If you are not sure if you need to gain or lose weight
  • If you need help with:
    • Designing a healthy, balanced diet
    • Quitting smoking
    • Abstaining from alcohol
    • Determining when ovulation occurs during your cycles
    • Depression or other mood disorders

References:

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Diabetes and pregnancy. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists website. Available at:
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Accessed July 2010.
American Society for Reproductive Medicine website. Available at:
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RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association website. Available at:
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Last reviewed December 2013 by Andrea Chisholm, MD
Last Updated: 1/15/2014