Infertility affects about 10% of women in the US. Little can be done to prevent physiologic and genetic causes, but some people can lower the risk through changes in lifestyle.
Stay at a Healthy Body Weight
Women who are very thin and those who are very overweight may have fertility problems. Low body weight upsets hormonal function and can cause anovulation (no ovulation) and amenorrhea (the absence of a menstrual period). Being overweight can also upset hormone levels and can lead to irregular menstrual cycles. Before you try to change your weight, you should talk with your doctor or a dietitian. They can help you find out what weight range is right for you and the best way to reach it. Eat a healthful, balanced diet in the months before pregnancy to get your body ready.
Don't Drink Alcohol
Chronic, heavy drinking can change how the ovaries work. It can lead to irregular menstrual cycles, loss of ovulation, and cessation of menstruation. Drinking during pregnancy also raises the risk of birth defects.
Limit Your Number of Sex Partners and Practice Safe Sex
The more sex partners you have, the greater your chances of getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Many STIs have few or no symptoms in women. They are often left untreated, which can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease and scarring of the fallopian tubes. Other STIs, such as human papillomavirus (HPV), can cause cells in the cervix to grow abnormally. This needs treatments that can make the uterus less able to carry a fetus. Limiting your number of sex partners and using a condom during can sex to help prevent many STIs.
Manage Stress and Depression
Depression and high levels of stress hormones can change ovarian function. To ease mental and emotional stress, think about doing relaxation exercises, yoga or tai chi, or talking to a counselor about problems or stressful relationships in your life. Talk to your healthcare provider about what you can do to help manage stress. Ask for a referral to a stress management program.
Have Regular Physical Exams, Including Gynecologic Exams
Regular physical exams can find hormonal abnormalities that could lower your fertility. Gynecological exams, including a pelvic exam and Pap smear, can help find structural abnormalities that can cause problems with fertility. These exams can also find reproductive tract infections that, if left untreated, can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease and scarring of reproductive structures.
When to Contact Your Healthcare Provider
Call your doctor if you:
- Aren't sure if you need to gain or lose weight
- Need help crafting a healthy, balanced diet
- Need help quitting smoking
- Need help avoiding alcohol
- Need help with depression or other mood disorders
- Have pelvic pain or unusual discharge from your vagina
Infertility fact sheet. Office on Women's Health—US Department of Health and Human Services website. Available at: http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/infertility.html. Updated August 30, 2018. Accessed December 31, 2018.
Infertility in women. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116334/Infertility-in-women. Updated November 6, 2018. Accessed December 31, 2018.
Overview of infertility. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/gynecology-and-obstetrics/infertility/overview-of-infertility. Updated March 2017. Accessed December 31, 2018.
Patient history taking: major systems of the body. EBSCO Nursing Reference Center website. Available at:https://www.ebscohost.com/nursing/products/nursing-reference-center. Updated March 30, 2018. Accessed December 31, 2018.
Treating infertility. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists website. Available at: http://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Treating-Infertility. Updated October 2017. Accessed January 2, 2019.
Last reviewed December 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Beverly Siegal, MD, FACOG Last Updated: 1/2/2019