About 10% of couples in the US experience infertility. Although little can be done to prevent physiologic and genetic causes of infertility, some infertility cases can be prevented through changes in lifestyle.
Maintain 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) and 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 physician or a registered dietitian. These trained health professionals can help you determine what weight range is right for you and the best way to attain it. If you do become pregnant, eat a healthful, balanced diet in the months before pregnancy to prepare your body for pregnancy.
Chronic, heavy drinking negatively affects ovarian function and can lead to irregular menstrual cycles, loss of ovulation, and cessation of menstruation. It is well documented that drinking alcohol during pregnancy increases the risk of birth defects.
Limit Your Number of Sexual Partners and Practice Safe Sex
The more sexual partners you have, the greater your chances of contracting a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Many STDs produce 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 STDs, such as human papillomavirus (HPV), can cause cells in the cervix to grow abnormally, requiring treatments that can make the uterus less able to carry a fetus. Limiting your number of sexual partners and using a condom during intercourse can help to prevent the transmission of many STDs.
Manage Stress and Depression
Depression and high levels of stress hormones can affect ovarian function. Try to develop a system to manage 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 healthcare provider about which stress management options may be best for you and request a referral to a stress management program.
Have Regular Physical Exams, Including Gynecologic Exams
Regular physical exams can identify hormonal abnormalities that could reduce your fertility. In addition, gynecological exams, including a pelvic exam and Pap smear, can help to identify any structural abnormalities that can influence fertility. These exams can also detect reproductive tract infections that, if left untreated, can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease and scarring of reproductive structures.
Contact your healthcare provider if you:
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 July 16, 2012. Accessed May 18, 2017.
Infertility in women. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116334/Infertility-in-women. Updated July 12, 2016. Accessed May 18, 2017.
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 May 18, 2017.
Treating infertility. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists website. Available at: http://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Treating-Infertility. Updated March 2015. Accessed May 18, 2017.
Last reviewed May 2017 by Beverly Siegal, MD, FACOG Last Updated: 12/20/2014