Increase Your Fertility by Breaking These 8 Bad Habits

1
Stop Staying Up Late and Start Prioritizing Sleep

Young couple lying asleep in bed, close-up
Getting a good nights sleep is important for your fertility. Uwe Krejci / Getty Images

The Bad Habit to Break

Staying up late and not getting enough sleep.

Why It's Bad for Your Fertility Health

Some research studies have found a connection between poor sleep habits and irregular periods, and irregular periods can be a symptom of infertility.

Also, a small study found an increase in miscarriage rates among nurses who worked the night shift.

Poor sleep habits may also lead to weight problems, both in men and women. Being even slightly over your healthy weight range can lead to ovulation problems for women, and obesity has been connected to less healthy sperm in men.

What to Do About It

People stay up late for all kinds of reasons. If you can understand why you're burning the midnight oil, it'll help you break the habit.

Is it because of a favorite television show? Consider recording it and watching it during an earlier hour.

Is it because you're craving quiet alone time? Waking up earlier in the morning may be a healthier choice.

Trying to stuff too many activities into your days? Maybe it's time to cut back and put your health first.

Of course, staying up late not because it's habit, but because you can't sleep, is something different. Insomnia can be a sign of depression.

Mind-body therapies for stress reduction, counseling, and creating a comforting bedtime routine all may help you get better sleep.

2
Cut Back on Excessive Caffeine

Cappuccino
The occasional cup of coffee is probably fine, just don't overdo it. Flavia Morlachetti / Getty Images

The Bad Habit to Break

Drinking way too many caffeinated drinks, whether it's multiple cups of coffee, tea, or soft drinks.

Why It's Bad for Your Fertility Health

While one cup of coffee or tea is probably not going to harm your fertility, several cups a day may.

Some studies have found that consuming more than 300 mg of caffeine a day may slightly reduce your fertility and may increase the risk of miscarriage.

More than 300 mg is the equivalent to two cups of coffee drip or percolate coffee (drip coffee having twice as much caffeine as percolated) or six cups of strong tea or caffeinated cola.

What to Do About It

If you're drinking caffeine to make up for poor sleep habits, kicking the bad sleep habit first may help you beat the caffeine addiction.

Even if you're getting enough sleep, feeling tired in the afternoon is common.

Eating a lighter lunch (less carbs, more protein and veggies) can help prevent afternoon sleepiness. A quick 15 or 20 minute power nap can also boost your energy.

If it's the ritual and warmth you're craving, consider switching to herbal, non-caffeinated teas or decaffeinated coffee.

3
Exercise But Don't Over (or Under) Do It

Woman laughing with friends during yoga class
Yoga is a fertility friendly exercise option. Thomas Barwick / Getty Images

The Bad Habit to Break

Working out too little or too much.

Why It's Bad for Your Fertility Health

Just about everyone knows that some exercise is good for your health. It's good for your heart, your lungs, and your immune system. Regular exercise can also help you maintain a healthier weight, which means better fertility.

But it is possible to have too much of a good thing.

Working out too much can harm your fertility. Both men and women can have their fertility decreased by extreme workout practices. This is why athletes commonly struggle with infertility.

How much is too much? More than an hour a day, or over seven hours a week of intense exercise, is probably not good for your fertility health.

What to Do About It

Let's be real, though: most people are working out too little, and not too much.

Ideally, you should be exercising at least three times a week, for at least 30 minutes each time.

Fertility healthy choices may include walking, yoga, swimming, or low-impact aerobics. Always speak to your doctor before starting an exercise routine.

How to get started? Start with small goals.

Tell yourself that you'll put on your walking shoes and walk outside with your favorite music player for just five minutes. You'll probably surprise yourself and keep going. And if you don't, at least you're getting started!

If you're an athlete, speak to your doctor on how to balance your exercise schedule without harming your fertility.

Compulsive exercise—or exercise that is excessive and that you feel compelled to do—is more than a bad habit. It's a mental health issue.

If you feel like you must exercise for hours every day, and thinking about stopping an intense routine makes you feel anxious, seek professional help.

4
Avoid Overeating and Junk Food Binges

Macarons
There's a big difference between an occasional treat and a stress-induced junk food binge. Patrick Foto / Getty Images

The Bad Habit to Break

Overeating and junk food binges (like those three bowls of ice cream you finished off the last time you got a negative pregnancy test.)

Why It's Bad for Your Fertility Health

Overeating and going on junk food binges can lead to problems with your weight. Problems with your weight can lead to fertility problems.

Also, eating lots of junk food at once can lead to your blood sugar spiking. Since there is a theory that insulin and fertility are connected, this is probably not good for your fertility health.

Another problem with overeating and junk food binges is that they are often followed by crazy attempts at dieting to lose the gained weight. Yo-yo dieting is not helpful, and typically, yo-yo dieters cannot maintain their weight loss.

There's also research connecting junk food diets to poorer fertility in men and women.

What to Do About It

Overeating is often an issue of emotional eating or eating for comfort.

The problem is that the comfort only lasts for a moment; it's quickly replaced by guilt.

Instead, look for healthier ways to cope with stress, either through mind-body therapies, counseling, or stress-reduction techniques.

Next time you feel like picking up a candy bar, consider picking up the phone and calling a friend instead.

Taking a better look at your overall diet may also help. Are you skipping meals? Restricting your diet too much?

People who eat breakfast, get in three healthy meals, and allow themselves the occasional treat are less likely to overeat.

Try planning out your meals for the week, making easy choices with foods you enjoy. The more simple your plan, the more likely you'll stick with it.

Don't call it a diet, though. That's just asking for the inner rebel to start craving sweets. You're just choosing to eat healthier, more often.

5
Stop Procrastinating and Call Your Doctor

Hourglass and calendar
Time matter when your fertility is involved. Stop procrastinating and call the doctor if you've been trying for a year unsuccesfully. Utamaru Kido / Getty Images

The Bad Habit to Break

Procrastination.

Why It's Bad for Your Fertility Health

Procrastination on starting a family can lead to infertility. Your fertility begins to decline at age 27 (if you're a woman), and starts a steeper dive at age 35. For men, fertility declines after 40.

The effect of age on fertility is also why you shouldn't delay getting help. If you've been trying to conceive for more than a year, or more than 6 months if you're 35 or older, you should speak to your doctor.

However, some people don't get help when they should.

They procrastinate on making the appointment, and then they procrastinate on scheduling all the fertility tests.

In the meantime, precious time is ticking away on your biological clock.

What to Do About It

Consider why you're putting off finding help.

Is it because you're afraid to learn that something may be wrong? Maybe remind yourself that not knowing that there is a problem doesn't make the problem nonexistent. You're just not looking at it.

Maybe you'd like to try on your own longer, or try some mind-body or alternative treatments.

You should still get checked out. Infertility can be a sign of a more serious health problem, and at least some basic blood work should be done before you go it alone.

Plus, the doctor can check your FSH and AMH levels, hormones that can indicate if your ovarian reserves are getting low.

If FSH levels are higher than normal, you may not have much time left to keep trying. Better to know and get down to business, than waste time.

Some people procrastinate on seeking help for infertility because they don't want to do IVF. But IVF is used less than 5% of the time. There are many fertility treatment options.

6
Cut Back On Excessive Alcoholic Drinking

Couple toasting with wine
A couple drinks a week is likely fine for your fertility. zoranm / Getty Images

The Bad Habit to Break

Downing too many alcoholic drinks.

Why It's Bad for Your Fertility Health

While the occasional drink probably won't harm your fertility, serious drinking can.

One research study that evaluated semen from alcoholic men found that only 12% had normal, healthy sperm. (In non-drinkers and non-smokers, 37% had normal healthy sperm.)

In another study, women who had three or more drinks a week were more likely to take longer to get pregnant. This was especially true if the woman already was having trouble conceiving.

That said, some studies have not found a connection between the occasional drinking and infertility.

What to Do About It

If you're used to having a beer or a glass of wine every night with dinner, maybe you can consider reducing that to once or twice a week.

Your waistline will also thank you, since alcoholic beverages can be calorie heavy.

Of course, if you're drinking more often than you'd like, or if drinking has become a problem, you should seek help.

Women who drink during pregnancy risk their baby's health, and so it's especially important to deal with a drinking problem before trying to conceive.

7
Quit Smoking

Another reason to kick the habit -- smoking impacts your fertility.
Another reason to kick the habit -- smoking impacts your fertility. Photo © User wildan from Stock.xchng

The Bad Habit to Break

Smoking, both for him and for her.

Why It's Bad for Your Fertility Health

Smoking affects the fertility of both men and women.

In women, smoking can increase your risk of...

In men, smoking decreases the quality of semen and leads to abnormal hormone levels (which can then affect fertility negatively).

These changes are unlikely to cause infertility, but if your fertility is already borderline, it could be the last thing to push you over the infertile line.

Also, keep in mind that secondhand smoke can affect your partner's fertility. Some research has found that secondhand smoke decreases female fertility.

What to Do About It

Smoking is an addiction. It's not easy to just quit, and not a character weakness.

But you should and can do it, with the support you need.

Speak to your doctor, and see how they can help you. Hypnosis has been helpful for some people, as well as support groups.

Keep in mind you're not quitting only to improve your fertility, but also to improve your overall health, lengthen your life span, and be a better role model for any children you have in the future.

Quitting is hard work, but it's worth it.

8
Don't Engage in Unsafe Sex

Protect your fertility (and your overall health) by practicing safe sex.
Protect your fertility (and your overall health) by practicing safe sex. Photo © User LotusHead from Stock.xchng

The Bad Habit to Break

Unsafe sex. To be more specific, sex without condoms if you are not in a long-term monogamous relationship.

Why It's Bad for Your Fertility Health

Sexually transmitted diseases can lead to infertility. In fact, STDs are the number one preventable cause of infertility.

Chlamydia and gonorrhea, if left untreated, may lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).

PID can cause infertility in women, usually by causing blocked fallopian tubes.

STDs can also lead to infertility in men, though it less commonly happens. This is because men typically show symptoms of STDs right away, and they can get treatment.

Women, on the other hand, may harbor an infection for a long time without any symptoms. In the meantime, the infection is wreaking havoc with their reproductive system.

Some STDs, including syphilis and herpes, can endanger a pregnancy or the baby at birth. In the worst case scenario, these STDs can lead to miscarriage or infant death.

What to Do About It

Use condoms. Hormonal birth control methods may prevent pregnancy, but they don't prevent you from getting an STD.

The Bottom Line on Bad Habits

Bad habits aren't easy to break, and it's easy to feel frustrated and give up before you start. However, each step towards healthier habits makes a difference.

Keep trying, get the support you need, and commit yourself to living a healthier life.

Consider working on one habit today. Break down big goals into tiny, doable action steps.

It's worth the effort. You can do this!

Sources:

Drinking Alcohol During Pregnancy. March of Dimes. Accessed August 3, 2008. http://www.marchofdimes.com/Pregnancy/alcohol_indepth.html

Hammoud AO, Wilde N, Gibson M, Parks A, Carrell DT, Meikle AW. "Male obesity and alteration in sperm parameters." Fertility and Sterility. January 4th, 2007. Epub ahead of print.

Jan Willem van der Steeg, Pieternel Steures, Marinus J.C. Eijkemans, J. Dik F. Habbema, Peter G.A. Hompes, Jan M. Burggraaff, G. Jur E. Oosterhuis, Patrick M.M. Bossuyt, Fulco van der Veen and Ben W.J. Mol. "Obesity affects spontaneous pregnancy chances in subfertile, ovulatory women." Human Reproduction Advanced Access. December 11, 2007.

Labyak, Susan; Lava, Susan; Turek, Fred; Zee, Phyllis. "Effects of Shiftwork On Sleep and Menstrual Function in Nurses." Health Care for Women International. September 2002; 23:6 & 7: 703-14.

Klonoff-Cohen H, Lam-Kruglick P, Gonzalez C. "Effects of maternal and paternal alcohol consumption on the success rates of in vitro fertilization and gamete intrafallopian transfer." Fertility and Sterility. February 2003; 79(2):330-9.

Mauri M. "Sleep and the reproductive cycle: a review." Health Care for Women International. 1990;11(4):409-21.

Olek, Michael J., Gibbons, William E. "Optimizing natural fertility in couples planning pregnancy." UpToDate. Accessed: September 2009.

STDs and Infertility. Center for Disease Control. Accessed December 19, 2010. http://www.cdc.gov/std/infertility/default.htm

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