Some people only associate family planning with birth control and preventing pregnancy, but there is so much more to it than that. With advances in fertility and contraceptive technology, planning if, when, and how you grow your family has become so much easier. We’ve put together a quick list of the ways that you can choose how and when to start your family (and make the process less stressful if fertility challenges do come up!)
Understanding the Relationship Between Age and Fertility
Many of the advances in fertility treatment and technology have helped to expand the age range that a pregnancy can safely and successfully occur. Think of Senator Tammy Duckworth and her historic pregnancy - she just gave birth at 50! Even with those advances, egg and sperm quality and the ability to carry a pregnancy to term decreases with age, so it is important to plan for these changes.
For women, egg quality and quantity generally begins to decline in their mid to late 30s, with menopause ultimately resulting in the cessation of ovulation and menses. Though there have been some cases of extreme advanced maternal age - the verified oldest woman to give birth was 66 when she gave birth to twins - these pregnancies are usually a product of donor eggs and rounds of IVF.
For men, recent studies have shown a decline in sperm quality with age, including an increased risk of miscarriage, autism, and birth defects.
It’s not that fun to think about how aging affects your fertility, but that leads us to our next point on how you can stay in control of your family planning...
Freezing your Eggs, Embryos, or Sperm
Many people choose to plan for a future pregnancy by freezing their eggs, sperm, or embryos when they are at their healthiest. Advances in freezing technology - moving from the slow freezing method to fast liquid nitrogen freezing, or vitrification - have improved the outcomes of these pregnancies, with higher success rates and fewer genetic defects from the freezing process.
Another common reason to freeze eggs or sperm is to keep the option of having your own baby when either you or your partner are facing cancer treatments (or other medical conditions that might damage your reproductive organs.) In these scary situations it can be difficult to think so far in the future, but many people regret not planning for the family they will someday want. If you are facing a fertility-compromising diagnosis or treatment, don’t delay in talking to your doctor about the right time to work with a fertility expert!
Lifestyle Changes You Can Control
Age and medical diagnoses may be out of your control, but there are some parts of your lifestyle that you can and should work on whenever you’re ready to get pregnant. Here are a few:
Diet and Exercise to Reach a Healthy Weight
If you are outside of the normal weight range for your height, you may have a hard time conceiving. Women who are very underweight may stop having regular periods, making getting pregnant extra challenging. Many women who are overweight experience hormonal imbalances that cause them to ovulate irregularly, plus beginning a pregnancy overweight may increase the chance of developing gestational diabetes. Work with your doctor to safely adjust your weight into a healthy range.
Stop Smoking (for many reasons!) and Cut Down on Your Drinking
Heavy drinkers and smokers often experience problems getting pregnant, and obviously continuing those behaviors while pregnant is not healthy for you or your baby. When you are ready to begin your journey to parenthood, quitting smoking and reducing the amount of alcohol you drink (or quitting altogether) may increase your chances of getting pregnant.
Make Your Plans a Reality!
Sometimes the best-laid plans still go awry. Unexpected challenges can mess up your timeline, change your goals, or make it harder to get pregnant at a certain time. So whether you’re making plans for the future, choosing when and how you grow your family, or are struggling to make those plans a reality, we are here to help! Schedule an appointment today!