Back in 1960, women around the world had an average of about 5 children. As more effective means of contraception became available, and more opportunities for women in the workplace opened up, those rates dropped. By 2016, women had on average 2.4 children.
Even though lifestyle choices and personal desire figure strongly into the plummeting rates of fertility, other forces are at work, too. In the United States today, up to 15% of couples are considered infertile. And those numbers are growing.
Whether you want to become pregnant now, or prefer to delay pregnancy for a decade or even two, the more you know about your fertility — and your partner’s fertility — the better. Understanding the ins and outs of fertility increases your chances of eventually having the family of your dreams.
Our expert OB/GYNs and infertility specialists at Columbia Fertility Associates want you to preserve your fertility for as long as possible. They’ve assembled this guide to help you and your partner understand fertility and take it into consideration when planning the timing of your family.
Aging affects fertility
As a woman ages, her egg stores deplete. In addition, eggs age, just like the rest of the body. So, even if you ovulate normally and release an egg each month, the eggs themselves may not be healthy enough for fertilization and therefore can’t become embryos.
By the time you’re in your 30s, you’re only half as fertile as you were in your 20s. Getting pregnant past the age of 35 can be difficult for many women, due to the drop in egg supply and quality, and each year fertility declines further. Aging also affects men’s fertility, though not as dramatically.
One way to throw aging a curve is to plan in advance for your egg decline. If you freeze your eggs while you’re still young, they’ll be available for you and your now or future partner when you’re ready to have a child.
Either partner can be infertile
Most of the time, when people talk about infertility or fertility, they’re referring to whether a woman can become pregnant or not. However, male infertility is just as important a contributor when couples can’t conceive.
In fact, in a third of infertile couples, it’s the man who has a low sperm count, misshapen sperm, or other abnormalities. In another third, reproductive problems in both sexes — or unknown factors — are at the root of infertility.
Men’s sperm counts are plummeting
One of the most troubling trends in recent years is the increasing number of infertile men. Across the world, men’s sperm counts are plummeting. Men’s sperm counts declined by 59% in North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand from 1973 to 2011.
Endocrine-disrupting chemicals and toxins seem to be at the root of men’s lack of sperm. These types of chemicals can impair women’s fertility, too.
Some chemicals that act as endocrine disruptors include:
- Bisphenol A (BPA)
- Perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)
Endocrine disruptors abound in household cleaning products, skin care products, and even items such as shower curtains and other products made from plastic or vinyl. Look for BPA-free products, or better yet, only use organic products that come in glass or metal containers.
Start with a healthy body
Eating healthy foods, staying active, and avoiding toxins and pollutants keep your body as healthy as possible and increase your chances of conception. Seeing your gynecologist regularly also helps you identify any fertility problems as quickly as possible so they can be resolved.
If you’ve been having trouble getting pregnant, contact our team at Columbia Fertility Associates in Washington, DC; Bethesda, Maryland; or Arlington, Virginia, for fertility testing. You can also contact us about freezing your eggs for future use.