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How early should you be examining your fertility?

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Fertility facts and four positive practices to try as soon as possible.

Most young women don’t give much thought to their fertility until they’re ready to start a family. For women in their 20s and early 30s, the fertility discussion revolves more around preventing an unplanned pregnancy than achieving a planned one.

However, if you do hope to have children one day, you should be examining your fertility and taking steps to protect it much sooner than you might think. In fact, fertility experts say those conversations need to begin in your late 20s and early 30s, even if a planned pregnancy isn’t in your immediate future.

It turns out that female fertility begins a slow but steady decline when a woman is in her early 20s. And, although conception rates are still very high into the early 30s, it’s never too early to be proactive about understanding, extending, and boosting your fertility.

How early should you be examining your fertility?

A woman is at her most fertile in her 20s and early 30s. By the age of 35, fertility begins to decline more dramatically until she passes through perimenopause and into menopause. While most women start a conversation about fertility with their GP or OBGYN when they’re in their mid-30s, you may want to consider doing it sooner.

Talk with your partner and decide how many children you want to have and how old you would like to be when your last child is born. Then work backwards from that age to decide when you should start thinking about boosting your fertility and conceiving your first child.

If you have a history of reproductive health issues such as irregular menstruation or PCOS, or you have a family history of fertility issues, or you’re at risk for early menopause, the discussion should take place sooner rather than later, perhaps even in your late 20s.

Can you really extend your fertility?

One of the most important steps you can take to extend and protect your fertility is to test for potential problems early. Ovarian reserve testing uses your reproductive hormone levels to help determine the number of eggs you currently have available. (Read more about ovarian reserve.) 

This information is invaluable for any woman who wants to preserve her fertility for some time in the future. If you discover that you have a limited number of eggs available, you can choose to have some of your eggs frozen to extend your fertility until the timing is right. 

Of course, if you find out that you need chemotherapy or some other treatment that may damage your eggs, freezing some of them allows you to keep them safe so you can carry your own child at the time of your choosing; many women see great success with this procedure even into their mid to late 30s.

Other positive fertility practices to try

Of course, freezing your eggs isn’t the only way to extend and preserve your fertility. There are things you can do right now to protect your fertility for when you’re ready.

Join a fertility support group

Fertility support groups are becoming more widely available across the US and the UK, and they’re an invaluable resource for women who are concerned about their fertility health. These groups are usually led by a fertility support coach who provides education and guidance to women in all stages of their fertility journey.

The coach will help you understand your cycle and offer advice on nutrition and supplements to preserve and boost your fertility. You’ll receive guidance on timing and positions to improve your chances of conceiving when you’re ready.

The group will also take a look at the most common fertility issues and offer advice on how to prevent and overcome them. Perhaps most importantly, fertility support groups are a fantastic place to find community and support, whether you’re just gathering advice, or you’ve been trying to conceive for a while. 

Lead a healthy lifestyle

While men make new sperm constantly, a woman is born with all the eggs she will ever possess in her entire lifetime. Although you can’t make more eggs, you can do things to slow the aging process and support the health of the eggs you have through your diet and lifestyle choices. 

That means avoiding recreational drugs, limiting alcohol use, eating a healthy, whole food diet, and getting plenty of exercise and rest. Smoking increases free radicals in the body, which can be damaging to your eggs. Women who smoke also go into menopause early, so smoking should be avoided at all costs.

Maintaining a healthy weight is also key. Being underweight or overweight can lead to hormonal imbalances that can affect ovulation and reproductive cycles. A woman’s BMI should be around 18.5 to 24.5. That said, be careful not to overdo it with exercise as that can lead to disruptions in your menstrual cycle.

Protect your sexual health

Nobody likes to talk about STDs, but you need to be aware that they can put your fertility health at risk. For example, chlamydia is an infection that often goes undetected. If it’s left untreated it can block one or both fallopian tubes. If both tubes become blocked, IVF may be your only chance to get pregnant.

In addition to practising safe sex, be sure to keep up on those yearly gyno exams. They’re not fun, but they’re key to protecting your sexual health and your fertility.

Take the right supplements

With today’s fast-paced, always on the go lifestyle, it’s unlikely that you’re eating a healthy diet every day. Not only that, but certain lifestyle factors, like stress and exposure to toxins in the environment, can deplete the body of nutrients that are vital for fertility.

Even if you’re not planning on getting pregnant right away, boosting your intake and building your reserves of key nutrients just makes sense. And when you do become pregnant, having those reserves will set the foundation for a healthy pregnancy and a healthy foetus.

Start by taking a high-quality multivitamin with folic acid and vitamin D every day. Having a reserve of folic acid before you get pregnant is key for preventing birth defects, while vitamin D is essential for immune health and preventing illness in general.

You should also consider supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids, especially if you don’t eat a lot of fatty fish. This nutrient is vital for cellular function and health, including egg and reproductive organ cells. It also supports reproductive and hormone health by reducing inflammation throughout the body.

The bottom line

Even for a healthy woman with no fertility issues, it can take up to a year to get pregnant. If your goal is to have two children before you are 38, you really should start trying for your first child by your early 30s. You’ll want to allow at least a year to become pregnant and another 18 months for the pregnancy, recovery, bonding, and breastfeeding a newborn. Sometimes the timing isn’t perfect but being aware of your fertility timeline will help you make a plan that works best for you.

Image credit: tima-miroshnichenko / Pexels

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Eleanor Garth
Deputy Editor Now a science and medicine journalist, Eleanor worked as a consultant for university spin-out companies and provided research support at Imperial College London and various London hospitals in a former life.
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