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What increases my risk for infertility?

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

You hear stories all the time. As soon as a seemingly infertile couple decides to stop trying and go the adoption route, bam, the woman becomes pregnant. There's a reason for this: The stress of trying so hard has stopped. In fact, research shows that women who are emotionally expressive about fertility treatments had a harder time getting pregnant than those who were better able to deal with the stress of infertility internally.

This applies to men, too. Stress seems to affect both sperm quality and quantity, making it more difficult to conceive. Historically, when we faced stress in our environment (like a famine), our ancestors were in no position to make babies. In the male, increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol seem to inhibit production of normal semen. In women, increased cortisol influences the other stress hormones coming from the ovaries and adds a supersonic drum roll to a very delicate symphony. The resulting cacophony makes pregnancy very difficult. And contrary to popular wisdom, you can be too thin (to your body, that's also a form of stress). If you have a BMI of less than 20, you may increase your chances of getting pregnant by gaining 5 to 10 pounds.

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Can I get a cavity filled while pregnant? Will avoiding spicy foods make my kid a picky eater? Can I really increase my baby's IQ while she's in utero? Whether you're pregnant for the first time, are trying to start your family, or already have enough children to start your own basketball team, you're bound to have questions about what it means to be pregnant -- and how you can increase your odds of having a healthy and happy pregnancy. But no matter how much you've read, watched, studied, or talked about this amazing biological journey, you have never read anything like this. In this groundbreaking book, Dr. Michael Roizen and Dr. Mehmet Oz act as mythbusters for the hundreds of questions surrounding pregnancy in the same scientific, informative, and entertaining ways that have made them America's Doctors. In these pages, you'll learn everything you need to know about the miracles of fetal development, your health throughout the pregnancy, and providing the best possible environment for your growing child. Pregnancy is a complicated balancing act, but it doesn't have to be frightening. The doctors will help you de-stress as they describe accurately and rationally what happens during a thrilling nine months of life. While every pregnant body is different, odds are you'll experience some of the cravings, crying, and discomfort that almost all women go through. Your best tactic? Learn why these things are happening -- and what you should do about them. YOU: Having a Baby will teach you everything you need to know about what to eat (should I be eating for two?), how much to exercise, and what guilty pleasures will actually make pregnancy easier on you (and the loved ones who get to be around you for the whole thing). Each phase of pregnancy has different challenges, but the right information will prepare you for what's ahead. The interactive week-by-week calendar inside provides an even more detailed guideline for how and what you should feel through every step of the process. Exciting, cutting-edge scientific research in the fi eld of epigenetics has changed the way the medical profession looks at pregnancy, and now it can change your perspective, too. Epigenetics explores what makes us develop in certain ways -- why some people thrive at math while others are prone to chronic diseases. It turns out that there are easy things you can do that will not just help your baby's development in utero but will actually improve his or her chances of living a healthy, fulfi lling adult life. Filled with recipes for nutritious, satisfying snacks and meals even Pop can cook (yes, he can!), safe exercises for staying fit, and tons of YOU tips that will help you stay comfortable, YOU: Having a Baby is the ultimate guidebook for what to do from the moment of conception to the weeks after your child has arrived home. From morning sickness and food cravings to choosing a doctor and changing a diaper, YOU: Having a Baby will give you the real scoop about what's in store for you during this amazing time in your life.

Smoking appears to accelerate the loss of a woman’s eggs as she ages and may cause an early menopause. It is also strongly associated with an increased risk for miscarriage. Women who smoke during pregnancy are known to have low-birth-weight babies and preterm labor and delivery. There is also an increase in sudden infant death syndrome in homes where a smoker lives.

Physical and emotional stress have long been considered factors that affect a couple's ability to conceive, but doctors now have more solid evidence for their role. Stress raises levels of cortisol, one of the major metabolic hormones from the adrenal glands that can influence the way other hormones are produced and metabolized. Ovarian hormones, such as estradiol and progesterone, seem to be particularly vulnerable to the direct and indirect effects of cortisol.

It's hard to define how much stress is too much for you. Many couples with stressful lifestyles have no difficulty conceiving, hinting that other factors may override the stress effects.

The contents of this website are for informational purposes only and are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Nor does the contents of this website constitute the establishment of a physician patient or therapeutic relationship. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

Up to 13 percent of fertility problems and pregnancy loss are attributable to tobacco. In addition, smokers are destined to go through menopause two to four years early. Kick the habit today.

Dr. Devon Millard
OBGYN (Obstetrician & Gynecologist)

Causes of infertility, both male and female, are numerous. For many couples having difficulty conceiving, the infertility may, in fact, be related to both the male and female. More common causes for infertility include ovulatory disorders, fallopian tube damage/blockage, uterine abnormalities, peritoneal factors, cervical factors and abnormal semen parameters.

Dr. Alan B. Copperman, MD
Fertility Specialist

Infertility can cause a great deal of stress and anxiety, both individually and as a couple. Receiving support of friends, families and professionals can help get couples through the process. There are effective coping strategies that have been found to help both the patient and partner. While there is clear evidence that infertility causes stress, it is not clear that stress impacts fertility. The human body is rather resilient when it comes to emotional stress, to the point where if a normal egg is released, it will fertilize and implant regardless whether the women is “relaxed” or “stressed.”

There are many reasons why couples experience infertility. Age may be a factor, a low sperm count, blocked fallopian tubes, endometriosis, defects in ovulation, etc.

Research shows that not getting pregnant is very stressful but probably does not cause infertility. If stress is keeping you from having intercourse, it may be playing a role. Often an occasional delay in ovulation leading to a delayed period can be due to stress or another life event. However, there are also many other causes, and seeing a doctor is a good idea.

Your doctor will investigate the potential causes of your infertility. It is recommended that women under age 35 see a fertility specialist after a year of trying to conceive. Women age 35 and above should see a fertility specialist after trying to conceive for six months.

Dr. Alice Domar
Psychology Specialist

There are a number of factors that can increase your risk of infertility, including age for both partners. In addition, diet and lifestyle habits play a role. You should both limit alcohol and caffeine consumption, eliminate any exposure to nicotine (smoking or exposure to second hand smoke), and try to maintain a healthy weight.

There is a complex relationship between stress and fertility. Infertility causes a lot of stress because it can impact every area of one's life—your relationship with your partner, your sex life, your job, your relationship with your family and friends, and your financial stability. Many women experiencing infertility report feeling anxious and depressed, and their stress levels are equivalent to the stress levels of women with cancer, HIV+ or heart disease. But the good news is that various relaxation and stress management strategies can help, both to make you better able to cope and to increase your chance of conceiving.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.