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Prepare your body for baby now

Thinking of having a baby down the road, but not just yet? You’re not alone—in fact, women are waiting longer than ever before to have their first baby. 

In 2000, the average age for a first pregnancy was 25. Today, that number has jumped to 28. Waiting longer does have benefits—like financial stability, which makes sense in today’s economy. But waiting longer can also make getting pregnant more difficult.  

If you’re planning on having a baby later in life, it may be time to start planning now, because your habits and current health may be having more of an effect than you know. 

“Many factors that affect fertility are within your control,” said Dr. Jennifer Gell, a reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist with Geisinger Women's Health in Wilkes-Barre. “While age and genetics are important factors, they’re ultimately outside of your control. The best thing you can do is take good care of yourself. Doing so may make getting pregnant easier and decrease the risk of complications.”  

Here are five things that could negatively impact fertility:

Smoking
The far-ranging effects of smoking are clear. Not only does it affect your heart and lungs and increase your risk of cancer, it can have adverse effects on your fertility.

“Most people know that smoking during pregnancy is harmful,” said Dr. Gell. “But smoking before pregnancy can be a problem, too. Some studies show that smoking can age your ovaries by the equivalent of 10 years. Plus, it can damage your eggs. If you’re looking to get pregnant in the future, you should stop smoking now.”

Alcohol
Even moderate drinking can have an impact on fertility. Women who have more than four alcoholic drinks a week may experience difficulty conceiving. Women who are heavy drinkers often need fertility treatments to get pregnant. Binge drinkers are also at risk for complications such as polycystic ovary syndrome.

In addition, you should completely avoid drinking during pregnancy. There is no safe amount of alcohol for pregnant women.  

Toxins
“It may come as no surprise that toxins like lead, arsenic, mercury, pesticides, and pollutants can do damage to your body and make it more difficult to get pregnant,” said Dr. Gell. “The problem is that with toxins, small amounts over time can lead to bigger consequences. Exposure can lead to fertility problems in the future, like damage to eggs, ovulation or the ovaries.”

If you’re thinking of getting pregnant, talk to your doctor about ways you can reduce your exposure to toxins. This may mean checking the paint in your house for lead, looking at air pollution reports where you live, using food-safe plastics, avoiding foods with like swordfish that may contain mercury and getting a water filter for your home.

Body weight
“Your body weight has a pretty significant impact on your fertility,” said Dr. Gell. “Even obese women with regular ovulatory cycles have decreased fertility. Body fat increases your estrogen level, which may affect the ability of embryo to attach and grow. On the other hand, being significantly underweight can also affect fertility. In fact, women who are underweight could stop ovulating altogether.”

Maintaining a healthy weight can help you avoid future fertility problems. 

Stress
Stress tenses your muscles, quickens your breathing and increases your heart rate to get you ready for action.

Because the body associates stress with survival, high stress levels can cause the body to prevent pregnancy. Chronic stress also releases hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, which can suppress ovulation. If you’re planning on getting pregnant, take steps to reduce your stress level.

Jennifer Gell, MD, is a reproductive endocrinologist who sees patients at Women’s Health, 1155 East Mountain Blvd., Wilkes-Barre. To schedule an appointment, call 800-275-6401.