Your fertility is one of those things you take for granted until you actually want to put it to use. That’s usually when you realise you actually have no idea what goes into making a baby beyond the basics.
Of course, your fertility is about more than having an egg that’s ready and psyched to join up with your partner’s sperm.
Actions that you take now can have an impact on your future ability to have kids, so it makes sense that you’d want to do what you can to ensure that your eggs are healthy, and that they’ll be ready to do their thing when the timing is right.
Fertility makes some people (read: me) want to run away and hide in a dark room, being ignorant about our own bodies is never the right answer. Whether you’re hoping for a baby, passionately trying to avoid one, or stuck somewhere in the middle, there are things all women should know about fertility, including how it works and what affects it.

Age of menopause might be genetic

If your mom went through menopause early or late, chances are you will, too, says James Grifo, MD, director of the Fertility Center at NYU Langone Medical Center. Indeed, a 2013 Danish study found that levels of AMH declined faster in women whose mothers reached menopause before age 45 than in women whose moms didn’t hit menopause until after 55. Overall fertility may be linked to genes as well: Some related conditions (such as fibroids and endometriosis) can be inherited.

Exercise also has an impact

Research has shown that moderate activity (think brisk walking) is associated with better fertility. Intense sweat sessions, not so much. A normal-weight women who did vigorous exercise (such as running or aerobics) for five hours a week were on average 42 percent less likely to get pregnant than those who didn’t. If you’re working out strenuously, your body interprets the activity as severe stress or energy deficiency and shuts reproductive function down. But once you stop, say, scaling mountains, your fertility should recover.

You still need birth control in your 40s

Even if you’ve got barely-there periods and think you’re perimenopausal, you can still conceive: “I see this happen often: A woman is over 40, goes a few months without her period, stops using birth control and then, whoops, she’s pregnant,” says Shannon Clark, MD, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology. Other 40-something patients think they can rely on calendar-based contraception, she says.
“But since ovulation becomes irregular during this decade, it’s much harder to predict.” The takeaway: Talk to your doc about when it’s safe to stop birth control. Since hormonal contraceptives create artificial periods, it can be tough to know when you’ve hit menopause. To check, your MD may take you off the pill for a few months and test your hormone levels.

Taking the pill may preserve your eggs

Not only do oral contraceptives not harm a woman’s fertility, but sustained use might provide a fertility benefit, suggests a 2013 Boston University study. While the data showed a lag in the return to peak fertility for women stopping the pill, the delay lasted only for two to three cycles. What’s more, women who took the pill for longer than four years had a higher likelihood of getting pregnant than women who took it for less than two years.
“The pill prevents ovulation, which may help preserve some of your egg supply,” explains study co-author Elizabeth Hatch, PhD, professor of epidemiology at Boston University School of Public Health. More research is needed to determine whether the pill is truly a fertility saver, but for the time being, this may be one more reason to love your birth control.


About 12 percent of infertility cases are related to the number on the scale. Why? Since your body fat produces estrogen, too much weight (and too much estrogen) or not enough weight (and too little estrogen) can interfere with normal ovulation, explains fertility specialist Alan B. Copperman, MD, of The Mount Sinai Hospital.


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