Barbecues, fireworks, parades, and parties are all ways we celebrate our nation's independence on July 4. This year, however, let's think of Independence Day in a slightly different way. Let's focus on how men and women of reproductive age can declare their "independence" from future fertility worries!
Here are five suggestions for gaining more control over your path to parenthood. Though there are no assurances with baby making, some current planning could pay off in the long term.
Know your risk factors
Are you predisposed to infertility? For example, do fibroids, endometriosis or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) run in your family? If your sister or mother has had one of these conditions, you might, too, so it's a good idea to know their symptoms. It also is helpful to know the age when your mother started menopause because it can be an indicator of when you will. Your mother may have given birth to all of her children in her early 20s, but if you want to start in your late 30s, her early menopause could foreshadow trouble for you.
African-American and Latina women may be at a greater risk for certain reproductive issues. For instance, African American women are more prone to having fibroids, while Hispanic women are more likely to have PCOS.
Take a fertility assessment
Many fertility clinics offer fertility assessment tests to give you a snapshot of your fertility potential. For men, it's relatively simple. They just need to provide a sample of their ejaculate (semen) so it can be evaluated for count, shape (morphology) and movement. A female evaluation includes blood tests and an ultrasound that measures ovarian or egg reserve.
Though the test results are not guarantees of what will happen when you're serious about conceiving, they can provide a preview of whether a current issue could cause problems in the future.
Resolve to change some of your unhealthy lifestyle habits
Incorporating healthier habits into your lifestyle can enhance your fertility. However, the time to start making those changes is long before you want to get pregnant. For women, maintaining a healthy weight and normal Body Mass Index is especially important. In one study, researchers evaluated the BMI of more than 2,000 pregnant women. It took those who had a pre-pregnancy BMI considered overweight twice as long to get pregnant; conversely, it took underweight women four times as long to conceive.
Smoking is another bad habit that takes a while to break. Cigarette smoking can reduce sperm production and damage DNA. Numerous studies of more than 5,000 European men concluded that smoking was associated with decreased sperm count and motility as well as poor sperm morphology.
Learn more about ways to enhance your fertility: http://www.webmd.com/babyfeatures/8-ways-to-boost-your-fertility#1
Freeze your eggs or sperm
Increasing numbers of reproductive age women are opting to freeze their eggs as they become more mindful about their fertility longevity while balancing career and education demands. Freezing oocytes (eggs) is an insurance policy for women who are not sure when they might have a partner to start a family but want to have a backup plan to use eggs retrieved when they were younger and more fertile.
Many employers have started to offer egg and sperm freezing as a benefit. Last year, even the military began allowing troops to freeze either their eggs or sperm before they were deployed to a combat zone.
Enroll in Fertility Basics 101
It's never too late to learn some of the basics about your fertility. Since sex education in middle and high school tends to focus heavily on how to prevent pregnancy, many men and women are woefully undereducated about reproduction and the problems they encounter.
There are many excellent resources, including at RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association (http://www.resolve.org) and http://www.reproductivefacts.org, a website developed by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.
Planning ahead, especially if you want a big family, is always a good move if you want to be in control of your fertility and declare your fertility independence.