Ed and Heather Young, La Crosse, Wis., went through a series of fertility treatments at Gundersen before conceiving Tyler. Heather was diagnosed with having polycystic ovaries causing the absence of ovulation.
Conceiving a baby is something many take for granted. Even for the most fertile couple, the chance of becoming pregnant is only one in four each month. "A lot of the issues couples face are a result of their lifestyle choices," says Catherine R. Ryan, MD, Gundersen Fertility Center physician. "Age is another issue. A woman's fertility begins to decrease after age 30. A more drastic decline occurs between 35 and 40, and after age 40, a woman faces an uphill challenge getting pregnant with or without assistance. Men's fertility also decreases as they get older, but not as much."
Moderating weight and exercise can be helpful. Women who are significantly overweight or underweight may have difficulty getting pregnant. "Too much or too little body fat can affect hormone levels and impair ovulation. In men, excess weight may be related to abnormal sperm count or quality," explains Ryan. "Also women who over exercise (more than 45 minutes daily) can place too much physical stress on the body which decreases hormone production."
Tobacco, alcohol and drug use also affect fertility. In women, smoking may change estrogen levels and deplete egg production. In men, smoking and excessive alcohol use may lower sperm count, decrease sperm movement and cause abnormally shaped sperm. Drugs such as marijuana can lower sperm count in men and may affect female fertility as well. Couples should also consult their healthcare provider concerning medications or nutrition supplements that could affect fertility.
One final factor is timing. "A woman's fertile period is approximately two weeks prior to the start of their menstrual cycle," explains Ryan. "Couples need to be aware of when a woman is likely to be fertile and attempt pregnancy then."
Ryan also suggests that women trying to get pregnant should take a vitamin containing folic acid, which helps decrease the chance of birth defects.
Even if couples lead healthy lifestyles, they can encounter difficulties conceiving a child. "Infertility is defined as trying to get pregnant for a year without success," says Ryan. "The three main causes of infertility are abnormal ovulation, sperm problems and problems in the uterus or fallopian tubes."
Counseling and treatments are available for these conditions at the Gundersen Fertility Clinic.