safe motherhood

Your Lifestyle Can Impact Your Fertility

Your health can impact your fertility and if you are planning on having a baby, you need to be aware of some lifestyle factors that could affect your ability to conceive.


Besides the various obvious health problems associated with smoking, it is less well known but true that smoking can adversely affect the fertility of both men and women.

In men, smoking can cause a 23% decrease in sperm density (concentration) and a 13% decrease in motility. It can also increase the number of sperm with abnormal morphology. Smoking can cause toxicity in the seminal fluid and can induce DNA damage in sperm. There is also some evidence to suggest that paternal smoking may encourage congenital abnormalities and childhood cancer.

In women, smoking has a negative impact on almost all aspects of fertility. This includes its effects on ovulation, the transportation of the egg from the ovary down through the fallopian tubes, the process of fertilization and even initial embryo development. When pregnancy occurs in a woman who smokes, the future fertility of the fetus as well as its' general health and well-being, whether male or female, is also put at risk. Women who had mothers who smoked while they had conceived and were carrying them, tend to have menopause earlier and therefore, their reproductive lifespan is significantly shortened.

It is now advocated that smoking should be phased out as an integral part of human infertility treatment. It is also advised by doctors around the world that smoking should be giving up well in advance (1 – 2 years) of planning a child.


In men, alcohol may result in abnormal liver function and a rise in estrogen levels, which may interfere with sperm development and hormone levels. Alcohol can also kill off the sperm-generating cells in the testicle.

All women who are trying to get pregnant should learn that the adverse reproductive effects of alcohol range from infertility and increased risk for spontaneous abortion to impaired fetal growth and development. Drinking alcohol puts you and your baby at risk for a miscarriage, pre-term birth, stillbirth, lowered birth weight and other serious effects.
Alcoholism is linked to numerous ovulatory dysfunctions as well. Alcoholic mothers also have an increased risk of the fetal alcohol syndrome. Characteristics of this syndrome include growth deficiency, mental retardation, behavioral disturbances and in certain cases, a particular heart shaped facial structure which appears only in babies born to alcoholic mothers. Also, brain anomalies and congenital heart problems are also often found in these babies due to the sustained ill effects of alcohol consumed by the mother before or during pregnancy. This syndrome occurs in 30 to 40 percent of newborns born to women who are alcoholics. Thus far, a safe level of drinking for pregnant women has not yet been established, and it is recommended that alcohol be avoided completely.

Narcotics and Drugs

Marijuana is known to often cause a decrease in average sperm count, motility, and normal morphology. Cocaine, even infrequent cocaine use can have the same effect on male fertility. Cocaine may also hamper the penetration of sperm through the cervical mucus, making it difficult for them to enter and penetrate the egg.

Steroids decrease the intratesticular testosterone level. They depress testicular production of testosterone which may even lead to a complete absence of sperm.


In males, stress may interfere with certain hormones needed to produce sperm. A problem with fertility itself can sometimes become long term and discouraging, producing even more stress.

Studies report a significantly higher incidence of pregnancy loss in women who experienced both prolonged menstrual cycles and high stress. Studies also indicate that women with stressful jobs could have shorter menstrual cycles than others who have less stress at work. Stress can also increase resistance in the arteries or a rise in adrenal hormone levels, which may adversely affect normal flow of blood to the placenta. Stress among pregnant women has been linked to a higher incidence of premature births, lower birth weight and a greater risk of miscarriage

An expectant mother who is stressed can even influence the way in which the baby's brain and nervous system will react to stressful events. Indeed, one study found a higher rate of crying and low attention in infants of mothers who had been stressed during pregnancy.

Exercise & Diet

Moderate amounts of exercise are advocated. However, long distance runners (men who run greater than 100 miles per week) and long distance cyclists (men who ride more than 50 miles per week) run the risk of diminished spermatogenesis and a sub-fertile man attempting conception should moderate these activities.

Bodyweight and body-mass-index have little effect on sperm count, but can have important effects on female fertility. The control of female reproductive hormones by the brain is highly sensitive to the effects of nutrition. Underweight women, such as those suffering from anorexia or bulimia, rarely ovulate and menstruate. Being overweight is also associated with reproductive dysfunction. Obesity in women can make them less likely to ovulate and more likely to suffer miscarriage than lean women of the same age.

These are just some of the lifestyle factors that can impact successful conception and more importantly, the future health of the baby. There are others and it is important to learn all one can about how one’s lifestyle can impact fertility and the baby that is to be born.