When you are thinking about trying for a baby or have been trying for some time, you may want to learn about the things you can do to give nature a helping hand and increase your chances of becoming pregnant.
We are often asked by women whether it is possible to improve the quality of their eggs, and if this can have a positive effect on fertility. Unlike men whose sperm is continually being produced from the start of puberty, a woman is born with all the eggs she will ever have; around 2 million to be exact. This number will decrease down to around 300,000 by the time a girl reaches puberty.
If we look at the average menstrual cycle in a couple who are trying to conceive (TTC); a single egg reaches maturity and is released by the ovary, it then travels down the fallopian tube where it may be met by the sperm and fertilised. In most women, an egg is released from one ovary in one cycle and usually from the other ovary the following cycle. If you calculate how many eggs would be released (approx. 1 a month) each cycle from puberty to menopause, it is around 500 ovulated eggs in a lifetime, a small number compared to the 2 million eggs a woman is born with. Most of the eggs are lost through a process called atresia, which is the natural degeneration of ovarian follicles that are not ovulated during the menstrual cycle. Atresia occurs regardless of whether you are pregnant, have normal menstrual cycles, use birth control, or are undergoing infertility treatment.
As a woman ages, not only do the number of eggs reduce but we also know that the egg quality reduces. Sadly, it is not possible for an egg that is of poor quality i.e. genetically abnormal (unhealthy) to become healthy again. The older the woman, the more likely there will be a greater percentage of poorer quality eggs. Unfortunately, a test to assess the quality of a woman’s eggs hasn’t been developed yet and egg quality can often be confused with ovarian reserve (how many eggs are in your ovary). The anti-mullerian hormone test (AMH) is a blood test that can be used as an indicator of ovarian reserve but there is no singular laboratory test that tells you if your eggs are of a good quality or not. Some women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) will have many eggs but they may not all be good quality. Therefore, a woman’s age is the most accurate indicator of egg quality.
In women who are undergoing assisted fertility treatments, the question of egg quality is even more important. Women are often told they have poor egg quality if they get poor quality embryos from IVF cycles. This is could be due to egg quality, sperm quality or other external factors. Some poor-quality embryos are a feature of a normal IVF cycle as not all eggs collected go on to be top quality implantable embryos. The truth is that there is no test that assesses egg quality.
Diet and fitness:
Maintaining a healthy weight, especially when you are TTC and during pregnancy, is a good place to start when preparing your body. Being underweight or overweight can affect your chances of getting pregnant or mean it can take longer for you to get pregnant.
Quitting smoking can have positive benefits for your fertility. Direct or passive smoking is likely to reduce your fertility and can also mean it might take you longer to get pregnant than a non-smoker. Young women may have low ovarian reserve due to smoking and we know that, on average, women who smoke will reach the menopause a year before a non-smoker.
Vitamins and food supplements
Vitamins and food supplements aimed at couples who are TTC are there to supplement a balanced and varied diet. The aim is that your body gets a good supply of all the nutrients it needs to support you when trying for a baby. Some nutrients, such as folic acid, are essential for the development of a healthy baby and should therefore be taken by all women trying to conceive up until 12 weeks of pregnancy.
Current evidence suggests it is unlikely that you can change egg quality but there are lots of positive things you can do when TTC. Making positive lifestyle changes to become healthier can improve your physical and mental wellbeing throughout your fertility journey.
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Written on 06.04.20 Reviewed by 06.04.23