Shaken Baby Syndrome

A large number of child deaths are reported in South Africa each year. A lot of deaths relate to neglect, abuse or murder. Despite this, there's a knowledge gap in relation to understanding the issue....

Amniotic fluid problems

The importance of amniotic fluid Amniotic fluid is essential for pregnancy and foetal development. Amniotic fluid is a watery substances residing inside a casing called the amniotic membrane or sac. ...

Choosing a pre-school

Becoming a parent is a momentous; life-changing event filled with hopes, expectations and naturally some fears. Parents often learn and grow alongside their children, as they face the challenges of pa...

Newborn reflexes

Although newborn babies are physically helpless and vulnerable at birth, they have a number of amazing innate abilities or reflexes. Reflexes are involuntary movements or actions, designed to protect ...


Mastitis is an inflammation of the breast that can lead to infection. The word “mastitis” is derived from the Greek word “mastos” meaning “breasts”, while the suffix “-itis” denotes “inflammation”. Ma...

Pelvic floor exercises

Although your new baby will probably bring you immense emotional satisfaction, physically you may feel uncomfortable and strange in your own skin. After 9 months of pregnancy and hormonal changes, you...


Babies cry because they need to communicate something and most parents, especially new moms, find it distressing to see or hear an unhappy baby. In time, you will learn to recognize the various causes...

Antenatal Classes

Antenatal classes are informative sessions provided to prepare expecting parents for the birth of their child and the early days of being a parent.Most antenatal classes are run by Midwives and occasi...


The Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020 was launched on the 11 May 2011. It is a global declaration of war against road crashes and fatalities. According to Mr Sibusiso Ndebele, MP Minister of ...

  • Shaken Baby Syndrome

    Tuesday, 21 July 2015 16:28
  • Amniotic fluid problems

    Thursday, 14 May 2015 12:54
  • Choosing a pre-school

    Friday, 10 April 2015 17:50
  • Newborn reflexes

    Tuesday, 03 March 2015 15:49
  • Mastitis

    Tuesday, 03 March 2015 15:41
  • Pelvic floor exercises

    Wednesday, 11 February 2015 17:20
  • Colic

    Wednesday, 11 February 2015 17:11
  • Antenatal Classes

    Monday, 03 June 2013 09:34
  • Strap-in-the-Future

    Thursday, 30 June 2011 13:52

Factors affecting fertility

fertilityA woman’s fertility is often taken for granted but 1 in 6 couples experience reproductive problems. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 7.3 million women suffer from infertility. Infertility is a disease of the reproductive system that impairs the body’s ability to perform the function of reproduction. Infertility affects men and women equally. In approximately 40% of infertile couples, the male partner is either the sole cause or a contributory cause of the infertility.

There are several lifestyles factors that have a profound impact on an individual’s ability to reproduce. Lifestyle factors that affect fertility include age, weight, smoking, diet, exercise, psychological stress, caffeine and alcohol intake, and exposure to environmental pollutants. Vitamin intake, substance abuse, and certain infections may also play a contributory role.


Age is one of the most important factors affecting fertility. A woman is born with a finite number of eggs. With increasing age, the quality and quantity of viable eggs decreases, while the risk of genetic abnormalities and miscarriage increases. Women in their 20’s have 46% chance of falling pregnant in any given menstrual cycle. This drops to 34% if a woman is between 30-36, decreases to 13% if she is 37-39, with only 4% chance of conception over the age of 40.

Time to conception is also affected by a woman’s age. Women between 20 and 24 are at their most fertile, as their periods are likely to be regular and ovulatory. Women in this age group take 4-5 months on average to conceive. Fertility begins to gradually decline from age 30, with women in their early 30’s taking 7-10 months to conceive. From her 35th birthday, a woman’s fertility decreases each year, as her eggs age and become more difficult to fertilize. The percentage of women who have babies aged 45-49 is .03%. More than half of all pregnancies conceived through IVF in women over age forty are produced through donor eggs. The average age for menopause is 45 to 55. Pregnancies beyond age 50 have a high risk of complication and almost always require assistance in the form of fertility drugs, hormone supplements, or donor eggs.


Smoking negatively affects both male and female fertility. Women who smoke are likely to enter menopause up to 4 years earlier than their non-smoking counterparts. Smoking is associated with a thicker egg lining (zona pellucida), making it more difficult for sperm to penetrate the egg, and therefore conception to occur. Smoking also increases a woman’s risk for miscarriage.

In men, smoking affects sperm production, resulting in sperm that are misshapen, slower than average, directionless, and more likely to have DNA damage.


Some fertility problems can be linked to weighing too much or weighing too little. The ideal Body Mass Index (BMI) for fertility is between 20 and 22. Women who are overweight or obese (with a BMI of over 25, and over 30, respectively) are at an increased risk of infertility, due to anovulation (a lack of ovulation), oligovulation (irregular ovulation) and hormonal imbalance.

Being underweight can also result in irregular ovulation and fertility difficulties. This is most common in female athletes and women suffering from eating disorders. Strict vegetarians may also have fertility difficulties due to a lack of essential nutrients, such as vitamin B-12, zinc, iron and folic acid.

Hormonal imbalances

Hormonal irregularities can lead to several issues that may affect fertility, including a lack of fertile cervical mucus, thinning or thickening of the endometrium (where the fertilized egg needs to implant), abnormally low levels of progesterone, and a shorter luteal phase.

Hormone levels can be affected by stress, fluid changes in the body, vitamin and mineral levels, exposure to environmental toxins, and body fat.


Nutrition plays an essential role in body and reproductive health. Numerous studies have shown that a fertility diet can increase the chances of healthy ovulation, prevent recurrent miscarriage and support a healthy pregnancy.

When the body is optimally nourished and unhealthy foods are avoided, it is able to repair and rebuild itself. This is critical for fertility especially if there is an underlying problem because:

  • Certain nutrients are necessary for foetal development, even before a pregnancy can be detected.
  • Today’s nutritional choices impact the health of your eggs and sperm 90 days from now.
  • Nutrients found in food form the building blocks for hormone production and functioning.
  • The primary treatment for PCOS and getting pregnant despite the condition is diet.
  • What you don’t eat is just as important as what you do eat.

In many cases, the number one cause of infertility (anovulation) can be remedied by dietary changes. When choosing foods always choose the foods as nature intended.

In contrast, certain foods and chemical additives have been found to adversely affect health and fertility. Avoid processed/refined foods and artificial sugars. A diet high in sugar can negatively affect your insulin levels, immune system and hormonal balance. Great alternatives include honey and stevia. Soy products have been shown to contain estrogen-mimicking properties. This can influence the hormonal balance of both men and women. Since the 70’s there has been a dramatic worldwide increase in infertility rates, with sperm counts among the male population declining as much as 40-50%. Some studies suggest GMO foods as one of the reasons.


Studies have shown that caffeine can affect your hormonal balance, increase your chances of a miscarriage and prevent you from ovulating. Caffeine has been shown to reduce muscle activity in the fallopian tubes, which is responsible for transporting a woman's eggs from her ovaries to the womb. Excessive caffeine may result in fewer muscle contractions, making it difficult for eggs to move.


It is recommended that both men and women avoid alcohol while trying to conceive. Even moderate alcohol consumption (5 drinks per week or less) may lower fertility. Women who drink more than 5 alcoholic beverages weekly take longer to get pregnant.

Alcohol depresses the adrenal glands and slows down hormone production. This directly affects egg quality and libido. Similarly, alcohol consumption lowers sperm motility (movement), quality and concentration (numbers), decreasing the possibility of fertilization.

Alcoholic beverages are high in sugar. Excessive sugar consumption contributes to hormonal imbalance, insulin resistance, yeast infection, vitamin and mineral deficiency and lowered immunity, which may impair fertility in both men and women.

Environmental pollutants

In recent decades, infertility rates have increased dramatically. According to the US National Survey of Family Growth, difficulties conceiving or carrying a child to term were evident in all age groups, with the most significant increase in women under age 25. Emerging studies suggest a link between environmental toxins and infertility.

More than 80,000 synthetic chemicals are used in everyday products. These compounds permeate our air, water, food, and homes. Exposure to high doses of pesticides (such as in rural farming areas) has been linked to a lower than normal sperm count in men. Similarly, xenoestrogens (an endocrine disrupting compound that mimics estrogen) have a harmful effect on our health and serious consequences for male fertility. Xenoestrogens are impossible to avoid being found in common products, such as baby bottles, till slips, cling wrap and body lotion.

Environmental factors not only affect immediate reproductive health but also the fertility of the next generation. Professor Tiaan de Jager, Head of Environmental and Occupational Health at Pretoria University, found that exposure to xenoestrogens in utero, can result in Testicular Dysgenesis Syndrome, which affects the male reproductive system. This syndrome can result in reduced sperm quality, and place the male foetus at risk for un-descended testes, testicular cancer and other abnormalities.


Like diet, exercise is a healthy lifestyle choice that has a positive effect on reproduction. Regular exercise prevents the development of many health conditions. Fertility studies show a slight increase in fertility rates in women of all body types who engaged in moderate activities for any length of time. 30-60 minutes of daily exercise, such as walking, leisurely cycling and gardening, are likely to help conception and ensure a healthy pregnancy. There is also a clear link between exercise and a reduction in ovulatory-related fertility problems.

However, very vigorous exercise can affect ovulation, and disrupt the menstrual cycle. The pituitary gland interprets strenuous exercise as a stress on the body and therefore not a suitable time to add further stress through reproduction, potentially signaling to the ovaries to stop ovulation. Extreme exercise can also affect implantation of the fertilized egg in the uterus. 

 Emotional factors

Stress, depression and anxiety are known to hinder fertility. Psychological stress not only impacts the mind but the body. For some women, chronic stress can affect ovulation by altering signals to the hypothalamus, the part of the brain responsible for regulating some of the hormones that trigger the ovaries to release eggs each month. Irregular ovulation makes conception and family planning more difficult. Stress may also affect sperm production and testosterone levels in men. There are several stress reduction techniques, including relaxation and stress management strategies, making healthy lifestyle choices, and having sex for fun and intimacy. 

If you find yourself feeling depressed, anxious, isolated, out of control, or angry for an extended period of time, you may benefit from consulting a mental health professional. The inability to conceive can result in feelings of distress and loss. Seek the support and guidance of a fertility specialist if you are under the age of 35 and have been trying to conceive for more than one year. Women over the age of 35 should consult their doctor if they have been unable to conceive after 6 months of trying.

Optimizing fertility

To ensure optimal fertility, people should adopt behaviours that support and increase general health. Stop smoking, manage your stress, reduce your exposure to toxins, follow a fertility-boosting diet, stay active, get enough sleep, and maintain a healthy weight. Women should supplement with 400 micrograms of folic acid daily, and men should abstain from activities that affect testicular temperature (such as saunas and hot baths) that may lead to testicular dysfunction. Consult your doctor for a general health assessment and the identification of any lifestyle factors that could improve your chances of conception and healthy pregnancy.