If I could go back in time, to when my patients were girls, just starting out in the world of romance, what would I tell them? How could their actions in youth prevent the fertility problems they are experiencing now?
In short, what should I tell my teenage daughters about protecting their fertility?
1. Use a condom. Sexually transmitted diseases are one of the most common causes of infertility in women under 30. This is because diseases like gonorrhea and chlamydia can silently and painlessly cause infection and scarring of the fallopian tubes which act as the passageway for the egg to travel from the ovary where it is produced, to the uterus where it implants to create a pregnancy. The tube is also where the sperm meets up with the egg, and that’s where fertilization occurs. 3-7 days later, the fertilized egg travels through the tube to the uterus to implant and begin the pregnancy. If the tube is damaged by infection, the sperm can’t get to the egg, or the fertilized egg can’t get to the uterus. Condoms are cheap and accessible. They also prevent other yucky diseases such as hepatitis, herpes, syphilis, cervical cancer, genital warts, and HIV.
2. Go belt and suspenders. Condoms are great at preventing STDs, but less great at preventing unplanned pregnancy. For that, you need something else, such as spermicide or hormonal contraception or an IUD. Unplanned pregnancies increase the risk of pregnancy related complications such as scarring of the uterus that can impact fertility later in life.
3. Birth control pills and other hormonal contraceptives are protective. Many of my patients bemoan the fact that they used birth control pills “when I didn’t even need to!” Wrongo. They probably did need birth control back then. Some even believe the pill caused their infertility. Nope. The pill actually protects against rupturing ovarian cysts, endometriosis, endometrial hyperplasia, and also regulates menstrual cycles and lowers testosterone levels in women with PCOS. All of these can worsen a woman’s fertility if allowed to progress unchecked. Don’t fear the pill! She is your friend.
4. Don’t smoke. Smoking makes your eggs 4-10 years older depending on who you believe. Older than you are, anyway. It’s true. Smoking as a youngster increases the number of years the eggs are exposed to all that bad stuff in tobacco. Those toxins harden eggs and age them prematurely. The effects are reversible, and may actually revert to normal if a woman quits smoking for the same number of years that she previously smoked. But the younger you start, the longer the reversal process.
5. Don’t wait forever. A woman’s fertility begins to decline significantly by age 35, and even more after age 40. From 40 on, there is a measurable decline in fertility and birth each year. I’m obviously not advocating teen pregnancy: as I already stated, that comes with its own set of complications. Just don’t think you can get pregnant at 50 just because some celebrity did. They did donor egg, honey! Every last one. Oh, and they did plastic surgery too. Just saying.
- IVF: When pregnancy becomes a project (miamiherald.com)
- How to Overcome Baby and Pregnancy Jealousy (and Use It to Your Advantage) (zenfertility.wordpress.com)