How to Improve Female Fertility: 5 Fertility-Promoting Habits for Women with PCOS
Some 70%-80% of women with PCOS experience infertility – an inability to conceive after at least 12 months of regular unprotected sex. It’s very common and extremely distressing but, thankfully, doesn’t mean that pregnancy is an impossibility (in fact, research has found that the majority of people with PCOS trying to conceive will fall pregnant and give birth without any fertility treatment at least once).
There are lots of factors that come into play where fertility is concerned – and many will require the support of medical experts. However, there are some lifestyle habits that, when adopted, can optimise fertility outcomes for those with PCOS trying to become pregnant.
What’s PCOS got to do with infertility?
There’s still lots that experts don’t understand about the causes and symptoms of PCOS, however, it’s widely thought that infertility in women with PCOS is caused by a hormonal imbalance.
Hormonal imbalances (high levels of androgens – commonly called “male” hormones, such as testosterone – and high levels of lutenizing hormone (LH)) are found to be present in many women with PCOS. Androgens and LH are key players in stimulating ovulation – the process which enables a mature follicle to be released by the ovaries ready for fertilisation if it comes into contact with sperm. However, if LH and androgen levels are too high, this can disrupt ovulation. And if ovulation doesn’t occur, neither can pregnancy.
If you’re experiencing fertility difficulties as a symptom of PCOS, talk to your GP about treatment options available to you to help you conceive. In the meantime, here are 5 fertility-promoting lifestyle changes to give you the best chance of falling pregnant.
5 ways to improve female fertility
1. Load up on nutrients
Let’s squash a rumour first and foremost: there isn’t one singular diet for improving fertility. That said, there’s evidence to suggest that following a Mediterranean diet could improve your chances of conceiving.
In a nutshell, eating a Mediterranean diet involves: loading up on fruits, vegetables, and plant-based protein, incorporating whole grains, eggs, dairy (a moderate amount), and unsaturated fats (such as olive oil and nuts) into meals and getting your omega 3 fatty acids (from oily fish and some seeds).
2. Supplement where necessary
Fertility-promoting nutrients include:
- Folate/folic acid
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin C
- B vitamins
You can get most of these nutrients by following a nutritious and varied diet. However, if you’re pregnant or trying to conceive, the NHS recommends taking:
- A folic acid supplement – 400 micrograms every day from pre-conception right up until you’re 12 weeks pregnant to reduce the risk of developmental problems in the early stages of pregnancy.
- A daily vitamin D supplement – at least 10 micrograms a day. Research indicates that adequate levels are associated with more positive pregnancy tests and live births.
3. Cut back on alcohol
Evidence suggests that alcohol can negatively impact fertility, though it isn’t yet fully understood how. The NHS advises not exceeding 1-2 units of alcohol once or twice a week if you’re trying to conceive.
4. Move your body
Exercise could help to improve ovulation. One study which attempted to explore the effects of exercise on people with PCOS found that participants experienced improved ovulation following a period of 12-24 weeks of regular physical activity. And the best bit? There appeared to be no connection between the type of exercise, duration, or frequency and the improvements.
Find a style of exercise that you enjoy and can commit to doing consistently, whether walking, cycling, strength training, dancing, or yoga.
5. Prioritise rest and mental wellbeing
Often burning the candle at both ends? Stop! Research has found a link between lack of quality sleep and fertility issues in women.
To step up your sleep game, get into the habit of following a nighttime routine. Turn devices off an hour or so before bed, get tucked up at the same time every night, and enjoy a calming activity (think: reading, journaling, meditating) before drifting off.
Try to minimise stress and prioritise your mental wellbeing throughout the day too, by taking regular rest breaks, setting boundaries with friends and colleagues, and steering clear of habits (such as social-scrolling) that increase feelings of stress or anxiety. Although these haven’t necessarily been directly linked to infertility, high levels of stress can interfere with sleep quality and have a negative impact on mental wellbeing.
When is the best time to make fertility-promoting lifestyle changes?
If you’re planning a pregnancy, then three months prior to conception is the opportune time to begin making fertility-promoting lifestyle changes. This is because it takes 90 days for an egg to develop and mature before it’s released during ovulation.
That said, introducing fertility-promoting habits at any time can be beneficial for optimising your chances of conceiving and having a healthy pregnancy.