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Tick-tock:  You can’t fight the biological clock, but there are ways to help maximize your fertility. Here’s how 

by Tania Leah Haas

Published March 2009

While new moms Nicole Kidman, 41, and Halle Berry, 42, remind us that getting pregnant isn’t just a young woman’s game, the reality for most older women is that it’s not easy. Like it or not, as you age your chances of conceiving naturally diminish. Not only does your supply of eggs recede by your mid-30s, but their quality starts declining as well.

According to Dr. Ken Cadesky, a reproductive gynecologist and director of Toronto’s LifeQuest Centre for Reproductive Medicine, at 23, a woman has a 20 per cent chance of getting pregnant each month. At 35, it drops to 12 per cent, and then falls to less than five per cent by the age of 42.

“As the ovum ages, there are abnormalities that develop. Think of [them] as cracks,” ex-plains LifeQuest’s co-founder Dr. Carl Laskin. “Upon fertilization, the embryo reflects these abnormalities in the egg. In most cases, the abnormalities are not compatible with life and nature’s ‘quality control’ prevents pregnancy. Alternatively, the embryo may implant, but does not have the machinery to progress.” The heartbreaking result? Miscarriage.

Today, thankfully, there are options available to help with the business of conceiving, and many celebrity moms are touting their success stories. In fact, Friends alum Courteney Cox-Arquette, who had daughter Coco at 39 and Desperate Housewives star Marcia Cross, who had her two-year-old twin girls when she was 44, have both talked openly about their use of in-vitro fertilization.

If you’re planning a family down the road, itching to have a baby now or already struggling to get pregnant, here are some ways to increase your odds of conceiving:

  • take folic acid – The Hospital for Sick Children’s Motherisk program advises women to take a daily dose of folic acid (0.4-1 mg) for at least two to three months before getting pregnant. It’s widely known that taking folic acid reduces neural-tube defects like spina bifida in babies, but some studies claim that it also increases a woman’s chances of getting pregnant.
  • manage your weight – Being overweight or underweight can inhibit normal ovulation and throw your hormones off balance, preventing pregnancy. A body mass index (BMI) of between 20 and 25 is optimal for most women, while 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight. A BMI higher than 30 is consistent with obesity. Talk to your doctor to determine your personal healthy body mass index.
  • quit smoking – Tobacco has countless negative effects on your health, including fertility. Smoking prematurely ages your ovaries and increases your risk of miscarriage. Need another reason to quit? It can harm your unborn child by slowing fetal growth and increasing the risk of premature delivery.
  • cut out alcohol and caffeine – Too many cosmopolitans may make you the life of the party, but overindulging has been associated with increased ovulation disorders and endometriosis, which impair fertility. Studies of caffeine’s effects aren’t conclusive, but it can’t hurt to cut back on your four-cup-a-day habit.
  • find inner peace – Although stress alone can’t make you infertile, being able to properly manage stress can increase your chances of conceiving. “The human reproductive system is very sensitive, especially to things like environmental and emotional stress,” says Toronto acupuncturist David A. Bray, a specialist in reproductive Chinese medicine. So be sure to bring some peace into your life, whether through meditation, treating yourself to massages or even visiting an acupuncturist to normalize your hormonal ebbs and flows.

Other fertility factors

Aside from your age, there are other factors that can affect your fertility:

  • Polycystic ovary syndrome: Leads to irregular periods and ovulatory dysfunction, both common causes of infertility; luckily, it can be easy to treat with medication.
  • Radiation and chemotherapy: Both types of cancer treatments can damage the ovaries, potentially leading to infertility.
  • Diet: Although food can’t make you fertile, it is important to eat healthfully if you’re trying to conceive. Choose natural foods rich in fibre and stay away from processed foods high in sugar and trans fats.

For more information on fertility, check out www.mother- isk.org or go to www.itstime.ca.