Listen: Dr Sonya Jessup chats to Katrina Roe about how women can maximise their chances of falling pregnant.
For couples, the New Year period is a common time to decide that “this is the year for a family”.
With that in mind, Hope 103.2’s Katrina Roe caught up with fertility expert Dr Sonya Jessup about how to maximise the chances of conceiving naturally—and what to do if it’s “just not happening”.
Dr Jessup, who is a specialist at Demeter Fertility, said Australians had a greater need for fertility support today than in previous generations, because women are now more likely to be in their 30s and 40s when they’re trying to have children.
“40 or 50 years ago it was normal to have children when you were 20,” said Dr Jessup, “but these days a lot of families don’t even consider it normal to have children until they are in their 30s. You’ve also got other medical conditions, like endometriosis or diabetes, or the husband’s sperm not being as good. So there’s compounding factors.”
If You’re an Older Couple, Get Expert Advice Early
Dr Jessup said that couples in their mid-30s and older should get fertility advice and testing early, to maximise their chances of getting help if they need it.
“It’s sad when you see people who have been trying naturally for a long time and have actually missed their window of when it would have been relatively easy for them to conceive, because there was something [medical] going on and they didn’t know about it,” she said.
Early checking includes testing for that the following three factors are healthy: eggs, tubes and sperm.
“To get pregnant, you need to be releasing an egg, the fallopian tubes need to be open, and there needs to be sperm in the right number at the right time,” Dr Jessup said. “So I advise people to make sure those basic three things are happening.”
Am I Producing Eggs? What About Sperm Count?
Women who are in their mid 30s and older need to be aware of whether they are ovulating, and if so, at what point during their cycle.
“In general if you’ve got a regular [menstrual] cycle you will be ovulating,” said Dr Jessup, “but sometimes it’s not at the time you might think it is. So one very simple thing that women can do, is get some advice about when in their cycle they are likely to be ovulating—so that each month they’ve got a realistic chance of being pregnant, and are not accidentally missing the window every month.
“Get the husband to have the sperm count test too—not if you’re in your 20s, but if you’re in the 30s. You don’t want to wait a year only to find that the partner’s sperm count is not very good, because that’s a year that you’ve delayed.”
Maximising Your Chances of Natural Conception
Despite the increased challenge of conceiving at a later age, though, there are many steps couples can take to maximise their chances of a natural conception.
“There’s a whole number of different health factors that might be at play: endometriosis, high glucose or insulin resistance, overweight, whether there’s stress or smoking,” said Dr Jessup. “If you improve those things it will help your natural conception.”
Dr Jessup’s top tips include:
- Stay positive.
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle, consuming a balanced diet rich in fibre, folate, lycopene and fruits and vegetables, and minimising processed foods.
- See a dietitian to improve your eating habits and get your body in shape.
- Go on an exercise program. Moderate physical activity can increase a woman’s chances of conceiving.
- Start taking a regular fertility supplement.
- Develop a fertility management plan to maximise your chances of a natural pregnancy.
- Don’t be too hard on yourself with such drastic lifestyle changes that you no longer enjoy life, work, sex or socialising.
- Consider health strategies like acupuncture or naturopathy to improve general health.
When to Opt for IVF
IVF is an expensive, invasive process and can be stressful for couples, especially for women, so it’s not something to leap into without serious thought. Dr Jessup said the choice to opt for IVF generally depends on age.
“I see a lot of people who have met their partner and are now starting to consider a family at the age of 37 or 38. The natural conception window, naturally and with IVF, is quite short at that stage.
“People do get pregnant naturally, and with IVF, at 40 or 42, but thereafter, a lot of the pregnancies you see, people are using donor eggs.
“Anyone who’s 35 or over, get an opinion to make sure that the time you’re putting in to try and conceive naturally is time well spent.”
“So I say to anyone who’s 35 or over, get an opinion straight up to make sure that the time you’re putting in to try and conceive naturally is time well spent. So that you’re getting the most out of every month.
“But also, if you’re a young couple of 28 or 29 and have been trying for three years to get pregnant and it hasn’t happened, there probably is something quite significant going on because young people generally fall pregnant.
“Often there’s something that needs surgical correction or some intervention with IVF.
“When people come to see me, I assume that people do not want IVF and we work together to try and maximise their chances of falling pregnant naturally. But there comes a time when I know it’s going to be difficult even with IVF. So getting the right advice is crucial to giving yourself the best chance and not miss the boat.”
Don’t Expect Instant Results
A final tip Dr Jessup offered is to be patient with IVF.
“I think a lot of people assume that if they see a fertility specialist they’re going to be doing IVF with their next period,” she said. “And that’s not always the case.
“The framing of an IVF process needs to be more realistic. They may need to do IVF a few times. And just because it hasn’t worked with the first or second embryo doesn’t mean it won’t work for the third or fourth.
“People need to have a realistic expectation that IVF is not a one-stop-shop solution. This makes them a little bit more prepared to go through with it.”