Do I Really Need To Worry About My Fertility Right Now?

Do I Really Need To Worry About My Fertility Right Now?

If you’re a woman who wants to have kids someday (but not right now), you’ll more than likely have a growing distaste for the word ‘fertility’. The older you get, the more it starts popping up everywhere, from targeted Google ads to your mum’s friend Karen. Hit your late 20s, and the subject of just how equipped and ready your womb is to carry a child becomes a matter of public discussion – whether you like it or not.

The trouble is that all the information out there regarding fertility is so confusing. Karen’s regurgitating the same fertility advice she heard from doctors back in 1978 and now, the internet: a web of communication that was meant to give us the power of knowledge but has allowed half truths and rumours about our health to flourish.

A recent study by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists found confusing fertility advice is “sparking unnecessary worry among UK women” with 86% saying that they find all the information from different sources contradictory. Forty-nine percent have worried about their own fertility and a quarter of 18-24-year-olds are concerned. In fact, two in five younger women have considered freezing their eggs in the future.

So if you’re not quite at the point where you want to have kids, should you be worrying about your fertility now? Or are you free to think about something else?

Ahead, we rounded up some of the unsolicited things young women at Refinery29 and beyond have been told about their fertility and which have bothered them over the years. To put their minds at rest, we asked the experts just how much of what they’d heard was true, and how much of it could be taken with a pinch of salt.

Click through to find out.

Really? Do you mean like, now?

Let’s break it down…

“The benefits of freezing your eggs at a young age – ideally by the time you’re 36 – is that the eggs are still of good enough quality and that their number is adequate enough to provide the best chance possible of having a child later in life if a woman struggles to fall pregnant naturally,” explains Dr Larisa Corda,who obtained her MRCOG in 2015 and is a fertility consultant for myLotus.

At the same time, she says doing it too young could mean going through an unnecessary procedure – one which involves not only money but also medical risks. “The truth is that every woman and every set of circumstances is different. I would advise that if you are considering egg freezing, go and see a specialist and discuss. Rather than jumping straight to this procedure, consider getting a fertility MOT done first to find out more about your fertile health.”

A fertility MOT, she says, will check the number of follicles in your ovaries and also your AMH, “a hormone made by the ovaries that reflects the number of eggs which are there.” This, she says, “can provide a fairly reliable indication of how fast your own personal biological clock is ticking and help guide any decision-making about how and when to have children.”

A thrilling ‘compliment’ from a well-meaning older relative which, according to Dr Corda, is very unhelpful. “This is a pretty outdated term and one that isn’t at all appropriate anymore in our society!”

Emma Cronin, registered midwife and nurse advisor within the AXA PPP healthcare Health at Hand team agrees. “[Hip size] does not have any bearing on the ability of a woman to deliver a baby vaginally,” she says. “The shape of a woman’s hips varies between ethnic groups and it is whether the baby is lying in the correct position and the body labouring efficiently at the time of labour that often is the indicator as to whether a woman can deliver the baby vaginally.”

Dr Corda elaborates: “During the pregnancy itself, the cartilage between the pelvic bones will loosen to accommodate the growing baby and also, the baby’s skull bones will mould over each other as the baby descends in the birth canal to be able to negotiate the passage.”

There are four different general shapes to the pelvis, she explains, with the most common allowing easier accommodation of a baby. “During the process of labour, your obstetrician or midwife will check the position of the baby, how well the head is engaged, how well you’re contracting, descent, dilation of the cervix, and so on.” Those factors, she emphasises, will help the medical team decide how best to deliver the baby, not the size of your hips.

“Remember,” she says, “most women are perfectly designed to grow and deliver a baby that is the right size for them, no matter what the shape of their pelvis.”

An ‘encouraging’ statement one R29er was given as a reason to tell their partner they wanted kids sooner. But is it true? “Fertility ability does reduce with age,” admits Emma. Ironically however, waiting until later could actually lead to you having more children as older women are more likely to use fertility treatments. “Older women are more likely to have multiple births. Fertility treatments where multiple fertilised eggs are used, where there is a family history of having multiple births, where women release two eggs in a cycle period or where a fertilised egg splits into two during the developmental stage can increase the likelihood of having twins.”

“It’s impossible to be categorical about this,” says Dr Corda. “Some women continue to conceive naturally into their late 30s and early 40s. There’s no guarantee at any age that you’ll necessarily have the exact number of children you want.” However she does say that some planning ahead could be useful to help give you the best possible chance. “Consider some fertility preservation options if you don’t want to start too young but want to give yourself the best chance later. It’s always best to discuss this with a specialist who can advise on your particular set of circumstances and clinical picture.”

Said by Sex and the City, your yoga teacher, your mate’s mate… But can acupuncture actually be helpful?

In fact, acupuncture is looking promising. “Research has been taking place and it has found that acupuncture can help improve fertility by increasing the blood flow to the sexual organs as well as help reduce stress levels and balance the endocrine hormones,” says Emma.

Dr Corda is similarly enthusiastic. “More and more studies are demonstrating its benefits and improvement in conception rates. Of course, we cannot prove this as there are too many variable or confounding factors involved when studying, but acupuncture has been shown to improve blood flow to the pelvic organs, such as your womb and ovaries, and also induce a state of calm, lowering your stress and cortisol levels, all of which can be beneficial to fertility.”

A classic ‘helpful’ and oft repeated line from your mum which really puts a downer on Sunday lunch. And as Dr Corda and Emma both tell us, it’s not always the case.

“As you get older, the quality of both the eggs and sperm deteriorate in their condition and this can make conceiving more difficult, but the body tends to have a natural selection process where fertilised eggs are usually naturally discarded or miscarried if they are not developing properly,” explains Emma. There are many factors other than age – like genetics – that can complicate pregnancy.

Dr Corda explains that the risk comes from the fact that the older you are when you have your children, the more chance there is of you having a co-existing medical condition that could cause problems in pregnancy – like thyroid problems or high blood pressure. She goes on to say that unfortunately a higher age naturally places you at more obstetric risk for things such as preeclampsia and diabetes. “Having said that though, every woman is different,” she reassures us. “While it’s important to counsel about these risks, there are lots of women in their late 30s and 40s who don’t have any problems in their pregnancies, because they are fit and healthy to start off with. Investing in your health from an earlier age and continuing to do so will help enormously when it comes to this.”

Heard: everywhere. Surely there’s a less loaded way to define women who have babies in their 30s?

“I personally would never use this term.” says Dr Corda. “It was used for women over the age of 35, which is roughly when the steeper drop in fertility rates occurs, but current figures and research shows that the fastest growing group of women having children are those in their 40s.”

She continues: “There has been a big demographic shift we’re seeing now, compared to even a decade ago, and the number of women having children in their late 30s and 40s will continue to rise, because of how much women’s lives have changed and because they now have many more options. Therefore, to call a woman geriatric after the age of 35 is insulting not just to her but to our society.”

It is, however, likely that if you do get pregnant over 35, regardless of whether you’ve had children or not, you will be considered for increased scans or monitoring to see if you have any health concerns or complications, says Emma.

Heard here and there over the years, it’s something that one PCOS-suffering R29er tries not to let niggle away at her anxiety as she gets older.

“This is a complete myth and not true!” says Dr Corda. “There are many women with polycystic ovaries out there – in fact, up to one in five women could be affected – and many go on to get pregnant naturally.”

There are, of course, potential conception issues that can arise from having PCOS. “It tends to mean that a woman has immature egg cells that are often filled with fluid,” explains Emma. “It also results in an increased level of testosterone which can lead to delays in the egg maturing and being released, as well as causing irregular menstrual cycles.”

The healthier one is when it comes to conceiving, Dr Corda says, the better. “Exercise, diet and stress relief are crucial as they all help to reduce the overall level of inflammation associated with this condition, as well as improve blood sugar regulation.”

Our takeaway from the whole thing? If you’re worried about your fertility, there’s no harm in scheduling a fertility MOT so you know exactly where you stand. From there, you can make educated plans that suits you – because it’s your body, and nobody else’s.

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