Fertility isn't exactly the hottest topic for most young women—in the name of higher education and epic careers, women are waiting longer to start having children, so it doesn't seem super-relevant. We're loving the increase in girl bosses throughout the workforce, but it's important to stay educated about our bodies and to know what lies ahead—whether you're wondering what you can do now to be ready for children later, or you're just curious about how your body will change, sans children. Here are what the pros think you should already know:
1. There's No Need To Freak Out About Fertility
"Overall, if a woman is young, healthy and having regular menstrual cycles, there is little reason to worry about fertility," says Dr. Felice Gersh of the Integrative Medical Group of Irvine. She says healthy women in their twenties shouldn't worry about fertility unless they've been trying to conceive for about a year, while woman who are in their mid-thirties should seek medical advice after six months without success.
This advice applies pretty much across the board for women who are generally healthy and haven't had a history of gynecological problems. But Gersh says women who have struggled with conditions like endometriosis, PCOS, irregular menstrual cycles, chronic vaginal infections or a history of STD's may want to seek medical advice if they are concerned about their chances of getting pregnant.
Dr. Eve Feinberg, reproductive endocrinologist at Northwestern Medicine Fertility and Reproductive Medicine, recommends women think about fertility in terms of how many children they want—since fertility decreases as women age, the amount of children a woman wants and how far apart they will be should play a part in when she decides to start having children.
2. Pregnancy Gets More Difficult (But Not Impossible) Around 35
Gersh says when it comes to fertility, the younger a woman tries to conceive, the better. This isn't to say women can't have children later in life, but the odds of conception do decrease as women age, with two sharp declines around ages 37 and 40, according to Feinberg.
Everyone's fertility rates vary slightly, but doctors agree that after age 35 is when it becomes universally more difficult to get pregnant. This is due to diminishing egg reserves—women are born with approximately 2 million eggs, but by the time they reach puberty, they only have three hundred thousand to four hundred thousand remaining. The egg supply continues to diminish until a woman enters menopause and none remain.
Dr. Hal C. Danzer, MD and co-founder of The Southern California Reproductive Center, says that as the egg supply diminishes, chromosomes become more "sticky," so miscarriage rates increase and pregnancy rates decrease as women enter their mid-thirties. This doesn't mean women can't or shouldn't have children after 35—many do, and have healthy pregnancies and babies to show for it. It does help to plan ahead, though—Danzer says some women even freeze their eggs while they're in their twenties if they know they don't plan on having children until later in life.
3. Your Overall Health Affects Your Reproductive Health
Gersh says reproductive health is 100% linked to overall health, so it's important to take care of yourself if you want to get pregnant. She recommends maintaining a healthy weight, eating a nutritious, plant-based diet, exercising, taking probiotic supplements, and taking prenatal vitamins if you're trying to conceive.
While doing these things may make it easier to get pregnant, some things might hinder your ability to conceive. Danzer says smoking is a huge threat to healthy fertility because it further diminishes a woman's egg reserve, while Gersh recommends eliminating lubricants that may be acting as spermicide and environmental toxins that may be found in cosmetics, foods, and cleaning products—they may contain endocrine disrupters that impact your fertility.
4. Fertility Is A Men's Issue, Too
Feinberg says fertility issues are due to factors that affect women 60 percent of the time—meaning 40 percent of the time, its male factors that are the problem. Often, it might even be a combination of the two, but a low sperm count very well might be to blame. Danzer says it's easiest for couple's to get the male's sperm count tested, so that's a good place to start for couple's struggling to conceive.
5. When And How To Start Trying
Gersh says men need 24 hours to rebuild their sperm count, so having sex every other day is the best tactic for couples trying to conceive. Conception isn't all about having sex, though—it's important to understand how everything works to increase the odds of getting pregnant.
Feinberg says ovulation typically occurs in the middle of the cycle, or 14 days before menstruation begins. During ovulation, it's not uncommon for women to get mild cramping, so pay attention to what your body is telling you. Cervical mucus might change color and texture, too—Feinberg says an "egg white clear mucus that's very stretchy" isn't uncommon during ovulation. Once the egg is released, it survives 24 hours—sperm, on the other hand, can live up to five days in the Fallopian tubes.
Gersh also notes that position doesn't matter. As long as sperm enters the vagina, you're on the right track.
6. What To Do If You Can't Conceive
Treatments for infertility vary depending on the cause. First, doctors focus on making sure a patient has good overall health—Gersh says reproductive health will usually follow suit once good overall health is achieved. If that doesn't work, treatments can be everything from prescribed drugs and hormones, to surgery, to in vitro fertilzation. It depends on the underlying condition and the patient, so make sure you are open with your doctor and explore all options before you decide on a treatment plan.
Above all, doctors want their patients to be comfortable asking them questions about their bodies and fertility. 1 in 8 couples struggle with infertility, and even more have concerns and questions that they don't bring up to their doctors. You aren't alone—so don't be embarrassed. The more questions you ask, the more comfortable you'll be when you start making decisions about having children.