Dr. Sissy Sartor of the Fertility Institute of New Orleans offers advice to ensure women's pregnancies are as healthy as possible.
Protect yourself from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Some STDs are curable and some can irreparably damage the reproductive system.
If you consume alcohol, drink in moderation. Sartor cites studies that show more than two alcoholic beverages a day can significantly decrease a woman's ability to conceive.
Ages 37-40 and older
Remain diligent and focused on your goal to conceive. "Move forward with your foot on the accelerator, because you are definitely in a race against Mother Nature," Sartor says.
• Maintain a healthy body weight. Keep your body mass index between 19 and 30. Obesity decreases the effectiveness of fertility treatments, can lead to higher miscarriage rates and can cause significant problems while pregnant. "Eating healthily and getting regular exercise is important for women at every age prior to pregnancy," Sartor says.
• Quit smoking before pregnancy. Though most people know nicotine is harmful to a developing embryo or fetus, smoking decreases fertility in both men and women and leads to earlier menopause. Some women quit smoking as soon as they learn they're pregnant. While this is better than not quitting, it's not optimal. Early pregnancy can be tough, and the added stress of withdrawal from an addictive substance can make the first few weeks miserable. Experts suggest going off birth control no sooner than one month from the day of the last dose of nicotine (whether from a cigarette, nicotine patches or gum.) This allows enough time to get past the worst nicotine cravings and develop smoke-free habits.
• Be careful with herbal supplements. Many have not been adequately studied, and some research suggests over-the-counter supplements could hinder fertility. "Don't assume that just because it's not prescription it can't interfere in some way," Sartor says.