In your 20s, it probably feels as though pregnancy is some vaguely far-off thing, and odds are, you spend a lot of time trying not to get pregnant. After all, it’s increasingly common to delay those years of Pampers and play dates, putting your education and career first. But what happens when, years down the road, you finally decide you want to have a baby? Is there anything you can do now to prepare for later?
First, the good news: Most of what you can do now is based in good, old-fashioned common sense, says Dr. Carol Anania, fertility expert and founder and partner of Fertility Solutions. That means you should stop smoking as of yesterday because of the toxic effect it has on eggs, maintain a normal body weight, eat a healthy diet, and limit your alcohol consumption. “Bad habits can accelerate the aging process in terms of ovarian reserve,” she says.
In other words, if you spend your 20s and early 30s eating well, exercising regularly and avoiding smoking and lots of drinking, you have a better shot at getting pregnant later on.
But on the flip side, it seems like all of those things our own mothers freak out about are real, and can cause problems down the line. Along with skipping things like gummy bears colored with Red No. 3 or diet soda enhanced with artificial flavoring, you should get rid of those Teflon pans already and nix foods with higher pesticide exposures. That means avoiding the so-called “Dirty Dozen” of fruits and veggies, including non-organic apples, strawberries, grapes, celery, and spinach.
Dr. Martin Bastuba, the founder of Male Fertility & Sexual Medicine Specialists in San Diego, adds that women should stay away from caffeine “if possible.” But is that possible? If you can’t get by without downing four lattes a day, it might be wise to find a way to cut back.
So why do the chances of conception drop as you get older? “Women make no eggs in their lifetime,” Dr. Bastuba says. Though you’re born with quite a few (most women start with around two million), by the time puberty rolls around, you’re left with approximately 440,000 eggs, enough for about 440 periods. And when you’re all out of eggs? That’s when menopause hits.
Here’s another important thing to remember: There are genetic factors at work here as well. Some women drink alcohol and coffee like caffeinated, drunk fish; smoke like little chimneys; and then get pregnant in their 30s without a hitch.
But you shouldn’t play roulette with your fertility. And that means asking the tough questions the next time you see your OB/GYN—like reviewing your family medical history, determining your immunity to rubella and chicken pox, and even seeing how fertile you are through any number of tests.
The simple—but difficult—truth is that some women are predisposed to pregnancy, and some are not, though measures like IVF and egg freezing are helping more women than ever start families.
“Some women can lose all their eggs by the age of 25 because of genetics, while some women may be fertile into their 40s,” Dr. Bastuba says. “A very general rule of thumb for women is to determine when their mother achieved menopause” and figure that you’ll go through menopause around the same time, “plus or minus five years.”
Though it’s easy to feel panicky when considering all of this—which is likely the very reason so many of us don’t consider it until the time comes—there’s no need to worry. When in doubt, consult your OB/GYN and discuss your options, but in the interim, just eat well, exercise, and do everything vicey in moderation.