What you need to know about fertility in your 30s and beyond and how to take care of yourself once you're pregnant.

170125 fertility main

Most of us understand that, as women, our bodies were biologically meant to carry babies in our late teens to early 20s, but conversely understand that in society this is rarely the optimal time frame in which to get pregnant. As Dr. Jennifer Pearlman, MD, CCFP, NCMP, FAARM, ABAARM, founder of Pearl Vitality in Toronto, explains, “We’re biologically wired to have babies long before we’re psychologically, or socio-economically prepared.”

Just because we may be past the peak period of fertility hardly means that we can’t conceive in our 30s and 40s: “Fertility isn’t solely based on age: You can’t look at a 38-year-old and assume she’s fertile and similarly you can’t look at a 45-year-old and assume that she is not,”says Dr. Pearlman. “There are many factors that actually dictate how your fertility declines. Stressful events, health issues and nutrition dramatically alter your reproductive potential.”

As women become more interested in delaying pregnancy, we’re learning much more about factors that influence our fertility, and that knowledge is empowering in terms of carrying out a healthy and successful pregnancy.

Fertility and DNA: What's the Connection?

Epigenetics is the study of our genes, more specifically the study of how our genes can be modified and present different information. The genetic code itself isn’t altered, but the story it tells can be changed. As Dr. Pearlman explains, “We used to think that our DNA was set in stone and that our genetics were the end all and be all, but now we understand that our DNA can be affected by diet, stress, environmental toxins, and health issues.”

This is important because it means that we have an effect on how our bodies function, and we can either actively support our health or damage it. By helping to foster a healthy environment, you can impact your fertility.

“We look at epigenetics and reproductive aging and we can see how significantly our lifestyle affects how we’re going to age,” explains Dr. Pearlman. “Things like fat in our diet and hormone-disrupting chemicals can alter fertility. If you are proactive in your fertility, by harnessing the idea of epigenetics, then you are more likely to not only get pregnant, but also have success with any kind of fertility treatment, including IVF.”

Nutrition Dos and Don'ts During Pregnancy

One of the biggest no-nos during pregnancy is eating fish due to its mercury content, so you’ll have to forgo sushi and salmon. “Mercury is found in the fattier fish and can have an impact on the baby’s brain development,” explains Dr. Pearlman. Folic acid, omega-3s and vitamin D are hugely important during pregnancy, so supplementation is a good way to ensure that you’re getting an adequate daily dosage of each. If you used to rely on fish to get your fatty acids and omega-3s, try substituting a handful of walnuts, which are very rich in omega-3s.

Dr. Pearlman also recommends micronutrient therapy to assess individual nutritional needs. By establishing individual nutrient levels, a physician can determine if a woman is deficient in
any nutrients and make more accurate dosage recommendations.

Exercise Mindfully

Exercise is always important, and habits should already be in place before pregnancy. “Being fit is really important, but pregnancy is not the time to get fit,” explains Dr. Pearlman.

She notes that, especially for older women, it’s important not to jeopardize implantation during early pregnancy. It’s important to be mindful of your body movements during exercise: “You don’t want to be constantly bearing down or pounding the pavement. I don’t recommend running because we don’t know the status of the placenta.”

Don't Forget to Think of Yourself!

The entire process from conception to delivery isn’t easy on any woman, no matter what her age. “Older women have a much higher rate of complications during delivery and, because they’re older, are not as quick to recover afterwards. It’s challenging because you have a new mom but also someone who could be recovering from a major abdominal surgery [like a C-section],” says Dr. Pearlman.

Of course, this isn’t to say it’s impossible, just much more physically taxing. There’s a lot more added stress than a younger woman would experience, and it’s important to factor that into your decision to become a new parent.

Tools and Technology

Here are some tools to help you assess your fertility or ease any potential stress and anxiety when trying to conceive: