Smoking and Fertility

There is a lot of confusion and misinformation about how smoking affects fertility. So, what are the facts? Is it the same for men and women? Is it actually worth quitting?

We are all aware that smoking is bad for the health generally. There is a huge campaign to make us aware of the risks, from respiratory problems to cancer.

What many people are less aware of, however, is the effect on the reproductive health. Whether you are planning to have a child in the future, actively trying to conceive or aren?t ready to start a family, evaluating the effect your smoking habit could have on your fertility is important. That’s before you even consider the impact of smoking on an unborn baby. Lots of people wouldn?t consider exposing their baby to cigarette smoke, but they don?t consider how smoking could make it more difficult to conceive in the first place. If smoking could make it easier or faster for you to conceive, it could save a lot of heartache as you try to get pregnant.

The Effects of Smoking on Fertility

First of all, there is a timing issue ? smoking can mean a woman reaches menopause sooner (on average 2 years earlier according to the NHS). This means that women who smoke may have less time in which to conceive.
The chemicals in cigarettes can cause damage to the female reproductive organs and the eggs. These same chemicals can also cause problems with ovulation in women and can result in hormonal imbalances in men.
Men who smoke tend to have a lower sperm count, and often sperm motility problems too so that there are fewer sperm and they move less efficiently.
Smoking increases the chances of a man experiencing erectile dysfunction.

There has been extensive research on the effects of smoking on fertility, and the evidence does show, very strongly, that for couples where one or both partners smoke, it can take longer to conceive, and the risk of infertility is higher.

Don?t Panic!

If you smoke, and you are worried by how much it could be affecting your fertility, then don?t panic. The risks are higher if you are a heavy smoker or have been smoking for a long time. Female fertility can improve just 2 months after quitting smoking and for men, stopping smoking is the easiest and most effective way to improve fertility, with improvements taking longer but sperm count increasing very dramatically for many.

A few months after quitting the habit the sperm count starts to increase. By quitting smoking, you can also rest a little easier when you do conceive ? your risk of miscarriage will also be lower, and your baby will be getting a much better start in life. Studies show that passive smoking poses a risk to an unborn child, and when your baby is born, even a smoker who is not actively smoking around your child can pose a risk to your child from the chemicals and smoke in their clothes and hair.

While smoking can have a big effect on fertility, stopping can have a big effect as well. Making the decision to quit smoking will make it easier to conceive and easier to provide your baby with a safer start in life ? what bigger motivation could there be for kicking the habit?

Fertility Awareness

If you or someone you know is suffering from infertility, then you know how difficult this condition can be.The World Health Organisation has calculated that over 10% of women are affected by infertility.1 are running a fertility awareness campaign where we hope to provide you with facts, helpful information and links all which are designed to help you and those you know, work towards the goal of creating your family.

We will have contributions from people working in the field as well as an insight from one of the Irish fertility clinics.

The first Infographic below has a few helpul tips on fertility for women who are trying to conceive.

Trying to conceive

Charting is a big part of the lives of many women who are trying to conceive, and yet for many more it is a confusing process. If you are trying to conceive or thinking about trying in the future (or if you are just mystified by what it all means) then it is important to understand ovulation and how it is linked to conception. It is also important for men to understand why their partner is doing these sometimes strange things, and why they are so important for you both when trying for a baby.

Trying to Conceive – Charting Why Chart?

Some women have a very regular cycle and are able to pinpoint roughly when they ovulate (release an egg). Some women are aware of ovulation as they experience abdominal pain or tender breasts, noticeably different discharge or changes in how they feel due to the hormones released. Other women have no idea when they are ovulating, lots of women feel no different when they ovulate and many of us have irregular cycles that make it hard to work out when ovulation occurs. By knowing exactly when you ovulate, you can increase your chances of ensuring that the released egg is met by sperm so that it can be fertilised. Luckily there are signs that you can measure to work out when you ovulate.

How to Chart

By taking note of cervical mucus and basal body temperature, you can work out when you are ovulating. Noting down changes in mucus and plotting temperature on a chart can help you work out your unique pattern and this enables you to predict when you will ovulate in the coming months.

Cervical Mucus (CM)

The cervical mucus follows a pattern which changes as you enter different stages of fertility throughout the month. Before you are able to work out when you will ovulate in the future, you will need to identify these different stages, as every woman’s cycle varies and what is normal for you may be unusual for someone else. The CM usually follows a fairly regular cycle;

Just after menstruation (your period) you may have very little CM or it may be sticky and quite dry for a couple of days. Fertility is low at this point.

The next stage is the pre-ovulation stage, when the CM is becoming slightly thinner, wetter and more slippery. This is so that sperm can more easily travel to the egg, which your body is preparing to release. The chances of conception are increasing at this stage but this is a transitional stage, and happens before the truly fertile stage. The CM will also be like this after ovulation.

The amount of CM increases and the consistency becomes thinner and much more slippery. It will feel stretchy, look more transparent, and is often referred to as egg-white mucus. This is the fertile stage and you chances of conception are at their highest as ovulation is either about to occur or is occurring.

Some women may be able to check their cervical mucus by simply wiping with some toilet tissue. Others may find it more difficult, and for these women it is easier to insert a finger into the vagina and tilt it towards the cervix in order to get some of the cervical mucus on the finger so it can be examined. By stretching the mucus between two fingers you can assess how stretchy it is, another key indicator that ovulation is imminent.

Writing down a description of your CM and putting it in a diary can help you work out when you are in your most fertile stage, and when the mucus suggests you are pre-ovulation or post-ovulation. This is a great way to assess your fertility during the month, but it is much more effective when combined with information from other sources, especially charting basal body temperature.

Charting Basal Body Temperature (BBT)

When it comes to measuring basal body temperature (BBT), it is all about precision. To measure effectively you need to have a thermometer which is precise enough to measure tiny changes in temperature. The other important thing to understand is that your basal body temperature can only be taken first thing in the morning after a minimum of three hours? sleep. Take the temperature measurement before you get out of bed, before you eat or drink and before you do anything else to get the most reliable temperature recording.

Recording BBT works because it enables you to pinpoint when any small rise in your basal temperature occurs ? a sign that ovulation is occurring. You won?t even notice it, but your body temperature rises by around 0.2 or 0.3 degrees C when you ovulate. Measuring your temperature over the course of a month enables you to work out when the temperature spikes by a fraction of a degree compared to the previous week of temperature recordings. If this temperature spike lasts for three days and coincides with fertile cervical mucus, you can be even more confident that you are at your most fertile stage and ovulation is occurring.

There are factors that may affect the reliability of your results ? an illness can raise your temperature, medications (such as paracetamol or ibuprofen) can lower it and alcohol can affect it too.

Charting has helped many women work out when they are ovulating, and there are tests that you can purchase that work in a similar way to a pregnancy test that also help you estimate your ovulation date. Most experts agree that the most effective way to ensure you conceive is to have sex every two days throughout the cycle, but knowing your cycle, and being aware of your most fertile times allows you to concentrate your efforts and also to establish if there are any problems with your cycle.