For 1 in 8 couples in the United States today, the path to pregnancy is riddled with roadblocks. Experts point to a host of medical, environmental and social factors, from pesticides in food to hormone-disrupting stress. Chief among the fertility-zappers is age. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 20 percent of American women now have their first child after age 35. Unfortunately, about one-third of them will confront fertility barriers, thanks to diminished egg reserves or a heightened risk of other reproductive challenges. When a couple have trouble conceiving, it’s usually the woman who finds herself sweating it out in the stirrups. But while one-third of infertility problems can be traced to the female partner, the same number can be attributed to the man. Both partners have issues 10 percent of the time, and 20 percent of cases are frustratingly labeled “unexplained.” Most female infertility cases stem from ovulatory problems, including hormone imbalances or polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), a hormonal disorder characterized by irregular periods, excess hair growth and acne. Others face thyroid disease; mechanical issues like blocked fallopian tubes; or endometriosis, a painful disorder in which the uterine lining grows outside the uterus. Certain culprits, including blocked tubes or very low sperm counts, require surgery or assisted reproductive techniques like in vitro fertilization (IVF). But some experts say a quick-fix mentality on the part of both patients and physicians has contributed to an over-reliance on IVF, which costs about $12,000 per cycle and can be exceptionally taxing on a woman’s body, emotions and relationships.
A growing number of practitioners are advocating a blend of holistic care with mainstream reproductive endocrinology. “Lifestyle is a huge factor,” says Sami S. David, M.D., assistant professor of reproductive medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City and co-author of Making Babies: A Proven 3-Month Program for Maximum Fertility (Little Brown).
While you can’t change your age, you can control the foods you eat, the way you handle stress and your environment. We asked the experts—many of whom used a combination of traditional and complementary approaches to surmount their own fertility challenges—for their top recommendations. Choose the methods that suit your physical or emotional needs; if you haven’t conceived after three to six months (depending on your age and patience level), consult a reproductive endocrinologist.