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Fertility with Dr. Beth Donaldson

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Fertility with Dr. Beth Donaldson (bio) 

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Fertility is often top of mind for couples looking to start a family, however many don’t start to think about it until it starts to become a concern. Dr. Beth Donaldson sat down with CKNW’s Lynda Steele and Drex to discuss some of the most common questions surrounding fertility, including how to get your body ready early on.

It seems like fertility issues are becoming much more common – why is that? Is it just because women are waiting longer?

I wouldn’t say that they are becoming much more common, more that we actually know more about infertility than we used to. This is partially because women are older when they are starting to try, so we know more about what women need to work on in order to get pregnant, since it’s not as easy as it would have been when they were younger. Because of this, a lot of people tend to lay the blame of infertility on the woman, but there are things that both women and men can do even before they are thinking of actually getting pregnant that really should be considered.

What are some of these considerations that men and women should take into account?

You really want to have a comprehensive health assessment to get a baseline of your current health. At Copeman we do a head-to-toe physical, lab work, look at your weight, what your diet is like, whether are you exercising enough, drink too much alcohol and more. For women, we’ll also look at your menstrual cycle (whether or not you’re regular), which can be very telling in terms of fertility. For men, a lot of it comes down to diet, exercise and weight, but also stress reduction. There are a lot of men out there with a lot of stress, and they don’t realize that it does actually impact their fertility chances.

Can stress affect a woman’s chances of fertility as well?

Yes, it can affect both men and women. As you get into your 30s you’ve often got a lot more to worry about than you did in your 20s. You might have a mortgage, maybe sick parents, a stressful job, or maybe you’re trying to climb the ranks in your career. You also have that added stress of the clock, which typically falls on the woman’s shoulders. When you’re younger there really isn’t as much pressure. Men are fortunate in that they can produce until they day they die – up until they’re 90, if they wanted to. Being psychologically healthy and as stress-free as you can is important when trying to get pregnant, especially as you get older.

Do you recommend that women look into freezing their eggs if they want to delay or focus on a career first?

There are a couple of scenarios where this might be an option. I’ve had a few cases where we’ve looked at whether they might have fertility issues or be going through chemo for cancer (which is when you probably should look intro freezing your eggs). The other case would be the scenario where you have a successful 32-year-old woman, for example, who hasn’t found the right guy, but knows she’ll eventually to want have kids. In these cases there’s no shame in putting a few eggs away to potentially be used later on. It will allow you different fertility options (in-vitro, surrogacy, etc.) down the road with your own eggs.

Is there any specific age where it really starts to get more difficult for women?

35 is kind of a big number, but there are people all along the spectrum. There are a lot of very fertile 35-years-olds, and lot of very infertile 23-year-olds. Everybody is unique.

What are the most common fertility issues you see?

A lot of people wait too long in their menstrual cycle. I try to council women on timing even before they want to get pregnant. We start to have fertility chats with them at a certain age and encourage them to get to know their cycle, especially off the pill. This helps them to learn what their natural cycle really looks like, because there are a lot of things that go on month-to-month that will tell you whether you’re ovulating or not. Most people are really surprised about how early you actually need to get the sperm in there. Just talking to them about that simple timing factor can go a long way.

What is your biggest piece of advice for couples wanting to get pregnant?

I would say really get to know what’s going on with your body health-wise before you start to try to get pregnant. Get your health checked by your doctor as soon as possible. Ensure you’ve got your stress looked after, make sure you’re eating well, avoid too much alcohol, get your vitamins in (vitamin D, omegas), eat well, be physically active, maintain a healthy weight and be as educated as you can about the timing of conception and what will work for you.