When you're young and thinking about just taking care of yourself, it can be hard to pay attention to all the little things that will affect your fertility later on. However, there are some important health warning signs to pay attention to if you do want kids some day, as ignoring them or leaving them untreated can have detrimental effects down the line. Preserving your fertility does require a little bit of planning, and if kids are in your future, you'll have to pay attention to certain areas of your health, no matter your age.
"Although choosing when to have a family is a personal decision for every couple, there are a few early warnings signs of reproductive issues that women may want to mention to their OB/GYN," says Joseph R. Garza, M.D., the Chief Fertility Officer with the Advanced Fertility Center, over email. "Most of these conditions are treatable, but it’s best to do a pre-conception workup to identify any issues you may have and address them well before you decide to start trying for a family. That way, you don’t waste precious time during your window of conception treating a condition that could have been resolved years earlier."
If you're looking to have children one day, don't ignore these 11 warning signs.
"Regular menstrual cycles typically indicate regular ovulation, which makes it easier to plan for conception," says Garza. "If your periods vary widely in length of cycle or flow, be sure to talk to your OB/GYN about it. Hormonal birth control pills can help regulate your cycle and encourage monthly shedding of the uterine lining, which keeps the uterus healthy for future pregnancies."
Look out for intense cramps or painful periods. "Worsening pelvic pain/ menstrual pain can sometimes suggest the development of endometriosis — a benign but frequently painful and chronic condition that can lead to progressive scarring of the pelvic organs, which can lead to infertility for many sufferers," says Dr. Janet Choi, reproductive endocrinologist with CCRM-New York, over email. "There are some studies suggesting that early detection and management with birth control pills (to suppress the stimulus of endometriosis spread) might help control the progression of this disorder."
As women age, our egg supply naturally decreases, and as the supply gets low, menstrual intervals can shift, says Choi. "Once the eggs are gone, they can’t be regenerated so it’s good to stay on top of your current supply," says Choi. However, missed periods aren't always cause to panic. "Frequently, it can be a passing thing due to stress or an easy to treat issue like a thyroid gland that’s under or overactive," she says. Your gynecologist can also order tests for you that determine your ovarian reserve.
4Dark Hair Growth
An abundance of dark facial and/or body hair may be an indicator of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). "PCOS occurs when women produce more male hormones (androgens) than necessary," says Garza. "It’s one of the leading factors of female infertility, as it affects ovulation regularity and egg production." PCOS is manageable, but it’s better to address it well before you decide to become pregnant.
5Worsening Smokers Cough
A cough from smoking can indicate a whole slew of other health problems, but you might not realize it can also affect your fertility. "Not only does smoking increase the risk for all sorts of cancers but also accelerates the loss rate of your eggs," says Choi. "Women who smoke are more prone to early menopause as well as pregnancy related medical problems."
6Certain Mosquito Bites
Most mosquitos are harmless, but if you're in an area with Zika, you'll want to be careful. "These tricky little pests can have a big impact on the health of a pregnancy and it is important to avoid areas that have mosquitos carrying Zika virus," says Dr. Marie Werner of Reproductive Medicine Associates of New Jersey (RMANJ) over email. "Zika virus has been associated with severe birth defects when infection occurs during pregnancy."
Extreme fatigue, unintentional weight gain, and intolerance to changing temperatures can indicate early warning signs of autoimmune disorder. "Thyroid function, for example, is extremely important to regular menstrual cycles and to the health of an early pregnancy," says Werner. "The good news is that inadequate thyroid function can be easily treated."
If you experience bloating or seem to have an intolerance to gluten, don't let it go ignored. "Celiac disease is a disorder in which you may have symptoms of diarrhea, constipation, or loss of appetite," says Werner. "Untreated celiac disease has also been associated with infertility. Treatment for celiac disease does not require medication, but it does require a big change in the way you eat. Although this may be a tough diet to follow, it is very effective in reversing the symptoms of this disease."
9Discomfort During Sex
Discomfort during sex — and also during bowel movements — can be another indicator of endometriosis. "Many women with endometriosis don’t recognize they have this condition — instead, they write it off as extreme discomfort," says Garza.
10Recurring Vaginal Infections
"Yeast infections, Bacterial Vaginosis and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) can disrupt the balance of the vagina and create an inhospitable environment for both the sperm and a fetus," says Garza. "These conditions can create inflammations which limit the possibility of an embryo implanting in the uterine lining, and increase the risk of miscarriage."
Women in their 30s should be on the lookout for hair loss, vaginal dryness, and hormonal changes such as sleeplessness, irritability and body temperature changes, says Garza. These could all be signs of early-onset menopause, which would make conception extremely difficult. "As many women are now delaying starting a family until their 30s, paying close attention to bodily changes that seem unusual is critical," he says. "Be sure to talk to your OB/GYN about any issues you’ve noticed, especially if you’re still planning on becoming pregnant."