Other factors

Apart from age, consumption, weight, smoking, alcohol and timing of sex, there are a number of other factors that impact on fertility and your chance of having a healthy pregnancy and baby. The evidence of their impact on fertility varies. Here’s a list of some common ones…

Attention to lifestyle can improve fertility and your chance of having a healthy baby.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

What is PCOS?

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal condition. It is a common condition affecting up to 1 in 5 women of childbearing age.

The two main hormones that are affected are insulin and testosterone (male-like hormones), which may be produced in higher levels leading to signs such as:

  • less regular periods
  • excess hair growth on face, stomach, back
  • acne or pimples
  • easy weight gain
  • may delay getting pregnant
  • increased risk of diabetes
  • increased risk factors for heart disease
  • mood problems (anxiety or depression)

Not all women with PCOS will have all of these symptoms as PCOS can vary between women and changes with age.

Fertility and PCOS

The most successful way to treat PCOS is by living a healthy life. The healthier you are, the better your chances of conceiving and having a healthy baby.

Most women with PCOS are able to conceive, however they may take a little longer to fall pregnant. The way you eat, exercise and generally stay healthy is the best way to reduce your symptoms.

Doing regular exercise greatly helps women with PCOS in many ways, such as improving mood and in preventing weight gain, diabetes and heart disease.  Even a few kilos can make a very big difference to your fertility by regulating your periods and increasing ovulation (produce an egg which is ready to become fertilised).



The good news

If you’re overweight, a weight loss as little as 5 – 10% of body weight or just a few kilos can help improve your symptoms. For example, 5% for a woman weighting 80kg is only 4 kg.

It is important to ensure you eat a balanced diet with good amounts of vegetables and fruit and to be as active as possible, ideally with the aim of losing some weight in advance of conceiving.

When making changes to your lifestyle:

  • avoid short term fad diets or changes you are unlikely to be able to maintain long-term
  • ensure you are ready to change and that you have support around you
  • set small achievable goals that you can manage (Eg. taking the stairs not the lift, use a pedometer and to increase your steps each day, swapping juice for water)
  • build your goals up slowly over time.

View our new PCOS fact sheet for more detailed information.

Visit Jean Hailes for Women’s Health provides practical advice on diagnosis and management of PCOS, based on the latest research, for women and health professionals.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs), particularly gonorrhoea and chlamydia, can affect the fertility of both women and men.

To avoid sexually transmitted infection, practicing safe sex with the consistent use of a condom or dental dam will provide some protection from transmitting an infection. When you are ready to have a family, both parties involved should be tested for STIs, to minimise the risk of passing an infection on to your partner or child.


Chlamydia is a very common bacterial infection that can affect any person who has unprotected sex.

It’s estimated that at least 75 per cent of women and 25 per cent of men will experience no symptoms. As symptoms of chlamydia can be similar to those of other conditions such as thrush and cystitis, it may also be overlooked. If symptoms do occur they can include:

  • pelvic pain
  • painful and heavy periods
  • deep pain with vaginal sex
  • bleeding between periods or after having sex
  • frequent and burning urination
  • unusual vaginal discharge.

How chlamydia can affect women’s fertility

Chlamydia causes inflammation of the urethra (tube from the bladder to the urinary opening) and/or the cervix (neck of the uterus). If left untreated the infection can travel to the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries. When the infection moves to these areas it is referred to as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID may form scar tissue and adhesions which can result in serious health issues including chronic pelvic pain, ectopic pregnancy and fertility problems. Symptoms of PID include:

  • lower abdominal pain and tenderness
  • deep pain during sexual intercourse
  • heavy and painful periods
  • fever.

How is chlamydia treated?

Chlamydia is treated with antibiotics.


Gonorrhoea is a bacterial infection that usually affects the genital area, although the throat or anus may also be affected. Gonorrhoea can affect both men and women and is easily transmitted during vaginal intercourse. It can also be transmitted during anal or oral sex.

Gonorrhoea symptoms for women

A lack of specific signs and symptoms means gonorrhoea may go undetected for longer in women. Often there are no symptoms. Sometimes, gonorrhoea causes:

  • an unusual discharge from the vagina
  • pain while urinating.

How gonorrhoea can affect women’s fertility

If left untreated, gonorrhoea can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which can cause infertility. Symptoms of PID include:

  • lower abdominal pain and tenderness
  • deep pain during sexual intercourse
  • heavy and painful periods
  • fever.

Women who have had PID need to be especially careful about gonorrhoea, because the risk of infertility increases with each bout of inflammation.

How is gonorrhoea treated?

Gonorrhoea is treated with antibiotics.

For more information about sexually transmitted infections, tests and treatment, contact a sexual health clinic in your state.

The Better Health Channel website also has information about sexually transmitted infections.


Although the evidence is not conclusive, research studies have found that high levels of caffeine consumption might prolong the time it takes to get pregnant. One study showed that women who consumed more than 500mg of caffeine per day had an 11 per cent increase in the time they took to conceive their first baby compared with women who consumed less.

The average amount of caffeine in a cup of coffee is 85mg but it can range from 40mg to 175mg depending on how the coffee is prepared and the kind of beans used.

Professor Robert Norman, an expert in reproductive medicine at the University of Adelaide, says that while the link between caffeine and infertility is weak, women trying to get pregnant should consider cutting out coffee and caffeinated drinks.


Research has found that a healthy diet in the year prior to getting pregnant is associated with a lower rate of birth defects.

Women planning on getting pregnant should avoid eating fish that have higher mercury levels and make sure they’re getting enough folate (folic acid), a B-vitamin which helps prevent neural tube birth defects such as spina bifida.

If you’re getting your folate through a multivitamin, make sure you’re taking one specifically for pregnancy or preconception because some vitamins, such as Vitamin A, are dangerous for pregnancy if taken in high amounts.

The best way to make sure you are getting enough nutrients is to have a healthy well-balanced diet rather than relying on vitamin supplements.

For more information on a well-balanced diet visit the Nutrition Australia website. For a ‘meal and activity planner’ to assist you in your health journey visit the LiveLighter program.


When you have diabetes, it is important to plan and prepare for pregnancy before you start trying for a baby. It is recommended that you have a review of your diabetes, and your general health with your doctor, at least three to six months beforehand.

Women with diabetes can have a healthy baby, but there are a number of extra risks associated. To reduce diabetes related risks, it is best that you become pregnant at a time when your diabetes is well managed and there are no other health problems.

Visit the NDSS Pregnancy & Diabetes website for a complete set of resources to help you manage your diabetes and ensure you give your child the best start to life.

1. Having a healthy baby booklet- type 1 diabetes

2. Having a healthy baby booklet – type 2 diabetes

3. Gestational diabetes e-booklet

Environmental toxins

Scientists have begun to investigate the effects that certain chemicals have upon our overall health. Research has established that some chemicals in the environment can affect reproductive health.

An environmental toxin, scientifically known as an endocrine disruptor, is a chemical that interferes with the hormones within our body. Both male and female bodies are affected by these toxins and research suggests that the toxins can affect many areas of our fertility. For example a man’s sperm quality can increase a couple’s time to pregnancy.

So what chemicals should we look out for and where are they found? This is tricky, as new research is constantly being published, adding to the list of harmful chemicals. Some examples are BPA (bisphenol-A), PCB (polychlorinated biphenyls), phthalates and DDT and they can be found in plastic drink bottles and food containers and cosmetics (hair products, make up and perfume). These chemicals may also be found in household products (surface cleaners and disinfectants) and pesticides.

It is difficult to avoid daily chemicals completely however you can make a conscious effort to reduce your exposure by drinking out of glass bottles as often as possible, microwaving food in ceramics as opposed to plastic, reading the labels on products and washing your fruit and vegetables before consuming.


Although there is an emerging body of scientific literature on this topic, it’s important to remember that so far, research still cannot produce any concrete date. Chemicals in our society are hard to pinpoint due to the cocktail of chemicals we are exposed to everyday. But it’s best to be aware of the potential threat these chemicals pose.

For a more detailed explanation of how environmental toxins can affect our fertility, visit




The use of drugs should be avoided when planning a pregnancy.

If you are taking prescription drugs and plan to get pregnant be sure to check with your doctor that these are safe in pregnancy. Some over-the-counter drugs, supplements such as vitamins, and herbal medicines, can also be harmful to the unborn baby and if in doubt, check with your doctor.

Recreational drugs, including cocaine, heroin, and ecstasy, have also been shown to affect male and female fertility. Long-term use of these drugs can lead to permanent reproductive problems and prevent you from becoming pregnant.

The Better Health Channel website has more information about pregnancy and drugs.


If a woman is planning to get pregnant, she should talk to her doctor about any prescription medications, over the counter medications or complementary medicines she is taking, to make sure they are safe.

It is not advisable for women to stop taking prescription medications without first consulting their doctor.


Fertility can be impacted by a range of genetic abnormalities. The Murdoch Children Research Institute provides comprehensive information, alongside a list of experts to contact for more information. https://www.mcri.edu.au/research/themes/genetics/genetic-health-research-blc

The most common genetic cause of infertility in women is Turner syndrome.

Cancer treatment

Cancer treatment can affect a person’s fertility. For more information about oncofertility – options for preserving fertility for people with cancer, visit the Reproductive Health section of the Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority (VARTA) website.


Endometriosis is a condition in which the tissue that lines the uterus is also found outside the uterine cavity, which can cause pelvic pain and infertility. It is thought to affect one in ten women at some point during their menstruating years.

Infertility is present in about 30 per cent of women with endometriosis but there are treatment options.

In mild endometriosis there is no obvious reason why infertility occurs, but it is believed that there may be some body chemicals released from the endometriosis cells that interfere with the ability to conceive or affect early normal development of the embryo.

In moderate to severe forms, scarring may cause interference with ovulation and the passage of the egg along the tube because of damage or blockage. It can also prevent the sperm from reaching the egg.

It is important to remember that not all women with endometriosis are infertile. Many women have children without difficulty; have already had children before they are diagnosed; or over time, eventually have a successful pregnancy.

See more at:http://jeanhailes.org.au

Myth conception

The myth:

"Chlamydia doesn’t affect a woman’s fertility."

The truth:

Chlamydia can cause fertility problems.

Chlamydia is often asymptomatic so people can have the infection for some time without being diagnosed or treated. Undetected chlamydia infections can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which in turn can lead to infertility.

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