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Reproductive and Birth Outcomes

Fertility and Infertility and the Environment

According to data from the National Survey of Family Growth, 11% of U.S. couples had impaired fertility from 2006-2010. Waiting to have a child until later in life and existing medical conditions are not the only causes of male and female infertility. It is believed that environmental contaminants may cause infertility by creating other health conditions. For example, some research suggests that environmental contaminants can affect a woman's menstruation and ovulation. Low-level exposures to compounds such as phthalates, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxin, and pesticides are suspected risk factors. Much more research needs to be done to find out how environmental contaminants may be affecting human fertility.

Exposure and Risk

For many people who want to start a family, the dream of having a child is not easily realized. About 6% of women in the United States ages 15—44 years have difficulty getting pregnant or staying pregnant. Infertility is a problem that can affect both men and women. It can be caused by many factors which may include the following:

  • Age
  • Stress
  • Poor diet
  • Genetics
  • Nutrition
  • Behavior
  • Some medicines
  • Athletic training
  • Being overweight or underweight
  • Tobacco use
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
  • Health problems that cause hormonal changes

The amount and quality of a man's sperm can be affected by:

  • Alcohol
  • Illegal drugs
  • Environmental toxins
  • Tobacco use
  • Some medicines
  • Radiation treatment or chemotherapy for cancer
  • Age
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Prevention

Most healthy women younger than 30 years of age should not worry about infertility unless they have been trying to conceive for at least a year. At this point, women and their partners should talk with their doctors about a fertility evaluation. A woman's chances of conceiving decreases quickly every year after the age of 30. Women in this age group who have been trying to conceive for six months should also talk with their doctors about having a complete and timely fertility evaluation.

Some health issues increase a woman's chances of having fertility problems. Women with the following issues should consult their doctors:

No matter what age, a woman should always talk to her doctor before trying to get pregnant. Doctors can help women prepare their body for a healthy baby. They can also answer questions on fertility and give advice on conceiving.

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