A little physical ed 101: Menstruation happens when an unfertilized egg needs to leave the body along with the uterus lining. While periods might seem like a pain, they signal that your body is ovulating on a regular basis. In essence, if your period doesn't happen regularly, it could be a sign that ovulation isn't occurring either.
Even if you're not looking to get pregnant now, your lifestyle choices have a big impact on your overall health and ability to conceive in years to come. If you're guilty of smoking or heavy drinking, Dr. Pal says it's time to change your habits. "[You] should avoid exposure to things such as tobacco and excessive alcohol that have direct implications for ovarian function," she says. Other items on the list include extreme weight loss or gain, as well as chronic stress or depression.
Some STIs can have a serious lasting impact on your ability to conceive. The main ones to be aware of are chlamydia and gonorrhea, which can damage the fallopian tubes, and HPV, which can lead to pre-cancerous cells that might make it hard to get pregnant. Schedule regular health checks, and if you haven't already received the HPV vaccine, chat with your doctor about it.
We don't want to sound like your annoying relative who reminds you that "the clock is ticking," but Dr. Pal says many women aren't aware that we're born with a finite number of eggs. In general, fertility starts to decline in your 30s, and a 40-year-old woman has a 5% chance of getting pregnant.
We spend most of our lives trying to avoid getting pregnant, but it's worth noting that if and when you do decide to conceive, it's not always a fast process. "[In] a healthy, young couple under 30 years of age (where there’s no history of STIs, [the woman is] having regular menstrual cycles [and] they’re having timed intercourse), infertility is said to be when they have had one year’s worth of trying without success," says Dr. Pal.
The key message: Whether you're trying to conceive or not, it's smart to be aware of your body and take care of it. Pregnancy might seem a long way off, but adjusting your lifestyle habits and being self-aware can make a big difference. Your older self will thank you.
Know someone who's pregnant? .