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Quit Smoking to Maximize Your Fertility in the New Year

December 10, 2012

Is your New Year’s Resolution to quit smoking? If so, we’ve got some information to help you stick to your resolution.

According to the recent guidelines released by the Practice Committee of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, approximately 30% of women and 35% of men of reproductive age in the US smoke cigarettes. Despite all we know regarding the harmful effects of tobacco on health, many fail to recognize that there are also reproductive risks associated with smoking, both with sperm quality in men- density, motility, and possibly morphology- and also ovarian reserve in women.

The Committee reviewed data from a large scale population study of nearly 15,000 pregnancies to determine the time to successful conception. The percentage of women experiencing conception delay for over 12 months was 54% higher for smokers than for nonsmokers. Smokers require nearly twice as many in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycles as their non-smoking counterparts to conceive, and in fact, eggs or sperm exposed to cigarette smoke have been shown to expire. It was also discovered that menopause occurs up to 4 years earlier in women who smoke and both men and women risk chromosomal damage to their gametes as a result of smoking.

So why do they continue to smoke?

Glen Schattman, M.D., F.A.C.O.G., a fertility doctor at The Center for Reproductive Medicine and Infertility at Cornell Medical Center in New York, says “Smokers understand it is problematic to their health, but they start young and it becomes hard to stop”.

But smokers don’t have to feel hopeless in their efforts to quit. There are options out there! Nicotine Replacement Therapies like the nicotine patch and prescription drugs are available to treat even the heaviest of smokers before pursuing fertility treatment. It is best to consult your fertility doctor regarding the effects of smoking on your cycle and options for quitting smoking. Your fertility doctor may refer you to outside smoking cessation services; most smokers have the best success in their quit attempts when they combine Nicotine Replacement Therapy with some type of behavioral therapy to help them break the behavioral associations of smoking (i.e., having a cup of coffee with your cigarette or smoking in the car). Schattman says lifestyle changes are imperative to successfully quitting smoking.

Eric A. Widra, M.D. of Shady Grove Fertility Center in Washington, D.C., says like many fertility doctors, he will not allow his fertility patients to cycle if they are currently smoking. This is presumably because smoking slows growth of eggs and fewer are retrieved in an IVF cycle. Fertility doctors look to maximize odds of success for their patients and knowing the detrimental effects of cigarette smoke, it is not a risk they are willing to allow their patients to take. Furthermore, there is research suggesting cigarette smoke increases risk of genetic disorders in smokers’ offspring and can impair the fertility of males born to women who smoked while pregnant.

Women have such a great risk to their fertility while smoking because of the finite ovarian reserve a woman has. “Women have a limited number of eggs and they never come back. But, they can prevent further loss [by quitting]”, says Schattman. Quitting smoking will increase the potential for mature eggs at retrieval. Men’s fertility is compromised, but sperm regenerate after a few months. Once a man quits smoking, healthy sperm production will resume. Widra declares: “Health starts to improve immediately after cessation of smoking. There aren't precise data on fertility, but we would expect most effects to be cleared from women in 1-3 months and man after 3 months.” Overall, quitting smoking is the best thing you can do for your fertility and overall health. Your doctor understands the addiction is tough to beat and the chance for relapse exists, but be honest about your smoking history. Set New Year’s Eve as your date to quit, research your options for smoking cessation services, and boost your odds for pregnancy success in the New Year.

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