Not now, darling

PHOTO: Not now, darling

When I got hitched a year ago, I told my husband we should not rush into having children. After all, things will change dramatically with them around.

The intention was for my husband and I to enjoy some alone-time together and boost our finances.

But after speaking to Kuala Lumpur Fertility Centre fertility specialist Datuk Dr Prashant Nadkarni, this may not be such a good idea for me, or for any other newly-wed. Women are born with all their eggs. And the younger the eggs, the better.

Dr Prashant says a woman is past her fertile age by 35. "Ageing affects chances of getting pregnant. Pregnancy shouldn't be delayed too long because the older you are, the lower the chances of conceiving," says Dr Prashant.

Modern women prefer to plan their pregnancy and most are tying the knot at a later age. If they continue to delay motherhood, the country may face a bigger fertility crisis.

"There is a fertility crisis all around the world, even in countries with dense population such as China. But we are not addressing the issue seriously because we do not see it as a disease," says Dr Prashant who has more than 20 years of experience in his field.

In Asia, 80 million people are estimated to face infertility. Among the Asian countries which are facing serious fertility problems are Singapore, Hong Kong and Macau. In four years' time, Malaysia's replacement rate (the number of newborn versus the number of deceased) is expected to be 0.5 when the ideal rate is 2.1. In 1990, our fertility rate was 3.6, but two years ago, it was reported as 2.6.

Apart from late-age marriage, many factors contribute to the decline of fertility rate - lifestyle, health problems, media influence and environmental pollution.

Obesity is a health issue for both women and men when it comes to fertility. The ideal body weight frame for a woman to get pregnant is between the BMI of 19 and 24. Every point below or above this range will decrease the chance of pregnancy by four per cent.

Men's sperm count

Men's sperm count can also be affected by obesity. In an article in the Malaysian Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology in 2009, Malaysian men have been reported to have a decline of 43 per cent in their sperm count from year 1999 to 2007. "Unhealthy lifestyle among men such as too much alcohol consumption and smoking lead to low sperm count."

Stress is another reason. High life expenses, traffic jams and workloads could stress a person daily. "Stress can interrupt ovulation. Stress can also cause irregular periods among women of all ages and low libido between husband and wife."

With low libido, married couples will most likely have a less productive sex life. "Sexually transmitted diseases can also lead to infertility."

Water and food also contribute to fertility problems. "The water that we drink and farm animals now have a high level of oestrogen. Women who take contraceptive pills will pass the oestrogen hormone in the pill into the water supply when they urinate. Our water treatment does not treat this hormone and chemicals."

Research by Universiti Putra Malaysia has reported that the Malaysian water supply has an oestrogen level 20 times higher than in Japan. Farm animals such as cows and chickens are also injected with hormones to enhance growth. When men eat beef or chicken, they will bind oestrogen in their bodies for a long time. This will result in low sperm count.

Then there is also the media which features celebrities such as Celine Dion, Halle Berry and Nicole Kidman who have children at a later age. These stories play an important role in influencing women to delay pregnancy.

"We never see the media featuring the difficulties that these celebrities face in trying to conceive. But it is not easy to be pregnant at 40. They must have had a lot of help."

If you are among those who are having difficulties conceiving, there are options such as intra uterine insemination, in-vitro fertilisation, intra cytoplasmic sperm injection, gamete intra-fallopian transfer and zygote intrafallopian transfer.

Husband and wife need to consult a specialist together to give their input.

This is vital so that doctors can determine the reasons for infertility.

"You can't reverse ageing. The longer you wait, the slimmer the chances to have a child."