Stoptober is a campaign run by the NHS to encourage people to stop smoking during October, in the hope that they continue to stop smoking long term. If you do smoke, and are trying to conceive either naturally or through fertility treatment, why not join in with Stoptober to improve your fertility and your chances of success.
It has been proven through research that smokers are more likely to have fertility problems than non-smokers. Smoking has also been found to have a significant negative effect on IVF success by affecting live birth outcome, with a higher risk of miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy in those women that smoke (Klonoff-Cohen et el 2001; Waylen et al 2009).
How does smoking affect fertility?
A cigarette contains over 4,000 chemicals and so by smoking these chemicals are circulating round your body. In women, components of cigarette smoke may cause oxidative stress and DNA damage in the ovarian follicle. Ovarian aging is thought to be a major contributor to unexplained infertility. This can lead to fertility problems, including the following:
- Ovulation problems
- Damage to your reproductive organs
- Damage to your eggs or premature menopause.
- Increased risk of cancer and increased risk of miscarriage
- Genetic problems
In addition, smokers that undergo fertility treatments tend to take longer to get pregnant. Smokers are also more likely to give birth to babies with health problems.
Research has shown that passive smoking is as bad as smoking a cigarette, because the smoke exposes you to poisonous chemicals which affect fertility. Passive smoking is also a known cause of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). If you do become pregnant, you and your partner must stop smoking to protect the health of your baby.
Smoking can also cause fertility problems in men. Smoking can lead to lower sperm counts and sperm motility problems, as well as contributing to erectile dysfunction and hormonal imbalances. Male smoking is also associated with decreased IVF success rates. Studies have found that sperm concentration, as well as the quality of sperm, are affected by smoking in the following ways:
- Sperm concentration: Sperm concentration refers to the number of sperm found in a measured quantity of semen. Studies have shown a 23% decrease in sperm concentration in men who smoke.
- Sperm motility: If sperm cannot move properly, they may have trouble reaching and fertilizing the egg. In men who smoke, researchers found a 13% decrease in sperm motility.
- Sperm morphology: Having unusually shaped sperm may mean that they cannot swim well enough to reach and fertilize the egg. Male smokers have fewer healthy sperm than non-smokers.
- Sperm DNA: Some studies have found that the sperm of smokers has increased DNA fragmentation. DNA damaged sperm may lead to problems with fertilization, embryo development, embryo implantation, and increased miscarriage rates.
- Male smokers may also have abnormal hormone levels, which can affect fertility.
Sharma, Harlev, Agarwal and Esteves (2016). “Cigarette Smoking and Semen Quality: A New Meta-analysis Examining the Effect of the 2010 World Health Organization Laboratory Methods for the Examination of Human Semen.” Eur Urol. 2016 Apr 21. pii: S0302-2838(16)30069-0.