No matter when — or if — you want to get pregnant, looking after your reproductive health is important. Your hormones aren't just there to make babies (well technically they are), but they do so much more than that — so having a reproductive system that works well is essential for your physical and mental health. And rather than leaving it up to chance, there are a few things that you can be doing to play your part in better reproductive health.
1. Make an informed decision about contraception.
I was put on the oral contraceptive pill when I was 16 to help with my PCOS (a hormonal imbalance which meant I had irregular cycles, acne, hair, weight gain - all fun things for a teenager). I wasn't informed of the risks (more weight gain, depression, increased incidence of cancer) but told it would regulate my cycles.
What I found out later, when I was training as a naturopath, is that when you bleed on the pill, it's an artificial bleed to mimic your period and help you feel more normal. It's not a period and doesn’t have the same function.
The other thing I found out is that it can take between six months and two years for your hormones to regulate after you come off the pill, so if you're thinking of starting a family soon, it might be worth coming off the pill sooner and using condoms to allow your cycle to regulate.
Do your research about which contraceptive method is the best one for you. I recommend reading Sweetening the Pill by Hollly Grigg-Spall and remember that your health is a lot more important than your partner’s sensations during sex.
2. Be responsible for your sexual health.
Have your smear/pap (cervical screening) test regularly. Each country has different recommendations. In the UK screening starts at 25 and you should get checked every three years. In the US, screening starts at 21, but wherever you are, make sure you know what screening is available to you and take responsibility for when you need to get retested.
If you’ve had sexual partners in the past, think about whether it would be useful to get an STI test done. Some STIs can be symptomless but will still have an impact on your fertility. It’s better to get a clean bill of health now than find a problem later on. Getting tested for STIs is nothing to be ashamed of. It is merely another way that you are taking good care of your body.
Although your breasts aren’t technically part of your reproductive system, they are hugely influenced by your hormones, so feeling your breasts regularly is a hugely important part of getting to know what’s normal for your body throughout your cycle. Check out Coppa Feel for more info on how to check your boobs, how often to do it, and what to do if something changes.
3. Know what's normal.
100%, the best thing you can do right now for your reproductive health is to begin tracking what’s normal for you and really getting to know what your body does each and every month.
Start tracking when your period comes and what it looks like. What is the colour of the blood? Do you get any pain? How do you feel emotionally around your period?
Start trying to notice when you think you might be ovulating. In a 'regular' 28-day cycle, it will happen around day 14, but it might be completely different for you. You might feel a twinge in one of your ovaries, commonly a left or right sided stabbing pain. You might notice that your cervical mucus (yes it’s normal!) changes consistency to a stretchy egg-white type consistency. If you really want to get into it, you can even track your cervix as it changes when you ovulate.
Tracking how your mood and energy changes over the month is also super useful information as it becomes your very own monthly guide to how you’re going to feel at each point in your cycle. Our energy and mood may vary a lot, but its normally pretty consistent at each point in the month. Knowing this stuff makes planning social stuff, work events and downtime so much easier.
It's your choice when or if you choose to start a family. It's your body, your life and you get to choose what you do with that.