Why is India’s fertility rate declining

15 April,2024 10:02 AM IST |  Mumbai  |  Maitrai Agarwal

Fertility expert delves into causes of dropping fertility rate, and what can be done in an individual capacity to maintain fertility

Image for representational purposes only. Photo Courtesy: iStock

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Total fertility rates (TFR) - the average number of children born per woman - has been falling across the globe. A Lancet study estimates, "By 2100, the estimated fertility rates will be below the replacement level in more than 95 per cent of the world's countries and territories but disparities in rates will remain." What this means is that global population is set to fall than current levels.

Researchers have raised concerns regarding India's falling total fertility rate, which has been declining for decades now. The country's fertility rate has reduced from 6.2 in 1950 to less than 2 in 2024, and is set to drop to 1.29 in 2050. It is important to note that in 2021, India's fertility rate of 1.91 was below the required replacement fertility level of 2.1. We asked Dr Nandita Palshetkar, obstetrician, gynecologist, director of Bloom IVF India, and President of IVF Society of India (ISAR) to help us understand some of the reasons behind this, the impact of lifestyle choices, and ways to optimise fertility.

Factors contributing to the significant decrease in fertility rate
1. One of the main drivers of low fertility rates is economic progress. When countries such as India undergo rapid economic development, families opt for smaller sizes. An improved healthcare infrastructure along with reduced child mortality rates contributes to this trend because parents become more confident about their children's survival chances. The necessity of having a big family decrease hence reducing the Total Fertility Rate.
2. The other major factor that determines trends in fertility is women's education and empowerment. As women gain access to education and opportunities for personal and professional development, they increasingly prioritise their own aspirations and well-being. Delayed marriage and childbearing, coupled with greater autonomy regarding reproductive decision-making result into smaller family sizes.
3. More so, the availability and access to family planning methods has really influenced how people decide on how many children they want to have or not. Couples can use contraceptives or even visit family planning clinics whenever they think it is necessary. By allowing individuals to control their own fertility, family planning programmes have contributed greatly towards these declining rates of fertility observed today.

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Understanding the influence of lifestyle choices
The fertility outcomes are heavily influenced by diet and lifestyle choices especially in the context of India where its culture is diverse and dietary habits differ much among different cultural groups. For instance, a healthy lifestyle is essential because factors such as stress, smoking, and environmental pollution have a significant impact on reproductive health. Some Indian women experience difficulties such as premature ovarian failure that directly affects their chances of conceiving. Similarly, there are issues like low sperm count and poor sperm motility that many men face, further complicating the fertility landscape.

Furthermore, abnormal dietary patterns may hinder ovulation causing menstrual cycle irregularities thus escalating challenges of infertility. Thus, there is need for adequate nutrition and regular physical exercise for fertility optimisation. By changing unhealthy eating habits into good ones plus integrating physical exercises into daily routine people can overcome adverse impacts of lifestyles upon reproductive health which result in improved prospects of conception plus a successful pregnancy.

Essentially, there are several lifestyle factors such as obesity, smoking or excessive drinking of alcohol that have been found to significantly affect fertility rates. By engaging into healthier lifestyles and reducing smoking, moderating on drinking habits, people can minimise these threats consequently improving on the possibilities of improved fertility.

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The role of weight in reproductive health
Both men and women experience significant reproduction difficulties caused by obesity. In addition, excessive weight alters hormone balance thereby causing irregular periods and ovulation problems for women. Additionally, obesity increases the risk of conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which can further impair fertility.

Due to the tobacco's harmful substances, smoking is detrimental to reproductive health in males and females alike. Smoking reduces the quality of sperms thus reducing fertility in men. Likewise smoking impairs egg quality which hinders conception in women.

Consuming alcohol excessively has adverse effects on both male and female fertility. It disrupts sperm production and impairs sperm quality hence alcohol can interfere with these processes in males. Also, alcohol can cause hormonal imbalances that result in irregular menstrual cycles and reduced fertility rates among females. Moderation is key to alleviating the adverse effects of alcohol on reproductive health.

The relationship between stress and infertility
Stress plays a major role in fertility due to the challenges of contemporary way of life that are characterised by relentless working hours and emotional stress. The disrupted balance of hormones caused by chronic stress affects the process of reproductive system leading to irregular period and ovulation in women. This may lead to reduced chances of successfully conceiving and longer waiting periods before getting pregnant.

Managing stress for reproductive health becomes an important aspect in developing countries where there is urbanisation and fast-paced life. In terms of coping with stress effectively, different relaxation techniques can be applied. Yoga, meditation, mindfulness and deep breathing exercises are helpful in relieving stress and improving mood. Thus, individuals can reduce negative effects of stress by relaxation techniques integrated into their everyday lives.

Furthermore, prioritising mental wellbeing along with physical fitness is vital in order to optimise fertility outcomes. Developing ways of managing anxiety like hobbies participation, spending time with loved ones or seeking professional help when needed, assists in creating a healthier environment for reproduction. Therefore, addressing stress as well as self-care enhances fertility potential and increases the chances of conception.

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Couples planning to get pregnant are encouraged to optimise fertility through lifestyle changes and dietary interventions. Proper nutrition is the first step toward achieving reproductive health. Regular physical activity also is an equally important foundation of fertility. It not only helps in weight maintenance but also enhances general metabolic function as well as blood flow. Exercise induces a release of endorphins into the body system and helps in lowering stress levels and promoting emotional wellbeing thereby encouraging fertility.

Men's sperms and women's eggs are affected negatively by tobacco while alcohol consumption can disrupt hormonal regulation and impair fertility.
Chronic stress can upset hormone balance disrupting menstrual periods making conception difficult. Managing stress requires engaging in relaxation techniques, getting enough sleep and seeking support when needed so that body can create an atmosphere conducive to conceiving.
In summary, proper nutrition, mental health considerations as well as exercise and avoiding harmful habits form the basis for fertility improvement.

Disclaimer: This information does not replace professional medical advice. Consult a qualified specialist or your physician for personalised guidance.

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