|What Is Infertility?
Is it our imagination or used it be easier to become pregnant in the past? Our grandmothers seemed to pop out 3 or 4 children (before breakfast) and spent their 30s desperately doing everything they could to avoid having yet another mouth to feed, wash and clothe. Yet today, every second couple seems to be attending infertility counseling or seeking medical treatment in order to start their family. Well according to statistics, it is not all in our head. Turns out, it is more difficult to have a baby these days. Infertility is a major crisis for many couples in the United States and the amount of infertile couples is rising. This increase is largely attributed to the epidemic increase in sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and associated pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Another factor is the rising age of the average mother. A woman aged between 35 and 44 is twice as likely to be infertile as a woman aged between 30 and 34.
So what exactly is infertility? Doctors define it as the inability to make a baby. There are two categories of infertility:
Primary infertility which refers to couples who do not become pregnant after at least 1 year of regular unprotected sexual intercourse.
Secondary infertility refers to couples who have been pregnant at least once, but were unable to conceive any more children.
According to the National Center for Health Statistic's National Survey of Family Growth (2002):
• 7.4 percent of married women, or about 2.1 million American women, were infertile.
• The breakdown of this figure by age is:
- 29 years and under: 11 percent are infertile.
- 30-34 years: 17 percent
- 35-39 years: 23 percent
- 40-44 years: 27 percent
• 7.3 million women (or 12 percent of women aged 15-44) have used infertility services.
What Are The Symptoms Of Infertility?
There are no symptoms as such, except the inability to conceive. However, some women may suffer irregular periods where bleeding lasts longer than 7 days or bleeding occurs sooner than 28 days or after 35 days from the last period. Or severe menstrual cramps can be an indication of gynecologic problems like cysts, fibroids or endometriosis.
What Causes Infertility?
Female infertility accounts for 40 percent of infertile couples. Male infertility accounts for 40 percent and the reasons in the remaining 20 percent of cases are never known. The causes of infertility vary greatly.
Female infertility may be caused by:
• Ovary cysts
• Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
• Pelvic infection or pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
• Scarring from endometriosis or STDs
• Thyroid disease
• Poor diet, drinking too much alcohol or smoking
• Excessive exercise to the point where periods stop
• Advancing age
The most common causes of infertility in men are:
• Hormone imbalances
• Advancing age although this is less significant for men
• Impotence (difficulties maintaining an erection)
• Cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation
• Being in a heated environment for long periods of time
• Birth defects - chromosome abnormalities
Note: 30 percent of fertile couples will fall pregnant within one month of trying and 60 percent will be pregnant within 3 months.
Average conception time: How long does it take to get pregnant?
Optimal age for fertility: What age does fertility go down in women?
How Is It Diagnosed?
It is recommended that women under the age of 30 wait a year before seeking fertility tests. Women over 30 should seek a diagnosis after 6 months (the clock is ticking faster). Both the man and woman can be tested for infertility, but some couples choose to start with the woman and only check the man if no problems are detected on her side. There are 3 possible levels of tests for a woman. In many cases a doctor can reach a conclusion after level 1, but in other cases it may take 2 or all 3 levels. For more details see, how does a doctor test for infertility in women? Male fertility testing is generally more straight forward and involves a sperm count and semen analysis. See, how does a doctor test for infertility in men?
What Is The Treatment?
Infertility treatment depends on the cause of the problem (if it is discovered). Treatment may involve:
1. Having intercourse on your most fertile days or trying different positions. See also, what is the best position for baby making?
2. Lifestyle and diet improvements.
3. Infertility drugs such as clomiphene citrate (brand names Serophene and Clomid) to induce ovulation.
4. Artificial insemination if tests indicate sperm quality is a problem.
5. Sperm donation if you cannot afford IVF. Read about sperm donors. Sperm donation is often used in combination with artificial insemination.
6. If a gynecologic disorder is identified, such as endometriosis or uterine fibroids, treatment for these conditions is undertaken.
7. Corrective surgery to the ovaries if they are blocked (tuberoplasty).
8. In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), where the embryo is implanted artificially in the womb.
9. Egg donation if the mother's eggs are not of good enough quality. See, also what is egg donation?
10. Surrogacy if the woman is unable to carry a baby to full-term.
How can I increase my fertility naturally?
Can you get pregnant during
Will I Become Pregnant?
The good news is, about 90 percent of couples manage to conceive naturally. Of the couples who are diagnosed with infertility, as many as 1 in 5 eventually become pregnant without treatment. More than 50 percent of those who chose treatment (but not advanced expensive techniques like IVF or egg donation) go on to have a baby.
Can I Prevent Infertility?
No, it is not usually preventable. However there is a lot you can do to reduce your risks of becoming infertile. This includes:
Age: Ideally choose to start a family in your 20s or early 30s. The odds are stacked against you after 35.
Avoid STDs: Take steps to avoid STDs, as these can affect your future fertility. Ask your sexual partner(s) to wear condoms unless you are in an infection-free, monogamous relationship (you could also use the female condom). Keep the number of your sexual partners low and seek treatment immediately if you develop suspicious symptoms of STDS.
IUDs: Intrauterine devices (internal contraception) should not really be given to women who wish to have kids sometime in the future as they can cause infertility.
Smoking: If you smoke, quit.
Lifestyle Adjustments: Start preparing your body for pregnancy. Eat a healthy diet, lose weight if you need to and take regular exercise. Our body is like a machine, the better you the treat it, the better it will perform for you.