Imagine this for a moment -- You’re sitting in the bathroom waiting on the seconds to pass. You’ve been here before. It’s an all too familiar scene. You and your partner are hoping, perhaps praying, and you’re both anxious. You’ve done “all the right things,” and ultimately bought a pregnancy test. All you want is to see the two lines show up that let you know that you’re pregnant. Sound familiar?
If the results don’t work out in your favor, what comes next? You probably know this too. You might be wondering if you could have done something differently. Perhaps you just weren’t getting enough rest. Maybe you shouldn’t have worked out so hard at the gym this week. On the other hand maybe your periods have been too irregular.
The truth is a lot of people have misconceptions about pregnancy. Let’s talk about fertility facts, and what you actually need to know to get pregnant.
It Could Be a Female Problem
In up to 50% of the cases of infertility in couples, it is a female issue that is the cause. Most of the cases where a female cannot achieve pregnancy are due to problems with ovulation. When ovulation is not occurring, there are no eggs being fertilized.
How do you know if you’re having trouble with ovulation?
Absent and irregular menstrual periods are two of the more prevalent signs that a woman is not regularly ovulating. Other signs could be hot flashes, excessive menstrual bleeding and a sudden reduction in your normal PMS symptoms.
What can cause an ovulation problem?
A common cause of trouble with ovulation is polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS. This is a hormonal imbalance that can inhibit or stop the body from ovulating normally. In fact, it’s the most common cause of female infertility.
Primary ovarian insufficiency (POI) is another cause of ovulation problems. POI occurs when a woman's ovaries aren’t working normally. Testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone (the hormones produced by the ovaries) are no longer being produced at their normal levels. This can cause the ovaries to stop releasing eggs once in while or altogether.
Though less common, other causes of infertility are:
- Uterus related problems such as uterine fibroids
- Pelvic inflammatory disease
- Anything else that could cause the fallopian tubes to be blocked
If female related issues are the cause in 50% of the cases of infertility, what makes up the other 50%? You guessed it. The other half of the causes are male related.
It Could Also Be a Male Problem
One of the most common misconceptions is that infertility is only a female issue. However, it takes “two to tango” as they say. Males can be just as much of the cause for your inability to get pregnant.
In fact, according to the American Pregnancy Association, male infertility can be caused by a variety of factors including, but not limited to:
- Groin injuries causing low sperm count
- Blockage of sperm due to infection or some other cause
- Vein swelling in the scrotum area
- Issues related to prolonged use of tight underwear/restrictive clothing
- Inflammation in the testicles or abnormal development of the testicles
- Pre-existing conditions such as a pituitary or hypothalamic disorder
- A disorder of the gonad(s)
- Use or abuse of drugs or tobacco, and/or drinking alcohol
- Hormonal imbalances and disorders
- Radiation exposure and more
How do you know if it’s the male causing the infertility?
In most cases a thorough physical is all that is needed to reveal if your male counterpart is the cause of infertility. Once a cause is determined, your fertility doctor can work with you to correct the issue if possible.
Fertility Facts in Numbers
The National Infertility Association says that infertility is defined as the inability of a women to conceive or carry a pregnancy to term after one year of trying to conceive.
Below is a breakdown of the numbers you might want to keep in mind.
- 35 - under the age of 35, you can try to conceive for up to a year before you should seek help.
- 6 months - At and after the age of 35, you should seek help from a fertility specialist if you are unable to achieve pregnancy and have been trying for six months.
- 51 - the average age of menopause for a woman in the United States
- 40 - the age at which pregnancy becomes more risky to both the mother and the fetus. There are higher chances of things like miscarriage, hypertension and high blood pressure during pregnancy, and higher risks of gestational diabetes.
- 6.1 million - The approximate number of women in the United States ages 15-44 that have difficulty achieving pregnancy or staying pregnant according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.d
- 300,000 - The approximate number of eggs a female has by the time she hits puberty. By contrast, men produce sperm daily throughout their entire lifetimes.
- 40-45 - Though men can still produce sperm, the Department of Health in Australia has found that male fertility rates can start to decline around age 40-45 years.
- 10% - The average number of women of reproductive age in the United States that are affected by Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome according to the Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
- 7.3 million - The number of women in the United States according to the CDC who have used infertility services.
You might be thinking, what is the point of seeing all these numbers? They show you that you’re not alone. Infertility can be so disheartening, and leaves many women and men feeling secluded, as if no one could possibly understand what they’re going through.
The truth is though, millions of women and men struggle with achieving pregnancy. The good news is that we’re living in a time where these numbers don’t mean all hope is lost. Working with a fertility specialist can give you better odds.
Can You DIY Your Way to Pregnancy?
Yes and no. There unfortunately is no clear cut answer here.
Are there things you can do to increase your chances of getting pregnant on your own? Yes, but how much you can do on your own to achieve pregnancy can vary by person.
Is there anything you can do to guarantee you will achieve pregnancy? No, unfortunately there are no guarantees in anything.
What types of things can you do on your own to increase your chances of getting pregnant? In no particular order, here are a few things that could help you:
- Stop smoking and avoid secondhand smoke if you can
- Cut back on excessive drinking of alcohol, or stop drinking it altogether
- Maintain a healthy weight for your age and height
- Practice safe sex - many sexually transmitted diseases and infections can cause infertility or drastically inhibit your ability to have a healthy pregnancy
- Get regular physicals - catching something early can prevent issues in the future
- Exercise 30 minutes daily
- Maintain a healthy, balanced diet - include leafy greens, fruits and proteins
- Have sex at the right time - i.e. during your “fertile window.” Your fertile window occurs on the day of ovulation and the five days prior.
- Cut back on caffeine intake - coffee, tea and soda
- Start taking folic acid and/or other prenatal vitamins
Before trying any of the above suggestions, it’s a good idea to check in with your primary care physician. You should always see a doctor before starting a new diet, exercise or some other healthcare regimen.
If You Can’t DIY, What Are Your Options?
Although every case is different, below are some of the options available through the Center of Reproductive Medicine to assist couples struggling with infertility. It’s important to discuss all options with your fertility specialist, however. It’s also important to note that what works for one couple, may not work for every couple.
- Antibiotics - Believe it or not, sometimes it is a simple infection that is preventing a pregnancy from occurring. Taking antibiotics could be all you need to clear the way.
- Hormonal Treatments - These are not just limited to women. Hormonal treatments are available for both men and women who may be struggling with infertility due to hormonal imbalances or disorders.
- In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) - This is what many people jump to when they think about infertility, but it’s not always the only option. It’s just one of many options. According to the American Pregnancy Association, “IVF is the process of fertilization by extracting eggs, retrieving a sperm sample, and then manually combining an egg and sperm in a laboratory dish. The embryo(s) is then transferred to the uterus.”
- Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) - IVF occurs outside of the womb, and IUI occurs inside the womb. It’s considered less invasive and less costly than IVF, and because of this many couples try it before trying IVF. Intrauterine insemination is a process that allows the doctor to insert sperm directly into the uterus to fertilize an egg.
- Ovulation Induction - One of the problems for some women experiencing infertility is their inability to ovulate. If you do not ovulate, pregnancy isn’t possible. Just like it sounds, Ovulation Induction is the process of artificially inducing ovulation in the body. It’s generally safe and doesn’t require invasive procedures or tests.
- Semen Analysis - Semen analysis is a non-invasive and relatively inexpensive test that can be performed to potentially provide insight as to why conception has not been achieved.
- Anti-Müllerian Hormone (AMH) Testing - Anti-Müllerian Hormone (AMH) testing is a simple way to assess a woman's ovarian reserve, and to diagnose issues such as early menopause or diminished ovarian reserve.
- Genetic Testing - Genetic testing can be done to get to the root cause of infertility so that the next course of action can be determined. It’s impossible to know what the best thing to do is if you don’t know what the precise obstacle in your way is.
- Third Party Parenting - When one or both partners face the inability to have a genetically related child, there are third party parenting options available such as egg donation or gestational carriers.
Don’t Jump to Conclusions
A common problem that occurs with couples struggling to achieve pregnancy is jumping to conclusions. Here are a few we’ve heard:
- I had an abortion, so I can’t conceive
- I was on birth control too long
- He’s shooting blanks/duds
- I/he/she/we smoked marijuana in our youth
- I’m too old
- I’m too stressed
- I’m too fat
- My first round of IVF failed, so this one will too
- My cycle is too irregular
- I already have one child, I can’t have anymore
- PCOS means I can’t have children
- It’s his fault
- It’s her fault
There are several more we could list here, but the bottom line is this - until you have ruled out everything, don’t assume anything. This is why working with a fertility specialist is so important. It is possible that there are factors in play you never considered, or wouldn’t have thought about before.
It’s also crucial to not place blame. Struggling with infertility is hard enough. Placing blame on your partner only makes an already difficult situation worse. It’s important to work together as a team on this. We’d be honored to join your team, and help you make your dreams of starting or expanding your family come true.
Want to Take Your Education Even Further?
We’re advocates of the idea that knowledge is empowering, and the more you know about infertility and all of the elements surrounding it, the better. We’ve written an eBook called Getting Pregnant 101: Facts, Myths, and Secrets to Fertility. In it you’ll find more of what you have learned here today, as well as several additional things we couldn’t dive into in this post. Download your free copy here!
On the other hand, if you are at the point where you don’t want to read anything else, but still want some help, feel free to reach out directly. Learn more about becoming a Center of Reproductive Medicine patient by clicking here.