Infertility refers to how long you have been trying to conceive unsuccessfully. While there are possible early warning signs of infertility as well as risk factors (things that make it more likely you’ll have difficulty getting pregnant), most couples don’t have any signs or symptoms of infertility. If you do, it’s important to talk to your doctor.
If you’re trying to get pregnant, fertility can seem like a mysterious combination of luck and genetics. But while you can’t control how old you are right now you can take charge of other aspects of your life to maximise your chances of getting pregnant sooner rather than later.
Only a small percentage of women have trouble getting or staying pregnant, but you won’t know for sure until you start trying to conceive. But there are clues to indicate that your body is baby-ready, for instance, if you know when your period’s coming and it comes as expected, you are off to a good start.
Women who get their periods every 24 to 35 days are probably ovulating normally. A regular cycle is one of the clearest signs that your hormones are working properly and releasing an egg each month.
Aside from cycle length and predictability, being able to detect your body’s subtle clues that ovulation is actually occurring each cycle is a good sign.
Knowing the exact window of time when you ovulate is the best way to time your baby making sex to boost your pregnancy odds.
Most women ovulate 14 days before their next period. In a 28-day cycle, that means day 14. In a 32-day cycle, that means day 18, but unless your cycle’s totally regular from month to month, it’s hard to know for sure.
When menstruation first begins, having irregular periods can be normal. It takes the body a while to get regulated. However, once you are through your teenage years, your menstrual cycles should be regular. Having an irregular cycle can be a red flag for infertility because it can be a sign of an ovulation problem.
Talk to your doctor if your cycles are unusually short or long (less than 24 days or more than 35 days), they come unpredictably, or you don’t get your period at all.
Weighing too much or too little can make you more likely to have fertility problems although heavy and thin women do get pregnant all the time.
In overweight and obese women, excess body fat can disrupt the delicate balance of hormones needed for ovulation and helping a new embryo develop and thrive into a healthy pregnancy.
On the flip side, if you have too little body fat you may have difficulty getting pregnant because your body is conserving energy to keep the rest of the body functioning properly; this can shut down ovulation.
In many cases, having a normal menstrual cycle is the most important clue you’re fertile, regardless of what you weigh.
But losing or gaining weight to reach a healthy body mass index, ideally 20-24, before you start trying to get pregnant is a smart move when done in a healthy way and will help you have a healthier pregnancy, labour and postpartum recovery too.
If you’re having symptoms like pelvic pain or extremely painful, heavy, or long periods, they are often the main signs of fibroids or endometriosis, although many women don’t discover these conditions until they run into difficulty getting pregnant.
While having fibroids or endometriosis may increase your risk of fertility problems, having them is no guarantee you won’t be able to conceive eventually.
Fibroids are benign tumours in the uterus that affect 50 to 70 percent of women, but their size and location are what have the biggest impact on fertility problems.
If fibroids are uncomfortable or affecting your fertility, they may need to removed through non-invasive treatment like High Intensity Focused Ultrasound (HIFU), minimally invasive treatments like Laparoscopic Myomectomy and Hysteroscopy, or in some cases Open surgery.
Both female and male fertility declines with age. The risk of infertility increases at age 35 for women and continues to grow with time. A 30-year-old woman has a 20 percent chance of conceiving in any given month, while a 40-year-old woman has only a 5 percent chance. Women over 35 are also more likely to experience a miscarriage and to have a child with a congenital disease.
Male age has been linked to an increased risk of miscarriage, the passing on of genetic problems, and some congenital conditions. Older male age has also been associated with increased rates of Autism and Schizophrenia.
Male factor infertility isn’t always obvious, as there are rarely symptoms (though sexual dysfunction can be an infertility red flag). Usually, low sperm counts or inhibited sperm mobility is determined by a sperm analysis. In other words, you’ll need to go through fertility testing to discover the problem.
Other factors are significant, chronic diseases, as well as their treatments can also lead to fertility problems. Sometimes, treatments for chronic illnesses can negatively impact fertility. Some cancer treatments can lead to fertility problems. If you or your partner has gone through cancer treatments (especially radiation therapy that was near the reproductive organs), talk to your doctor about the potential effect these treatments could have on your fertility. Cancer patients are advised to discuss their fertility preservation options with an Onco-fertility specialist before undergoing radiotherapy or chemotherapy.
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) if left untreated can also cause infertility. Infection and inflammation from chlamydia or gonorrhea can cause blockage of the fallopian tubes. Not only can this make unassisted pregnancy impossible, it also places a woman at an increased risk for an ectopic pregnancy
If untreated, chlamydia and gonorrhea can lead to a condition called pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).
Untreated sexually transmitted infections can also cause fertility issues in men. Scar tissue in the male reproductive tract can make semen transfer ineffective or even impossible.
Chlamydia and gonorrhea do not usually cause noticeable symptoms in women, which is why screening for STIs is important. Many sexually transmitted infections are symptomless in women, yet silently affect the reproductive organs.
About 80 percent of couples will conceive within six months of beginning to try to get pregnant. About 90 percent will be pregnant after a year if they are having well-timed sexual intercourse.
If you don’t get pregnant after one year of trying, talk to your doctor. If you’re 35 years old or older, you should see your doctor after six months of trying without success to get pregnant.
If you have a possible sign of infertility before the one-year mark, your doctor can run some basic fertility tests. If everything comes back normal, you can continue trying on your own. If there is a problem, you will have caught it much sooner and your odds of successful fertility treatment will be higher.
Ajayi is the MD/CEO Nordica Fertility Centre, firstname.lastname@example.org,