Issues with infertility are more common than most people think. Roughly 15% of couples have difficulty conceiving - you're not alone! The first step to dealing with potential infertility issues is to better understand the condition. We've compiled some articles below that we hope you find helpful.
Infertility is defined as the inability to conceive, or become pregnant within 1 full year of actively trying or after two or more miscarriages. Over 90 million couples worldwide are trying to conceive at any given time. Out of these couples, 1 in 6 (17%!) experience infertility troubles. When no fertility problems are present, the average couple between ages 29 and 33 has about a 20 to 25 percent chance of becoming pregnant during any given menstrual cycle. Unfortunately, this probability decreases dramatically by one third to one half as women approach their mid 30's and early 40's.
About 20 percent of women in the United States now have their first child after age 35, so age is an increasingly common cause of fertility problems. With advancing age, there is a decline in the ability of a woman's ovaries to release eggs ready for fertilization, and eggs become weaker, and less able to form a healthy embryo. The health and number of the actual eggs also declines and there is an increased chance of miscarriages. If you are concerned about the quantity of your eggs because your age, you may wish to test your follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) levels. FSH is a hormone that helps to stimulate the growth of your eggs. Through a simple blood test, or use of home tests you may determine your egg quantity.
Many people don't realize that women and men are equally likely to be the source of infertility issues. In women, some of the most common causes of infertility include:
- The hormone disorder PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome)
- Endometriosis, which is a condition where the endometrial tissue is found outside of the uterine cavity.
- Luteal Phase Defect, which can be a result of below-normal progesterone secretion, and other uterine abnormalities and factors.
In men, issues may involve:
- Oligiospermia, or low sperm count/motility
- Azoospermia, which is the absence of sperm
- Blockages and structural abnormalities
- Ejaculation disorders
We at Fairhaven Health understand that infertility issues can be frustrating to those of you hoping to start or extend a family. If you are having trouble trying to conceive, understanding infertility issues is the best way to overcome possible obstacles to conceive a baby. Whether or not you have been diagnosed with one of the aforementioned health disorders, or are considered perfectly healthy, you do have options. You may wish to see a specialist to discuss your reproductive health and obtain a fertility workup. Sometimes doctors can find the cause of infertility by doing a complete evaluation, which includes physical exams and health and sexual histories. If there are no obvious problems, such as poorly timed intercourse or absence of ovulation, tests are then done which may lead to recommendations of prescription medications and/or procedures such as IVF or IUI. That said, more couples are increasingly choosing natural alternatives to clinical prescriptions and costly or invasive procedures. Research has shown that natural treatment options such as fertility supplements, acupuncture, and yoga, along with taking steps towards optimal dietary and physical health significantly aid conception efforts.
Understanding Your Cycle
One of the most important factors in trying to conceive is having a good understanding of your cycle (what happens to a woman's body throughout the month), and thus being able to predict ovulation. Despite the myth of a woman's cycle being 28 days long, a woman's cycle can range from 24-35 days. The cycle is split into two main phases. The first phase, known as the follicular phase, starts on the first day of your period and ends when you ovulate. The second is called the luteal phase, which begins when you ovulate and ends on the first day of your next period.
- Follicular Phase: During the follicular phase of your cycle, your reproductive hormones are readying themselves to drop an egg (ovum). They are actually maturing 15-20 eggs, which are stored in your ovaries. It's called the follicular phase because growth or maturation of the egg is taking place inside the follicle, a small sac where the egg matures. When the hormones have sufficiently matured the eggs, the pituitary gland releases the luteinizing hormone (LH surge). This surge releases the egg from the most mature follicle, this is known as ovulation. On average, ovulation occurs around day 14 of the cycle.
- The Luteal Phase: The luteal phase (roughly days 14 through 28) is the time from when the egg is released (ovulation) until the first day of menstruation. This phase is named after the ovarian follicle's collapse once the egg takes leave of the ovary and becomes the "corpus luteum", or luteal body. It is also at this time that it produces the hormone progesterone, which warms your body in preparation for pregnancy. It is this progesterone-induced warming trend that signals that ovulation has occurred. This thermal-shift is measurable using a basal thermometer when charting (discussed in Predicting Ovulation and Fertility Charting), and is what allows you to know when your window of fertility has closed. After a few months of charting, a pattern will emerge and you will know when this shift occurs. This will allow you to know when your optimal fertility days are.
The short window of time when a woman is fertile is the few days before and during ovulation. While different for every woman, on average, this time frame lasts about 7 days, 6 days before the day of ovulation, and the day of ovulation; it occurs roughly 14 days after the first day of your period. Cycle lengths differ from woman to woman, and so does the exact day of ovulation. Within the 7-day window of optimal fertility, there are certain "peak fertility" days (these are the few days right before ovulation). Identifying these days can help maximize your chances of getting pregnant.
Irregular Cycles or menstruation is defined by cycle variation of more than a few days in length from month to month. Many women trying to get pregnant are having difficulties related to cycle irregularities. In fact, about 10% of all fertile aged women have irregular cycles. It is very difficult to plan for pregnancy and know when you are ovulating if your cycles are not predictable. There are quite a few reasons for cycle irregularity. Some include, but are not limited to:
- Weight gain or loss
- Severe Stress
- Poor nutrition
- New sexual partner or change in sexual activity
- Smoking, alcohol and/or drug use
- Recent childbirth, miscarriage, or D&C
- PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome)
- Uterine abnormalities, including cysts and endometriosis
If you have an irregular cycle, you may want to eliminate these aforementioned causes of irregular cycles, or see a specialist to test for diagnoses such as PCOS and uterine abnormalities. You may also try natural supplements that help regulation and hormonal balance such as FertilAid for Women. In addition to essential vitamins and minerals, FertilAid contains the herb vitex agnus castus (chasteberry) which can even be helpful in balancing hormonal irregularities associated with conditions such as PCOS.