Infertility is more common than you think. That’s why it’s important to learn what you need to know to promote and protect female fertility.
Nowadays, one in seven couples is struggling with having a baby. Studies have shown that about 15% of couples engaging in unprotected sex have difficulties conceiving a child. That number is way higher than it was two to three decades ago. What’s worse, it’s most likely to increase in the future.
The difficulties associated with getting pregnant can take a toll on your mental and emotional health. Let’s discuss what affects female fertility and what can be done about it.
What is female fertility?
Female fertility pertains to a woman’s ability to conceive a child. Conception and pregnancy are processes that involve both the woman and her male partner, specifically on the following factors:
- A male’s ability to produce healthy sperm
- A woman’s ability to produce healthy eggs
- The condition of the fallopian tubes
- The ability of the sperm to reach and fertilize the egg
- The ability of the fertilized egg to implant into the uterus
- The quality of the fertilized egg as it turns from an embryo to a fully developed fetus
What causes women fertility problems?
Female fertility problems can be a complex issue, influenced by a variety of factors. Understanding higher risk factors associated with female fertility problems is crucial in identifying potential causes and developing effective treatment strategies. Let’s explore some of the key risk factors that affect women’s fertility.
The age of a woman plays a huge role in preventing or delaying pregnancy. As a woman ages, she produces eggs of lesser quality and lower quantity. Those under 30 years of age could conceive within three months of trying. After 30, the chances of conceiving will start to drop.
The menstrual cycle also experiences disruptions as a woman gets older. Regular periods, which happen every 21 to 35 days, mean that a woman is ovulating. Regular periods decline with age.
Various health problems cause infertility in women. The most common are:
- Ovulation disorders including polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), thyroid problems, and hyperprolactinemia
- Polyps, fibroids, or other abnormalities in the uterus or cervix
- Damage or blockage in the fallopian tubes, often caused by pelvic inflammatory disease
- Endometriosis, wherein the tissue lining that often grows inside of the uterus grows outside of it instead
- Early menopause, which happens before women age 40
- Scar tissue that binds organs after a surgery that involves appendicitis, abdominal or pelvic conditions, and pelvic infection.
- Illnesses that cause irregular or zero menstruation, such as uncontrolled diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and celiac disease.
Age and medical conditions are beyond our control. However, we can take steps to increase our chances of getting pregnant. These include making lifestyle changes such as exercising, eating a balanced diet, and reducing stress levels.
- Being underweight or overweight
- Too much vigorous exercise or physical activity
- Smoking habits
- Alcohol intake
- Caffeine consumption
- Physical and emotional stress
- Sexually transmitted infections or diseases
- Exposure to toxins
What can women do to promote fertility?
Healthy lifestyle choices can help increase your chances of conceiving a child. Take extra effort to:
- Maintain a healthy weight. Eat a balanced diet and get enough physical activities to keep your body fit and functional.
- While exercise is recommended, too much of it may also prevent proper ovulation. Try to limit your workout to five hours every week.
- Avoid cigarette or tobacco use. Smoking is associated with infertility as it speeds up the aging process of the ovaries and it depletes a good number of eggs prematurely.
- Limit your alcohol consumption. Heavy drinking can increase the risk of developing ovulation disorders.
- Minimize your coffee intake. Caffeine intake should be kept below 200 milligrams, which is about one to two cups of coffee per day.
- Avoid staying up all night. Night shifts, for example, may affect the female body’s ability to produce hormones. If you work at night, it’s important that you get enough sleep in the daytime.
- Practice healthy coping methods that minimize or eliminate stress. Yoga and other relaxation techniques can help prep your body for pregnancy.
- Prevent acquiring STIs and STDs. Chlamydia and gonorrhea are the leading causes of female infertility. Make sure to practice safe sex and to get you and your partner tested regularly.
- Avoid environmental pollutants, such as solvents, lead, and pesticides as they could affect fertility.
Other strategies that can improve fertility include tracking ovulation and timing intercourse during the fertile window. Managing stress levels and seeking medical treatment for any underlying conditions can also help with fertility.
By adopting healthy habits and optimizing reproductive health, women can improve their chances of conceiving and having a healthy pregnancy.
Fertility evaluation and treatment
If you wish to seek treatment for fertility issues, you should first undergo tests. These can help determine what you need and what will work for you. Fertility evaluations for women may include:
- Blood testing – to check for hormonal imbalances or genetic abnormalities
- Ultrasound – to check the number of small follicles in the ovary
- HSG test – Also called the hysterosalpingogram test, this helps check your fallopian tubes for any damage or blockage
- Diagnostic hysteroscopy – for checking abnormalities in the uterus
Once you get tested and evaluated, the doctor will have a better understanding of what’s going on in your body. They’ll discuss the plan of action that best fits you. It may include one or more of the following fertility treatments:
IO is one of the most common treatments for infertility that doctors recommend. This treatment involves the use of fertility drugs that are designed to stimulate egg growth and release. Some are designed to stimulate the pituitary gland into producing the hormones needed to boost ovulation. Medication options for women include:
- Clomiphene citrate
- Follicle-stimulating hormone or FSH
- Human menopausal gonadotropin or hMG
- Human chorionic gonadotropin or hCG
Intrauterine insemination (IUI)
IUI is a treatment that involves the insertion of sperm directly into the uterus. This bypasses the cervix to make sure that the sperm meets the egg. Although this procedure is costly, there’s only about a 10% chance that you’ll conceive.
Intravaginal culture (IVC)
In IVC, the eggs and sperm are placed in a device. This device is then placed in the woman’s vagina for fertilization and incubation. The doctor removes the device after incubation and transfers workable embryos into the uterus. This has a 25% success rate.
In vitro fertilization (IVF)
The IVF process involves combining sperm and eggs in a laboratory. Once a mature egg has been fertilized, it’ll grow into embryos. These are then transferred into the uterus where it’ll go through the rest of the pregnancy process. It’s the most expensive treatment but it’s also the one with the highest success rate at 48%.
If medical conditions are the reasons why you’re unable to conceive, your doctor may recommend surgery to correct them. The most common fertility-related surgeries are:
- Operative hysteroscopy
The responsibility of maintaining fertility doesn’t just fall on a woman’s shoulders. Both males and females contribute to the conception of a healthy embryo. But not all couples are the same. Their health status and experiences are different and the approach to successfully conceiving a child may vary.
If you and your partner are struggling to get pregnant, schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider. They can help identify how you can increase your chances of conceiving and for answers to personal questions about fertility. It can also help determine if you’re dealing with unexplained infertility.