While getting pregnant can seem like a breeze for some people, for others it can be one of the most stressful times of their life. You may have a well-meaning relative asking if you can hear that biological clock ticking, friends having babies, and the urge to get and stay pregnant taking over your thoughts.
While there’s a 25 percent chance per menstrual cycle that a woman will get pregnant if she’s in her 20s or 30s, it’s not that easy for some. And for both women and men, the chances of conception naturally decrease with age.
If you and your partner are experiencing fertility issues, it’s important to know some basics about different types of treatment so you can make the most out of your appointment with your doctor.
Use the following questions as a guide to take with you. Your doctor can give you the best advice based on your individual circumstances.
Hearing the word “infertility” can be absolutely devastating to many couples. But the great news is that medical advances make it highly likely that you will eventually be able to get (or stay) pregnant with intervention, depending on your particular circumstance.
Medications are usually the first-line treatment if your doctor diagnoses you with infertility. These medications are designed to help increase the likelihood of conception and pregnancy.
They can come in the form of hormone replacements to stimulate ovulation in women, or medications to treat erectile dysfunction in men.
Doctors are also able to prescribe medicines to increase your chances of staying pregnant once you become pregnant, depending on your reasons for previous miscarriages.
In addition, your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes for both partners, such as eating a healthy diet, limiting alcohol consumption, or stopping smoking.
While it’s true that fertility can diminish with age, sometimes this has to do with health conditions that may develop as you get older. For example, thyroid conditions in women can affect fertility. Infections, cancer, and poor nutrition can affect both male and female reproductive chances.
Also, alcohol consumption, smoking, and certain medications can interfere with fertility. Check on whether your medication list — as well as your partner’s — is compatible with trying to conceive (TTC, as you may have seen it abbreviated in social forums).
Ideally, you and your partner will want to be in good health before conception. This not only helps increase the chances of pregnancy, but parental health also directly affects the baby’s health.
A 2019 review of studies determined that alcohol consumption by men even 6 months before conception can increase the risk of congenital heart diseases in the baby. Scientists recommended that women stop drinking a year before TTC.
Your doctor will make specific recommendations to help you get into the best health possible at your medical examination.
While women sometimes worry they are the cause of infertility, it’s impossible to know without a medical evaluation on both partners. A doctor can determine whether male or female infertility (or both) is keeping you from getting pregnant.
Low sperm count or an inability to get or maintain an erection during intercourse can impact fertility in men. In some cases, erectile dysfunction medications may help. Low sperm count or quality doesn’t mean a pregnancy can’t happen, but it may make it more difficult or it may take longer.
Women experiencing infertility can take comfort in the fact that there are multiple options to assist with ovulation difficulties, which is a common culprit of female infertility issues.
Some women simply need a boost with ovulating, or ovulating regularly. Your doctor may also prescribe high-dose hormones, such as estrogen, to help induce ovulation.
Other more potent medications come in the form of injections, a process referred to as controlled ovarian hyperstimulation (COH).
These may be treated with in-vitro fertilization (IVF). This process involves fertilizing sperm with an egg in a laboratory. Once the fertilization process is complete, the egg(s) are transferred to your uterus during ovulation.
IVF is a good solution for some couples, but it can seem out of reach for others as it can become costly.
A newer and cheaper alternative to IVF is called INVOcell (IVC). This
The main difference between the two procedures is that with IVC, the vagina is used as the incubator for the blastocyst (future baby) for a 5-day period before being transferred to the uterus. The process involves fewer fertility medications than IVF, so it’s an overall lower price tag.
When couples who are TTC envision fertility treatments, they often only think of medicine and IVF, but there are other options available.
Assisted reproductive technology (ART) is the name for fertility treatments that involve more advanced procedures and techniques. This includes IVF. ART also includes intrauterine insemination (IUI), a type of procedure where sperm is injected directly into the uterus to help fertilize eggs.
Third party-assisted ART is another option where couples might opt to have egg, embryo, or sperm donations. The decision to obtain a donated egg, sperm or embryo can be an emotional process, and your doctor can lead you through the pros and cons of this potential solution.
The main difference between ART and COH is that conception occurs with the help of a laboratory with ART. COH allows for conception in the body without the need to go to the doctor’s office.
Your doctor may recommend surgery if they find issues with your reproductive organs. Surgery is sometimes used to repair torn or blocked fallopian tubes so that an egg can be successfully released and fertilized.
Female fertility surgeries may also help treat:
- scars in the reproductive tract
- uterine fibroids
In men, surgical options may be used to repair varicose veins, called varicoceles, in the testicles that can contribute to infertility in some men (though many men with this condition have no trouble with fertility).
This 2012 review of studies suggests varicoceles surgery improves otherwise unexplained infertility — though researchers point out more studies are needed that report live births or pregnancy rates as the intended outcome.
Surgery is also sometimes used to help open tubes that transfer sperm to the penis.
While most medical procedures carry some degree of risk, technology has evolved so that many fertility treatments are now seen as quite safe to the parents and baby-to-be.
Surgery can involve risks, such as infection, and fallopian surgery in women can also increase the risk for ectopic pregnancy (a potentially serious condition where an egg and subsequent fetus grows on the outside of your uterus).
Ask your doctor as many questions as needed to ensure you are aware of and comfortable with any potential risk before starting a treatment.
Scientists are trying to determine if fertility treatments pose any threats to a baby’s health once they’re born. One
Other risks may be posed to the baby, where a low birth weight is possible. According to a
ART treatments may produce multiple pregnancies at once. While such cases are on the decline, researchers estimated that by 2011 about 35 percent of twin births and 77 percent of triplet or higher-order births in the United States resulted from conception assisted by fertility treatments.
Doctors can now reduce this by limiting the number of embryos transferred to the uterus at one time.
According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, between 85 and 90 percent of infertility cases are treatable. This is welcome news to the many families who seek to overcome infertility in America. But aside from age and health, the success rate also depends on the treatment type you select.
For example, IUI can have a
Unfortunately, there’s no straightforward answer here. Some couples have success the first month they get medical assistance, while others try for years. The process of fertility treatments can be long and tiring, which can increase stress if you’ve been trying to get pregnant.
To help you choose the best treatment options possible, your doctor will review your health history and look for any potential reproductive problems in both you and your partner.
COH may be tried before ART, depending on the outcomes of your doctor’s investigation. Even if ART is attempted, it can take multiple tries before pregnancy occurs. On top of that, these are done once a month, as a female ovulates only once in a 28-day period on average.
Opting for fertility treatments is no easy task, but your doctor can help you determine the right course for the most successful outcome possible.
For couples trying to conceive a baby, the prospects are good for having a healthy pregnancy and enjoying the magic of becoming a parent.
Up to 9 of 10 people who have been deemed infertile can be helped with fertility treatments. While some treatments may be costly and stressful, and have some risks, it’s still worth pursuing a conversation with your doctor about the best course of action.
Medical interventions have evolved, and it’s one of the best times in history to receive help in the journey to conceive.