The majority of millennial women consider themselves well-versed in reproductive health and conception, but our in-depth survey on the State of Fertility found that they actually don’t have the important facts straight. Find out how much you know … and what you don’t.
I was 26 years old when I was first told I was infertile. I was still young enough to think I had all the time in the world to figure my future family plans out — and not at all equipped to deal with what the next few years would throw at me.
But over the years I’ve learned a lot. Basically, I’ve been through a crash course in fertility. As a millennial myself, these are the things I learned along the way that I think everyone should know.
1. Birth control options are changing
Implants, patches, pills, sponges, rings — there are more birth control options today than ever before. In fact, Planned Parenthood lists 18 different options on their site, along with how effective each option is. If you want to prevent a pregnancy, there are absolutely ways to make that happen.
2. But be aware …
You heard it in health class, but let’s go ahead and just repeat the one truth of all birth control: Nothing is ever 100 percent.
Women have gotten pregnant with IUDs, condoms can break, and the pill isn’t foolproof. If you’re having sex, there’s always a chance, however small, that you could get pregnant. That said, working with your partner to stay safe and potentially using multiple methods of birth control, will lower your risk.
It’s worth noting that switching or adjusting your birth control method is best done under the care of a doctor, especially if you’re using something with hormones. Not every option is right for every woman or couple.
3. You don’t have all the time in the world
When you’re in your 20s, it’s easy to think that you have all the time in the world to get pregnant. I know I did. But it’s important to know that fertility issues can — and do — affect women in their 20s.
And even for those who don’t experience any issues, fertility begins to decline pretty drastically as early as age 32.
4. Certain STDs can affect your fertility
You might think you’re being safe by using the pill, but the pill doesn’t protect against STDs. Chlamydia and gonorrhea can both lead to infertility, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there’s a combined estimated total of nearly 2 million cases each year in the United States.
In other words: Wrap it up — at least until you and your partner have both been tested for STDs and have discussed your methods of protection.
5. There are options if you want kids someday, but not today
For women who hope to have a family in the future, but who aren’t exactly sure when, egg freezing may be an option. And doing so sooner than later may improve your odds of success. But it’s important to know there are risks associated with egg freezing, as outlined by the Mayo Clinic.
6. Your body is telling you something
There’s actually a lot you can learn about your fertility by paying attention to your own body when you’re ready to start trying to conceive. When do your breasts start to feel tender? How does your cervical mucus change throughout the month? How regular are your periods?
Paying attention to these signs can give you a pretty good indication of your fertile days. Even better? There are plenty of apps to help with that!
7. It’s not normal
If you’re experiencing extreme pain with your periods, or months on end between periods, it’s time to see a doctor. These can be signs of conditions such as endometriosis or PCOS, both of which can affect your overall health and fertility.
It’s also important to know what’s normal for you. While 28 days is the average cycle, it can be perfectly okay to run 35- to 40-day cycles. But when there are drastic changes in your cycle, it’s always a good idea to check in with your doctor to make sure everything is as it should be.
8. Not everyone gets pregnant right away
If you’re trying to conceive and it’s not happening — don’t panic. Even for women in their 20s, it can sometimes take several months to achieve that positive pregnancy test.
Before the age of 35, Resolve (The National Infertility Association) recommends trying for 12 months before seeking the help of a fertility specialist. If you’re over 35, make an appointment after six months.
9. Your lifestyle can play a role
Smoking, drinking, and chronic stress — all of these can affect your fertility, today and well into the future. So, if you’re trying to get pregnant now, or hope to at some point down the line, giving up smoking and taking better care of yourself is a good place to start.
10. What your doctor isn’t telling you
Until you start asking questions about conceiving, your doctor probably isn’t going to bring it up. But there are some fairly simple tests that can be done to determine both male and female fertility if you have any concerns. In fact, there are now at-home male fertility test kits. And a blood test and ultrasound can often tell a doctor a lot about a woman’s ovarian reserve.
These tests can help you to better determine what kind of timeline you might be on for building a family, and whether options like egg freezing are right for you.
Whether you’re ready to start your family today, or are hoping for a few more years to figure life out, there are options available to help you achieve those goals.
So don’t hold off on thinking about your fertility — knowledge is power, no matter what stage of building a family you’re in.
Leah Campbell is a writer and editor living in Anchorage, Alaska. A single mother by choice after a serendipitous series of events led to the adoption of her daughter. Leah is also author of the book Single Infertile Female and has written extensively on the topics of infertility, adoption, and parenting. You can connect with Leah via Facebook, her website, and Twitter.