Without necessarily realising it, you probably have a deeply ingrained plan of what your life will look like. When life unfolds along those lines, it feels great. It matches your internal sense of what should be happening when.
But life can take unexpected – and even unwelcome – turns. Maybe you failed your exams or can’t seem to find a job you like. Maybe you were single for much longer than you expected to be. And maybe it’s proving harder than you ever expected to get (or stay) pregnant.
Infertility throws up many different feelings, including isolation, failure, grief and frustration. It can put pressure on a marriage or relationship and can affect friendships, especially if you’re in a season where one friend after another is joyfully announcing a pregnancy.
What is fertility?
Fertility refers to a couple’s ability to have a baby through regular sexual activity. About 90% of healthy, fertile women are able to conceive within a year if they’re having regular sex without contraception.
Achieving a pregnancy requires:
- A man to produce enough healthy sperm that travel from his testes to a woman’s fallopian tubes
- A woman to produce enough viable eggs, at least one of which is in her fallopian tubes or uterus ready to be met by sperm and fertilised
- The fertilised egg to implant into the woman’s uterus where it can grow.
Anything that interrupts these processes can cause infertility.
What is infertility?
Infertility feels lonely but is actually surprisingly common. It affects about 11% of Australian couples, meaning you probably do know someone who has struggled to fall pregnant. However, many people are cautious about sharing their deeply personal struggles.
Why do some people struggle to fall pregnant?
There are many, many causes of infertility.
Both men and women may experience difficulty conceiving due to:
- Age (over 35 for women, over 40 for men)
- Being overweight or underweight
- Substance abuse, including excessive alcohol consumption
- Eating disorders
- Sexually transmitted infections.
Other contributors to infertility in women include:
- Irregular periods
- Blocked fallopian tubes
- Pelvic inflammatory disease
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Uterine fibroids or polyps.
Contributors to male infertility include:
- Low sperm count or low testosterone
- An injury to the scrotum or testes
- Genetic disorders
- A hot testicular environment due to tight clothing or frequent use of hot tubs or saunas
- Steroid misuse
- Testicular cancer treatment.
How can you improve your fertility?
If you’re longing for a baby without success so far, then there are ways to increase your chances of pregnancy. Here are 8 tips for getting pregnant.
1. Have sex in the fertile window
You can have sex whenever you like for pleasure but, if you’re trying to get pregnant, you need to have sex in the fertile window – the few days immediately before a woman releases an egg (ovulates).
Use an ovulation calendar to work out your most fertile days and plan to have sex then.
2. Lose weight
Overweight women may experience hormonal imbalances that disrupt ovulation and reduce egg quality. Overweight men may have poorer sperm quality and difficulty maintaining an erection. And both men and women may experience less desire for sex.
Again, talk to your GP for advice and support in losing weight or take a look at the resources on Live Lighter. Improving your diet and activity levels has many benefits for your overall health as well as your fertility.
3. Eat well
A nutritious diet boosts your fertility (and helps you manage your weight). Saturated fats and sugar have been associated with suppressed fertility while diets high in healthy fats, whole grains, vegetables and fish are linked to greater fertility for both men and women.
4. Smoking and alcohol
You probably know it already but both legal and illegal drugs can impact your fertility.
Smoking affects every stage of the reproductive process, damaging eggs and sperm and weakening a fertilised egg’s ability to implant into the uterus.
As for alcohol, even light drinking can increase the amount of time it takes to get pregnant because it reduces both men’s and women’s fertility.
It’s not easy to give up long-standing habits, especially if you feel they help you relax or cope with difficulties. But wanting a baby is a powerful motivator. Kicking these habits now may not only help you conceive but also help you set a great example for your child as they grow.
5. Manage stress
Almost every couple struggling to make a baby has been told by one well-meaning but insensitive friend that they ‘just need to relax and then it’ll happen’.
The data on whether stress causes infertility is inconclusive (although we’re certainly aware that infertility causes stress!). Some researchers speculate that stress may affect fertility by lowering libido, weakening sperm or affecting the immune system in a way that makes implantation harder. Some studies support those theories; some don’t.
Stress may also indirectly affect fertility, for example by wrecking sleep, disrupting hormones or leading to weight gain due to midnight feasting.
Interestingly, one study found that infertile couples who received psychological support, particularly cognitive behavioural therapy, were more likely to become pregnant (and feel less stressed).
What we can say for sure is that it’s stressful trying and trying and trying again to conceive a baby. You may benefit from the support of a psychologist as you walk that path to parenthood.
6. Manage other medical conditions well
Many underlying medical conditions such as diabetes, polycystic ovary syndrome, endometriosis or certain STIs can have an impact on your fertility.
If you’re living with a medical condition, then work closely with your treatment team to ensure it is managed as well as it possibly can be.
7. Check your lubricants
If you use a lubricant, check it’s a fertility friendly one that isn’t going to weaken sperm. Alternatively, use olive, canola, mustard or baby oil.
8. See your GP
If you’re concerned about your fertility, the first step is for you and your partner to see your GP.
Your GP can help by:
- Listening to your fears and frustrations
- Investigating whether there are any medical reasons for your difficulty conceiving
- Providing advice and support to address lifestyle factors that affect fertility such as smoking, alcohol, weight or nutrition
- Review any medications you’re on
- Prescribing medication to help regulate your periods
- Referring you to a fertility specialist if necessary.
Fertility advice and support from your WeCare GP
WeCare’s GPs love to help couples who are having difficulty getting their family started. We will listen to you, ask questions about your medical history and how long you’ve been trying for and then, if necessary, order some tests.
WeCare are a bulk billing practice, so please make an appointment today.
All information is general in nature. Patients should consider their own personal circumstances and seek a second opinion.