What you need to know about infertility
Around 1 in 7 couples experience difficulty conceiving. Although around 84% of couples will conceive naturally within a year of trying, 3.5 million people in the UK may need help to have a baby. If you are experiencing difficulties in conceiving it is important to remember that you are not alone and that infertility affects many people for many different reasons.
There can be male and female issues, or a combination of both, that make conceiving difficult. Unfortunately for some couples there can also be no known cause (‘unexplained infertility’). Other people have no problem conceiving their first child but struggle to have a second (this is called ‘secondary infertility’ and affects thousands of couples every year). The good news is that almost all cases of infertility are responsive to treatment - and that most couples can be helped by fertility treatment to have a baby.
In this Q&A, Dr Sanjula Sharma, Consultant in Reproductive Medicine at the London Women’s Clinic and The Holly Private Hospital shares some advice on fertility and when you may want to see a doctor if you are struggling to conceive.
Q. I’ve been trying for a baby for a while but nothing is happening – when should I see a doctor?
A. If you are under 35 and have been having regular, unprotected sex then generally speaking you should wait for about one year before seeking help. If you are over 35 or if you have a known issue that may affect your fertility, you should seek help sooner, usually after around 6 months of trying.
Q. Is there anything I can do to boost my fertility?
A. Studies have shown that smoking, being overweight and stress can impact your chances of conceiving. To have the best chance of conceiving you should quit smoking, ensure that you are a healthy weight (BMI or 18.5 – 24.9) and try to eat a healthy, balanced diet. You should reduce the amount of alcohol that you drink and ideally keep all alcohol to a minimum.
Whilst it is not a replacement for a healthy diet, you might want to consider taking a multivitamin designed for pre-conception. For women trying to conceive, 400 micrograms a day of folic acid is recommended to prevent neural tube defects.
Many people find that they feel anxious when trying to conceive. Ideally you should try and keep your stress levels to a minimum, perhaps by enjoying a hobby or using relaxation techniques.
Q. What causes infertility?
A. Infertility can have a variety of causes but some of the most common reasons for female infertility include:
- problems with ovulation
- damage to the womb or fallopian tubes
- some medicines and drugs
- age-related decline
Most cases of male infertility are caused by sperm disorders - either because there are too few sperm or because they are low quality in terms of motility or shape.
Q. What tests can you do to find out if my partner and I may have difficulty conceiving?
A. One of the first tests we do when we see a female and male couple is to analyse the male partner’s sperm. A normal sperm count for fertilisation is around 15 million per millilitre. More than half the sperm cells need to be motile, and more than 4% a normal shape.
With female patients we carry out an ultrasound scan and run blood tests to determine ovarian reserve, to see if there are any issues that may affect the eggs being released, fertilised or implanted in the womb.
Q. I’ve been told I have unexplained infertility? What does this mean and how can it be treated?
A. One quarter of couples who are having difficulties in conceiving have unexplained infertility. If your tests show that no known cause can be found, then you may be diagnosed with unexplained infertility. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have a child, but it could mean that you might benefit from some assistance to help you to conceive.
Q. If I see a doctor, what will happen in the initial consultation?
A. The first step in fertility treatment - contacting a clinic - is never easy. But remember, you are not alone. You will meet one of our specialists, who will discuss your medical history, advise you of the options available and start to plan your treatment. Usually, some basic tests will be necessary before this consultation - an ultrasound scan for the female partner, and a semen analysis for the male. From these results, doctors will be able to discuss treatment options, the likelihood of success and the costs involved.
The London Women’s Clinic provides fertility services at The Holly Private Hospital. A wide range of fertility treatments are available with competitive prices and low cost packages.
Find out more here