If you and your partner are struggling to have a baby, you’re not alone. Ten to 15 percent of couples in South Africa struggle with infertility. Infertility is defined as not being able to get pregnant despite having frequent, unprotected sex for at least a year for most couples.
Infertility may result from an issue with either you or your partner, or a combination of factors that interfere with pregnancy. Fortunately, there are many safe and effective therapies that significantly improve your chances of getting pregnant.
Most couples will eventually conceive, with or without treatment. Statistics are variable but about 50% of couples conceive in 6 months, 80% by 12 months and 90% by 24 months of trying. Each month you have roughly a 20-25% chance of becoming pregnant, and that’s assuming everything is in full working order
When to see a doctor
You probably don’t need to see a doctor about infertility unless you have been trying regularly to conceive for at least one year. Talk with your doctor earlier, however, if you’re a woman and:
- You’re age 35 to 40 and have been trying to conceive for six months or longer
- You’re over age 40
- You menstruate irregularly or not at all
- Your periods are very painful
- You have known fertility problems
- You’ve been diagnosed with endometriosis or pelvic inflammatory disease
- You’ve had multiple miscarriages
- You’ve undergone treatment for cancer
Talk with your doctor if you’re a man and:
- You have a low sperm count or other problems with sperm
- You have a history of testicular, prostate or sexual problems
- You’ve undergone treatment for cancer
- You have testicles that are small in size or swelling in the scrotum known as a varicocele
- You have others in your family with infertility problems
Infertility causes can affect one or both partners. In general:
- In about one-third of cases, there is an issue with the male.
- In about one-third of cases, there is an issue with the female.
- In the remaining cases, there are issues with both the male and female, or no cause can be identified.
Causes of male infertility
These may include:
- Abnormal sperm production or function
- Problems with the delivery of sperm
- Overexposure to certain environmental factors,
- Damage related to cancer and its treatment
Causes of female infertility
Causes of female infertility may include:
- Ovulation disorders,
- Uterine or cervical abnormalities
- Fallopian tube damage or blockage
- Primary ovarian insufficiency(early menopause)
- Pelvic adhesions,
- Cancer and its treatment.
Many of the risk factors for both male and female infertility are the same. They include:
- Age.A woman’s fertility gradually declines with age, especially in her mid-30s, and it drops rapidly after age 37. Infertility in older women may be due to the number and quality of eggs, or to health problems that affect fertility. Men over age 40 may be less fertile than younger men are and may have higher rates of certain medical conditions in offspring, such as psychiatric disorders or certain cancers.
- Tobacco use.Smoking tobacco or marijuana by either partner reduces the likelihood of pregnancy. Smoking also reduces the possible benefit of fertility treatment. Miscarriages are more frequent in women who smoke. Smoking can increase the risk of erectile dysfunction and a low sperm count in men.
- Alcohol use.For women, there’s no safe level of alcohol use during conception or pregnancy. Avoid alcohol if you’re planning to become pregnant. Alcohol use increases the risk of birth defects, and may contribute to infertility. For men, heavy alcohol use can decrease sperm count and motility.
- Being overweight.An inactive lifestyle and being overweight may increase the risk of infertility. A man’s sperm count may also be affected if he is overweight.
- Being underweight.Women at risk of fertility problems include those with eating disorders, such as anorexia or bulimia, and women who follow a very low calorie or restrictive diet.
- Exercise issues.Insufficient exercise contributes to obesity, which increases the risk of infertility. Less often, ovulation problems may be associated with frequent strenuous, intense exercise in women who are not overweight.
Some types of infertility aren’t preventable. But several strategies may increase your chances of pregnancy.
Have regular intercourse several times around the time of ovulation for the highest pregnancy rate. Having intercourse beginning at least 5 days before and until a day after ovulation improves your chances of getting pregnant. Ovulation usually occurs at the middle of the cycle — halfway between menstrual periods — for most women with menstrual cycles about 28 days apart.
For men, although most types of infertility aren’t preventable, these strategies may help:
- Avoid drug and tobacco use and excessive alcohol consumption,which may contribute to male infertility.
- Avoid high temperatures,as this can affect sperm production and motility. Although this effect is usually temporary, avoid hot tubs and steam baths.
- Avoid exposure to industrial or environmental toxins,which can impact sperm production.
- Limit medications that may impact fertility,both prescription and nonprescription drugs. Talk with your doctor about any medications you take regularly, but don’t stop taking prescription medications without medical advice.
- Exercise moderately.Regular exercise may improve sperm quality and increase the chances for achieving a pregnancy.
For women, a number of strategies may increase the chances of becoming pregnant:
- Quit smoking.Tobacco has multiple negative effects on fertility, not to mention your general health and the health of a fetus. If you smoke and are considering pregnancy, quit now.
- Avoid alcohol and street drugs.These substances may impair your ability to conceive and have a healthy pregnancy. Don’t drink alcohol or use recreational drugs, such as marijuana or cocaine.
- Limit caffeine.Women trying to get pregnant may want to limit caffeine intake. Ask your doctor for guidance on the safe use of caffeine.
- Exercise moderately.Regular exercise is important, but exercising so intensely that your periods are infrequent or absent can affect fertility.
- Avoid weight extremes.Being overweight or underweight can affect your hormone production and cause infertility.