Are you considering infertility treatment? Trying to get pregnant can be an emotional experience, and trepidation about infertility can heighten the stress, anxiety, and uncertainty. If you are going through this, you are not alone. The percentage of couples struggling with infertility is about one in seven, so it’s a fairly common problem. Fortunately, there are very effective fertility treatments that can help you achieve pregnancy. In fact, for more than half of couples who seek help with fertility, a healthy pregnancy is the result.
How do you know if you need help getting pregnant? If you have been trying to conceive for a year and have not been successful, it’s a good idea to visit your doctor and discuss what could be preventing pregnancy. For women over 35 or women that have an irregular menstrual cycle, that doctor visit should occur after six months of unsuccessful attempts at conception. It’s not just the woman who should be seen, though, because it could just as well be a problem with the partner.
About a third of infertility cases in heterosexual couples are the result of male fertility issues. The most common problems are issues with the testicles, while hormone imbalances and blockages in the male reproductive organs can also cause issues. In about half of cases, doctors are unable to determine the cause of male infertility. Typically, the problem is poor sperm movement, misshapen sperm, blocked sperm ducts, or a low sperm count. In about 10 to 15 percent of infertile men, there is a complete lack of sperm, usually caused by a hormonal imbalance or blockage. When a man produces less sperm than normal, it’s often caused by an enlarged vein in the testicle known as a varicocele. Sometimes, the solution to a couple’s infertility problems is to conceive using a sperm donation, but this can be a sensitive matter if the man is not comfortable with the child not being biologically related to him.
Another third of fertility problems stem from issues with the woman’s fertility. She might have ovaries that don’t release eggs regularly, blocked fallopian tubes, or problems with the cervix or uterus. At least 10 percent of women deal with some sort of infertility, and there are many risk factors that could raise your likelihood of having trouble conceiving. Female fertility declines with age, but sometimes premature ovarian insufficiency can cause young women to become infertile, because of problems like genetic disorders, autoimmune diseases, cancer treatments, or some other factor. Weight plays a role, and those who are overweight, underweight, or have low body fat may have difficulty when they try to conceive. Some medications can damage fertility, as can some medical conditions.
What about the remaining third of fertility issues? The cause of these issues is unknown. Recent research indicates that it may have something to do with damaged DNA in the sperm, but this research is ongoing. Still, most couples who seek fertility treatment are able to achieve pregnancy, sometimes without knowing the cause of the fertility issues.
Sometimes, the issue is simple. If you want to know the best days to conceive, you can try tracking your fertility. Take your basal temperature in the morning before you get out of bed and chart your temperature fluctuations. A sustained rise in temperature is a good indication that you have ovulated. Combine this kind of natural charting with ovulation tests and you may find that you’re able to determine when you’re ovulating and can successfully conceive.
There are other natural ways to increase your chances of conception, too. Lifestyle changes can have a big impact on fertility. For example, smoking lowers the fertility of both men and women, but one study showed that men who quit smoking saw an 800 percent increase in sperm count. Eating a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight may also be helpful. Additionally, there’s research to suggest that acupuncture may improve sperm quality and uterine blood flow, boost the success rate of some fertility treatments, and improve the regularity of ovulation.
If you are not ovulating normally, there are medications your doctor can prescribe to help you. The most common is clomiphene, and around 30 to 40 percent of women who take it get pregnant, typically within three cycles. If it doesn’t work, your doctor may recommend injectable hormones to help you ovulate. Be aware, though, that anything you take to increase your ovulation will also increase your likelihood of having multiples.
Sometimes, infertility is cause by blocked fallopian tubes. Endometriosis, pelvic infections, and surgeries can all raise your risk of scars in the fallopian tubes that prevent eggs from traveling down them. Surgery to correct this scar tissue can improve your chances of having a baby. Some of the most common treatments for infertility, however, are IUI, IVF, and ICSI.
- IUI, which stands for Intrauterine Insemination, is a popular place to start with fertility treatments. Less expensive than IVF (in vitro fertilization), this procedure involves putting sperm cells directly into the uterus during ovulation. The woman may need to take drugs to trigger ovulation, but putting the sperm into the uterus reduces the time and distance it needs to travel to fertilize an egg. Semen collected from your partner or a donor is put through a process known as sperm washing that collects a concentrated number of healthy sperm, which are then put into the uterus through a thin tube inserted through the cervix. This simple, low-tech procedure increases the chance of pregnancy, but it’s not as effective as IVF.
- In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a very popular fertility treatment method. After directly combining the egg and sperm in a lab, doctors place the growing embryo into the uterus. To begin the process, the woman takes medication to cause several eggs to mature at once. The doctor then retrieves the eggs and mixes them with sperm that has been washed, to allow the sperm to fertilize the eggs. Once the eggs are fertilized, one or more of the embryos are placed directly into the uterus, and the woman takes medication to help the embryo survive. If an embryo implants in the lining of the uterus, a pregnancy results. Sometimes, it takes more than one round of IVF to successfully achieve pregnancy. This can be taxing because each cycle takes several months. Often, more than one embryo is implanted at a time. This increases the chances of success, but it also increases the chances of being pregnant with more than one baby, which is a risky situation. If a woman’s own eggs are not viable, IVF can be done with a donor egg, though this, like sperm donation, results in a pregnancy that is only biologically connected to one partner. Sometimes, a gestational surrogate is involved in IVF. In this case, the couple would have their egg and sperm combined to create an embryo that is then transferred to the uterus of a woman who has agreed to be their surrogate. The baby would be biologically related to the parents even though he or she was carried by another person.
- ICSI, which stands for intracytoplasmic sperm injection is used in conjunction with IVF. If there is a problem with the man’s sperm count or sperm motility (movement), the doctor can use this process to inject the sperm directly into the egg in the lab. The fertilized egg is then implanted through IVF. This process is also used in cases where the egg has been previously frozen and may be difficult for a sperm to penetrate.
The risk of multiples is present any time a fertility drug is taken, as it is for IVF and often for IUI, as well. However, aside from the risks inherent in administration of these medications, the negative effects of IUI are minimal, as the procedure itself is not very invasive. IVF, however, does come with some significant side effects. Physically, it can cause bloating, cramping, breast tenderness, mood swings, headaches, bleeding, infection, bruising from the injections, or an allergic reaction to medications involved in the process. IVF can be emotionally difficult as well. Often both partners going through the IVF process struggle with depression and anxiety. Especially if several cycles are required, the process can be overwhelming and discouraging. Be careful to keep clear lines of communication between the partners, and don’t hesitate to seek advice and support when you need it.
It’s important to find a fertility centre that offers care to the whole person, offering support through counselling as well as fertility procedures. If you need assistance starting your family, trust NewLife Fertility to assess your needs and apply effective services that work best for you. We are committed to providing patient-centered, effective, innovative, and safe reproductive care in order to help people fulfil their dreams of a healthy family. Beyond just providing fertility treatment, we instill hope by offering advice, experience, and a proven track record of success for infertility patients. Since 2004, we’ve provided the comprehensive care that is essential to successful fertility outcomes, and our success rates have made us one of the top fertility centres in Canada. For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact us through our website.