Usually, it can take up to six months for a couple looking to do some purposeful baby making to actually conceive, but sometimes that's not always the case. According to the Mayo Clinic, 10 to 15 percent of U.S. couples experience issues with infertility.
There are lots of factors that can contribute to infertility, involving both the female, the male or both. So as the expression goes, ladies first. Apart from advanced age, when it comes to women, blocked or damaged fallopian tubes, endometriosis, issues with ovulation, improper hormone production, early menopause, uterine fibroids, pelvic adhesions, thyroid problems, cancer, kidney disease and diabetes can all be to blame.
As for men, sometimes the trouble has to do with the production or performance of their sperm. For example, the little guys might be shaped wrong, move too slowly or simply be too few in number for one lucky trooper to hit the jackpot. A nearby varicose vein could be making the testicles run too hot, they could be undescended, or they could be receiving improper hormonal signals. Genetic defects, infections, blockages, retrograde ejaculation into the bladder, cystic fibrosis, cancer, age and anti-sperm antibodies can also be the issue.
Then there are some lifestyle issues that can be factors as well. Stress, diet, malnutrition, environmental toxins, obesity, alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, drugs and medications can cause complications for both men and women.
It starts to seem incredible anyone can manage to get pregnant! If you've been trying to conceive for more than 6 months, or at least for more than a year, and it's just not happening, the first thing you should do is head to your doctor and discuss what might be complicating things in your particular case. Depending on what your doctor uncovers, chances are good he or she might recommend one of the following options.
For some people, conceiving is easy, but for others it can be a challenge. If you're one of the people struggling to get pregnant, it could be you're not maximizing your odds. However, lots of little things can help improve the chances that sperm are going to be successful at their critical crusade.
For one thing, it doesn't hurt to lie down after sex -- you don't want all the sperm sliding out, after all. Give it about 30 minutes or so, in order to give them the chance to get where they're headed. Tricks like standing on your head, however, are not necessary and you could wind up getting hurt. Also, constantly having sex isn't usually the greatest idea, either. Men need time for their sperm count to build back up, so having sex more than once every couple of days is generally not recommended, although your doctor might make a more personalized recommendation.
These sorts of common sense techniques might seem basic, but someone who's desperate to become pregnant might start forgetting little details. It's important for couples experiencing infertility issues to keep a healthy perspective on the situation. For example, it's essential to talk with your partner about how far each of you are willing to go -- both emotionally and financially -- in order to conceive. Also, discuss your feelings on other means of becoming a parent, such as adoption, egg and sperm donation, and surrogacy. Dealing with infertility can be seriously draining on couples, so counseling could also be in the cards.
Another smart move is to figure out your menstrual cycle since certain days are better than others when it comes to conceiving. Typically, about two weeks into your menstrual cycle is when hormones trigger your ovaries to offer up an egg, which then zips through its respective fallopian tube, waiting to see if it's going to encounter any sperm. Increasing your lovemaking around this window is your best way to conceive; otherwise, the egg will say sayonara and hit the road.
To figure out when you're ovulating, it's a good idea to start a chart that tracks your basal body temperature (that's the lowest daily temperature your body achieves). Because a woman's body tends to run slightly hotter than usual right after she ovulates, knowing the average temperature can be a helpful way to unlock the schedule. It's not the most exacting method, but it can -- typically after a few months of diligent record keeping -- help determine when it's the optimum time to try for a baby. Since temperature fluctuates throughout the day, basal body temperature is best measured right upon waking, with as little prior movement as possible. The condition of your cervical mucus, the start of your period and when you have sex are other elements to keep track of.
Cervical mucus can be examined for monthly variations. When it's your super-fertile time of the month, the texture and consistency of the mucus changes to make it able to assist any incoming sperm speed along toward the intended egg. At other times of the month, the mucus is generally thicker and stickier, slowing down any stray sperm that happen by.
Your cervix also changes position when you're ovulating, and it alternates between hard and dry to wet and soft depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle. Using all these monthly changes to help predict when an egg is about to cut loose can greatly improve your chances of getting pregnant.
If an ovulation disorder is what's causing the infertility, then chances are good that your doctor will recommend fertility drugs. The many fertility drugs on the market typically tend to either stimulate or regulate ovulation and hormone production.
Some work by acting on the hormone-producing pituitary gland; some work by triggering the ovaries to release an egg. Others slow the ovaries down so they don't release eggs too early, or speed the ovaries up if they're releasing them too late in the game. A few may help prevent miscarriages. Some fertility drugs are used independently, while others are used in tandem with each other. You can also opt for either oral, vaginal or injectable fertility drugs.
Keep in mind that fertility drugs, like many of the treatments on this list, can increase the odds of multiple births. If the thought that you might end up an octomom positively terrifies you, you'll want to seriously consider that reality before you start popping pills or receiving injections.
Sometimes surgery -- for either the male or female -- is needed to correct the problem. For example, men with varicocele (that's that unfortunately placed varicose vein) might opt for surgery, and it can also help men with vasectomies, retrograde ejaculation or blockages.
Women might decide to go with surgery if they have similar blockages or other issues with their fallopian tubes. When it comes to endometriosis -- a growth of uterine tissue in improper portions of the body like the abdominal wall, ovaries, fallopian tubes and bowels -- surgery can sometimes remove the scar tissue, allowing the affected organs to function properly again. Typically this is done with laparoscopy, a procedure that involves sending a lighted instrument into the abdomen to have a look around, followed by the removal of any scar tissue that's found there.
If none of the previous tactics have helped you and your partner conceive, there's still one more major option to discuss with your doctor or infertility specialist. We'll hit on that one on the next page.
Assisted Reproductive Technologies
If nothing else seems to be working, women can resort to assisted reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilization. In vitro fertilization is the most effective weapon in this particular arsenal. Mature eggs are harvested from the female and fertilized by the male's sperm in a petri palace of love. Then the eggs are popped into the uterus where, hopefully, they'll start growing.
This is another instance where multiple pregnancies are a real possibility, but there are steps that can be taken in the event of multiple fetuses. Couples can opt for what's known as a multifetal pregnancy reduction and remove some of the fetuses, making the chances of survival better for the remaining babies.
Other potential complications that can accompany fertility treatment include bleeding, infection, birth defects, premature delivery, low birth weight, and something intriguingly known as ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome. Despite its bizarre-sounding name, there's nothing amusing about OHSS: In most cases, a woman's ovaries become painfully enlarged. In rare cases, fluid builds up in the abdomen which can cause swelling, rapid weight gain, nausea and vomiting, shortness of breath, decreased blood levels, low blood pressure and a trip to the hospital.
On the next page, you'll find links to lots more great information, including the answer to that burning question that's likely been keeping you up at night: "If a woman has two wombs, can she get pregnant in both?" Well, read on, and you'll be sleeping like a baby.
HowStuffWorks looks at whether women dealing with fertility issues are more likely to conceive naturally after they adopt or get pregnant with IVF.
- Fact or Fiction: Pregnancy
- How In Vitro Fertilization Works
- How Sperm Banks Work
- How Surrogacy Works
- Will the baby be a girl or a boy?
- How does the baby eat and breathe in the uterus?
- Can acupuncture and hypnosis treat infertility?
- Can vasectomies actually be reversed?
- Can I feel pregnant when my wife is?
- If a woman has two wombs, can she get pregnant in both?
More Great Links
- "Common Pregnancy Myths." KidsHealth.org. October 2007. (4/9/2010) http://kidshealth.org/parent/pregnancy_newborn/pregnancy/myths_tales.html#
- Humphries, Courtney. "Does what you eat affect your fertility?" Boston Globe. April 12, 2010. (4/9/2010) http://www.boston.com/news/health/articles/2010/04/12/does_what_you_eat_affect_your_fertility/
- "Infertility." Mayo Clinic. June 27, 2009. (4/9/2010) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/infertility/DS00310
- "Infertility and Reproduction Guide." Web MD. (4/9/2010) http://www.webmd.com/infertility-and-reproduction/default.htm
- "Infertility: Frequently Asked Questions." Womenshealth.gov. July 1, 2009. (4/9/2010) http://www.womenshealth.gov/FAQ/pregnancy-tests.cfm
- The American Fertility Association Web site. (4/9/2010) http://www.theafa.org/
- The American Pregnancy Association Web site. (4/9/2010) http://www.americanpregnancy.org/infertility/
- The National Infertility Association Web site. (4/9/2010) http://www.resolve.org/site/PageServer?pagename=homepage