Fertility - Overview
The natural ability to conceive a child is referred to as fertility. The inability to conceive naturally after one year of unprotected sexual intercourse is referred to as infertility.
When a couple seeks help for fertility issues, about a third of the time it's due to male-factor infertility, a third of the time it's female-factor infertility, and the other third is a combination problem.
Majority of couples will be able to get pregnant with the help of fertility treatments, surgery, or lifestyle changes.
A brief overview of what it takes for a couple to conceive naturally
- A woman’s reproductive system must produces hormones that will result in ovulation. Ovulation is when an egg is released from one of the ovaries. This occurs once a month during a woman’s childbearing years.
- A man’s reproductive system must be producing sperm cells in the testes. After puberty, new sperm cells are generated daily.
- A couple must have sexual intercourse during the five to six days prior to ovulation.
- After sexual intercourse, the sperm produced by the man must swim up through the cervical opening into the uterus (womb). From the uterus, the sperm now swim to the fallopian tubes.
- The strongest and healthiest sperm (a very small percentage of the total) will stay in the fallopian tubes until an egg comes along.
- After an egg is released from one of the ovaries, it is gently guided into the fallopian tubes.
- In the fallopian tubes, one of the waiting sperm cells eventually enters into the egg. This is the moment of fertilization.
- After ovulation, the woman’s reproductive system releases new hormones that build up the endometrium, or uterine lining.
- The fertilized egg (or embryo) goes through a series of cell divisions.
- As this is happening, the embryo continues to travel down the fallopian tube into the uterus.
- Once the embryo reaches the uterus, it eventually implants itself into the uterine lining, or endometrium. This occurs about four to 10 days after fertilization.
- After implantation, the embryo creates both fetal cells and placental cells. The hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), or "the pregnancy hormone," will begin to be produced.
- About one week later, or approximately 14 days after ovulation, there is enough circulating HCG for a pregnancy test to give a positive result.
Any problem with one or more of the stages briefly described above can result to lack of pregnancy.
You are most likely to get pregnant if you have sexual intercourse during your fertile period which lasts between five and eight days before ovulation.
The male sperm can stay 5 -7days inside a woman’s body. The odds of conceiving the day before ovulation are between 21 percent and 34 percent, four days before ovulation the odds are between 8 percent and 17 percent. Therefore, the closer you time sexual intercourse to your ovulation the higher the chances of getting pregnant.
How to know when you are ovulating
Ovulation occurs 14 days prior to the (onset) beginning of menstruation, once your egg has been released, it’s viable for about 12 to 24 hours. After that, you typically can’t get pregnant until your next menstrual cycle (However, birth control at all times as a precaution should be used for individuals not trying to conceive).
You can detect if you are ovulating by using ovulation prediction test strips, signs and symptoms of ovulation include;
- Changes in your cervical mucus
- Changes in body basal temperature
- Cervical position changes
- Understanding your body’s sexual desire (Your libido is higher when you’re in fertile-mode.)
- Heightened sense of smell
- Breast soreness or tenderness
- Mild pelvic or lower abdominal pain
- Light spotting or discharge
The ideal time to take a pregnancy test is one day after your period is due. It’s better if you avoid taking tests before your period is due. If you take the test early, you’re unlikely to get a positive result even if you are pregnant. Plus, it can increase your stress levels.
How to improve your fertility naturally?
Research has found that some healthy lifestyle habits may lead to improved fertility or at least a reduced risk of infertility.
- Maintaining a healthy weight.
- Eating proper diet, with lots of antioxidant-rich vegetables and fruits, healthy fats like olive oil and nuts, and healthy proteins and avoiding
- Get enough sleep at night, at the right hours
- Exercise, but don’t over exercise.
- Taking folic acid supplements.
- Practice mind-body and relaxation techniques.
When should you be concerned with your fertility and see a Doctor?
You should be concerned about your fertility if any of the following applies to you:
- You have had unprotected sexual intercourse for one year without getting pregnant.
- You have worrisome symptoms or any risk factors for infertility.
- You have had two or more successive pregnancy losses.
- You are age 35 or older if you don’t get pregnant after six months. This is because your fertility is naturally declining more rapidly.
The most common signs and symptoms of a fertility problem are:
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Unusually bad menstrual cramps
- Unusually heavy periods or abnormal menstrual bleeding
- Pelvic pain or pain during sexual intercourse
- Sexual dysfunction (including erectile dysfunction or low libido)
Factors that may affect fertility
- Age: Female fertility peaks in a woman’s early to mid-twenties, and after age 35, starts to rapidly decline. Male fertility also goes down with age, though not as dramatically. While some men are still fertile after age 50, women after menopause are completely infertile.
- Unhealthy lifestyle habits: For men and women smoking, excessive drinking, and recreational drugs can reduce fertility.
- Infection of the reproductive tract / Sexually transmitted diseases(STDs)
- Reproductive tract blockages or abnormalities: Problems with the ovaries, fallopian tubes, or uterus can cause fertility problems for women. Issues with the testes, vas deferens, prostate gland, or seminal vesicles can cause problems for male fertility.
- Hormonal imbalances or diseases of the reproductive system: - endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and premature ovarian failure (also known as primary ovarian insufficiency) can lead to female infertility. Low testosterone can lead to male infertility.
- Underlying disease or disorder: Untreated diabetes or a thyroid imbalance can also cause infertility.
- Medication side effects: Some medications may reduce fertility in men and women. For example, allergy medications may dry up cervical mucus. Some antidepressants may cause fertility problems for men
- Cancer treatment
Unexplained causes: About one in four couples never find out why they can’t conceive.
What are my Fertility Enhancement Options?
- Lifestyle changes
- Weight loss
- Treatment of an underlying medical condition
- Changing medication, if a side effect has reduced fertility; never change or stop taking a medication without a discussion with your doctor
- Oral fertility drugs
- Injectable fertility drugs
- Insemination (most common intrauterine insemination (IUI)
- In vitro fertilization (IVF)
- Third-party reproduction (using an egg donor, embryo donor, sperm donor, or surrogate)