Fertility can be a complicated topic, and often an emotive one. There’s a lot of information available online to sift through when you’re trying to conceive, and it can be hard to separate fact from fiction.
Some of the information you learn about fertility might surprise you, but it’s important you know the facts, particularly if you’re thinking of embarking on a form of assisted conception. Here a London fertility centre outlines 5 key facts about fertility which will help you plan your route to conception.
Women’s eggs are limited
Women already have all of their eggs at birth and the body does not produce any more. The number of eggs remaining when a girl starts to menstruate is referred to as her ‘ovarian reserve’ and it is these eggs that are capable of being fertilized.
Another interesting fact is that a large number of eggs are shed during each menstrual cycle, so the number of eggs a woman has decreased over time. Usually, only one egg in each cycle is released from the ovary ready to be fertilized. The quality of any eggs produced also diminishes with time. Eventually, all a woman’s eggs are used up, at which point she’ll enter menopause and no longer be capable of conceiving.
Weight can affect fertility levels
Women with very low or high body fat can find it more difficult to conceive than women with normal levels. This is because fatty tissue has an impact on hormone levels in the body, specifically the amount of oestrogen a woman has, which is essential for conception.
Too much fat will raise oestrogen levels excessively, whereas too little body fat will have the reverse effect. Being underweight or overweight can cause irregularities in a woman’s cycle and affect ovulation. If you’re trying to conceive, keeping your body fat percentage and overall BMI within the normal range will increase your chances of success, as will eating a healthy, varied and nutritious diet.
Hormonal contraception can affect fertility
A significant proportion of women experience irregular menstrual cycles when they stop taking the contraceptive pill or another form of contraception. This can include shorter or longer cycles than normal, or even no ovulation at all. It may take a while for cycles to return to normal.
You should seek advice from your doctor about stopping any synthetic hormones you’re taking if you want to get pregnant; it’s worth bearing in mind that it may take a little longer to conceive if your body is taking time to adjust to the lack of synthetic hormones.
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Secondary infertility is quite common
If you’re trying for a child after a previous successful pregnancy, you might think you’ll conceive easily; however, some couples experience secondary infertility, which is the inability to achieve pregnancy again following the birth of a naturally-conceived biological child.
The chances of secondary infertility (and infertility in general) increase with age, and other factors such as complications in a prior pregnancy, weight, medications and lifestyle habits can contribute to it. Problems with the reproductive system which develop later in life can also lead to secondary infertility. Frustratingly, in around one-third of cases the cause is unknown. A significant amount of women seeking fertility treatment are experiencing unexpected secondary infertility.
Sperm can survive for up to three days
Once released into the female reproductive tract, sperm can live for a few days, so there’s no need to wait until ovulation day to have sex. The best thing to do is have intercourse during the days leading up to ovulation, so that sperm is still alive and capable of fertilizing the egg released when you ovulate. A woman’s capacity to conceive drops off after ovulation day.
Arming yourself with the right information will help you determine what support you need on your fertility journey and the steps you need to take.