This week we’re observing National Infertility Awareness Week (NIAW). Created in 1989 by Resolve: The National Infertility Association, NIAW seeks to empower people experiencing infertility and promote honest, informed conversations about infertility in our daily lives. In honor of NIAW, we’re answering some of the most commonly asked questions about infertility.
1. What is infertility?
Infertility is a disease defined by the inability to conceive and have a live birth after a full year (12 months) of unprotected, regular intercourse. Infertility can impact people of all genders, socioeconomic status, and age. People with primary infertility have never been pregnant, while people with secondary infertility have difficulty conceiving after being pregnant in the past. Recurrent miscarriage is another type of infertility, where even though people are getting pregnant, they do not have the family they are trying to complete.
2. How common is infertility?
Many of our patients are surprised to learn that infertility is very common – in fact, it’s among the most common diseases for 20- to 45-year-olds. Recent studies show infertility affects around 1 in 8 people (or 1 in 6 couples) trying to conceive.
3. When should I see an infertility specialist?
Generally, we recommend meeting with an infertility specialist after trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant for 12 months, or after 6 months if the female partner is over 35 years old. You might also consider consulting with an infertility specialist if you:
- Have irregular or unpredictable menstrual cycles, which can signal an ovulation issue or hormone imbalance
- Have a diagnosis of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, or chronic disease that impacts your health
- Have experienced multiple miscarriages
- Are interested in fertility preservation (egg freezing)
- Would need third-party reproductive assistance such as donor eggs, donor sperm, or surrogacy
- Have a family history of detectable genetic conditions such as cystic fibrosis
4. What are the most common tests?
The first step of any fertility treatment journey is a consultation with a specialist. The doctor will recommend various tests based on your history. The most common tests include anatomy testing like a pelvic ultrasound and hysterosalpingogram (HSG), blood tests for egg supply and other hormone levels, and a semen analysis. Based on these results, additional tests may be recommended.
5. What are the basic treatment options?
Everyone’s fertility journey is unique, and all treatment plans should be individually tailored to your history and needs. Broadly, the most common fertility treatment options are:
- Intrauterine insemination (IUI)
- In vitro fertilization (IVF)
- Third party reproduction or collaborative reproduction
In IUI, a prepared sperm sample is placed directly into the uterus around the time of ovulation, increasing the chances of conception. IVF involves combining an egg and sperm in a lab, then implanting the resulting embryo into the uterus. Third party reproduction uses donor tissue (egg, sperm, or embryo), or a gestational carrier (surrogate) to conceive or carry a pregnancy.
Infertility is a complicated experience, and it can feel overwhelming. We are here to support you every step of the way. You can find additional resources on infertility here: The American Society of Reproductive Medicine, Resolve, and the Center for Disease Control