For as long as women have been having babies, there have been tall tales on how to improve fertility. These stories range from the simple (good health means good fertility), to the abstract (drinking cough syrup will help with conception). For couples unable to conceive, even the most outrageous old wives’ tale may seem helpful.
Before reaching for a lucky charm to help with conception, get the facts about infertility and find out how to improve your odds of having a healthy baby.
Some couples may not conceive immediately, which is no cause for alarm. In general, if a woman is younger than 35, she can try to conceive for a year before seeing a specialist. Women over 35 shouldn’t wait more than 6 months before seeking counseling.
“The first thing a woman having difficulty conceiving should do is consult her OB-GYN,” says Michael Kettel, MD, a reproductive endocrinologist from San Diego Fertility Center and Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla. “There are some simple blood tests that can be done to check hormone levels.”
The three most important hormones that are initially screened are:
- Follicle stimulating hormone, or FSH, which stimulates the production of eggs
- Estradiol, a form of estrogen
- Anti-mulllerian hormone, a form of growth hormone
Once hormone levels are determined, the OB-GYN can determine whether or not a fertility specialist should be consulted.
While it is true that it’s typically easier for younger women to conceive, everyone is different.
“In younger women there could be tubal factors preventing pregnancy,” notes Dr. Kettel. “Because of low success rates, we do a lot less surgery to correct problems in the fallopian tubes than we used to. Pregnancy rates tend to be higher when we forgo tubal surgery and use in vitro fertilization.”
Younger couples may also have difficulty conceiving due to male infertility, which can be evaluated by an urologist.
“A lot of women read about celebrities getting pregnant in their mid-to-late 40s,” says Dr. Kettel. “These women are most likely seeing a fertility specialist. The decline in fertility usually begins in for women in their 30s.”
Why is it harder to conceive as woman ages? In younger women, nearly every egg ovulated is a good egg. As a woman ages, more often the eggs are of poor quality, which makes it more difficult to conceive.
Based on the results of hormone level tests, a fertility specialist can determine if the eggs released during ovulation are healthy enough for conception. If they are viable, then fertility treatments can be used to stimulate the production of eggs. The more eggs ovulated at a time, the higher the odds of a viable one being released.
“A healthy lifestyle can improve fertility, but only to a certain extent,” explains Dr. Kettel.
Women who are obese or who are extremely thin often have disruptions on their menstrual cycle, which means a decrease in fertility. Therefore, being at a healthy weight may make it easier to conceive. However, maintaining a healthy weight won’t prolong fertility indefinitely and aging as well as other factors will still play a role in fertility.
The odds of success using IVF are related to the reason for infertility. For some couples, the odds of conception can be as high as 90 percent.
“There has been remarkable improvement in success rates using IVF in the past 15 years,” adds Dr. Kettel. “This is, in part, due to a better laboratory. We’re able to use more advanced technology to cultivate better embryos, and better embryos means better success.”
It is important to check with your insurance company to find out if fertility treatments are covered. Many policies do not cover full service fertility care. Know your policy and discuss cash payment options with your fertility specialist.