What is Female Infertility?
Infertility is a condition defined as not being able to become pregnant after at least one year of unprotected, regular, well-timed intercourse. Women who suffer from multiple miscarriages may also be diagnosed as infertile. Female Infertility may be classified into two groups, primary and secondary.
Primary infertility means that you and partner have never had a child. Secondary infertility means that the infertile person has had one or more children in the past, but a medical, emotional or physical condition is now hampering fertility.
Many women may be infertile during their reproductive years but be completely unaware of this. Factors such as age, lifestyle and physical condition contribute considerably to fertility problems.
Your chance of getting pregnant is only, on average, one percent, on any given occasion! However, this varies from woman to woman with some falling pregnant more easily than others. It also varies according to when sex takes place in the woman’s menstrual cycle.
Some times of the month are more favorable to conception than others. Statistically speaking, it has been estimated that approximately one in seven couples in the United States are infertile.
In order to become pregnant, a woman must release an egg from one of her ovaries. This egg must enter the fallopian tube and head towards the uterus. The sperm must then penetrate and fertilize the egg along the way. The fertilized egg must attach to the inside of the uterus so that implantation can occur.
Any interference that occurs during this fertilization process may bring about infertility. The first step to detect whether you may be infertile is to track your ovulation. This may be done by recording changes in your morning body temperature (basal body temperature) for several months, recording the texture of your cervical mucus and making use of a home ovulation test kit.
Experiencing infertility is emotionally painful for women. Feelings of frustration, guilt, anger, anxiety, depression and confusion may dominate your daily life. For this reason, it is important that you together with your partner find ways to cope with the ups and downs of infertility.
Diagnosing Female Infertility
The diagnosis of infertility in women is based on the physical symptoms as well as sexual history. It is also very important that a woman tracks her ovulation at home by recording her basal body temperature for several months, checking the texture of cervical mucus and using a home ovulation test kit.
Additional medical tests to determine infertility:
- Blood tests
- Ultrasound of the ovaries
- Hysterosalpingography to check for physical problems of the uterus and fallopian tubes
- Laparoscopy to check the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus for disease and physical problems
What Causes Female Infertility?
However, there are also many contributing factors that can affect a woman’s ability to have a baby.
- Health problems that cause hormonal changes: There are some health issues that may also increase the risk of infertility. Women who suffer from irregular periods or no menstrual periods, painful periods, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, uterine fibroids or more than one miscarriage should consult their gynecologist or obstetrician.
- Hypothyroidism: Many women that are diagnosed with hypothyroidism find it very hard to get pregnant due to irregular menstruation and the lack of ovulation.
- Hyperthyroidism: Just like hypothyroidism, the lack of releasing an egg while suffering with hyperthyroidism may make it impossible for a women to get pregnant.
- Alcohol: Regular drinking of alcohol can affect fertility. Drinking large amounts of alcohol regularly may cause menstrual cycles to be irregular, increase the risk of miscarriage and birth defects in the baby.
- Anemia: Anemia is a condition in which the blood doesn't have enough healthy red blood cells, which provide oxygen to body tissues. The most common form of anemia is iron deficient anemia, which has been linked to infertility. Iron deficiency is twice as likely to create ovulation dysfunction in women of child-bearing years.
- Blocked Fallopian Tubes: A blocked Fallopian tube rarely causes any symptoms besides infertility. When a fallopian tube is blocked, the egg cannot reach the uterus and therefore cannot reach the sperm, preventing pregnancy.
- Candida: Candida albicans is a natural fungus in the body; it is the cause for yeast infections in the mouth and genital areas. Though this fungus doesn't cause any problems normally, sometimes when the fungus becomes imbalanced it can cause diseases in the vaginal tract, thus causing infertility.
- Ovulation problems: are the primary cause of female infertility. If ovulation does not occur, no eggs may be fertilized.
- Age: Fertility peaks for both men and women in their mid-twenties. Most healthy women under the age of 30 generally do not have to be concerned about infertility unless they have been trying to get pregnant for at least a year. If much time has passed, women should consult their obstetrician or gynecologist for a fertility evaluation. Infertility increases with age. Women in their 30's who have been trying to get pregnant for six months should consult with their doctor. For a woman over the age of 35, conceiving may become a problem.
- Weight: Maintaining a healthy body weight is vital for fertility. Being overweight or obese combined with a lack of exercise leads to excessive fat deposition which may cause ovulation problems, resulting in infertility. A low body weight and chronic dieting are also associated with amenorrhea or loss of menstrual cycles, making it difficult for ovulation to occur.
- Stress: High stress levels may interfere with ovulation and the body’s ability to conceive. When planning to fall pregnant, women should learn to manage their stress through relaxation techniques.
- Smoking: Smoking may affect your ability to fall pregnant. Women run the risk of developing cervical and tube problems, abnormal menstrual cycles, hormonal imbalances and when they do eventually become pregnant, an ectopic pregnancy may result. Generally, smokers take longer to conceive than non-smoking women.
- Poor diet: Eating properly plays an important role in your body’s fertility. A balanced diet of low-fat foods packed with healthy nutrients helps to regulate hormones and nourish your reproductive system. Avoid large quantities of sugary foods and caffeine as they have been associated with infertility.
- Athletic training: Female athletes are often predisposed to conditions such as amenorrhea, eating disorders and osteoporosis. The female reproductive function is affected by the negative energy balance that results from disordered eating coupled with high training loads. Psychological stress and low body fat content can also be contributing factors that lead to an absence of menstruation and ovulation, resulting in infertility.
- Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs): Infertility can sometimes be the result of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or infection. If you are planning on becoming pregnant, get tested for sexually transmitted diseases to prevent further fertility problems or spread of the disease.
Help for Female Infertility
Once infertility has been diagnosed, there are a number of treatment options available depending on the root cause of the problem. These treatments are costly and generally based on the preference of both partners
For thousands of years natural and holistic treatments have been used to enhance fertility in women. Treatments such as herbal and homeopathic remedies have a positive effect on the hormonal system, reproductive organs, and sex drive.
Use herbs such as Vitex agnus-castus (Chasteberry) to help balance hormones by stimulating the pituitary gland, which produces sex hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone.
A traditional Chinese fertility herb known as Cimicifuga racemosa (Black Cohosh) may help to improve hormone functioning due to its phyto-estrogens. It is also used in the prevention of miscarriage and in the treatment of menopause.
In addition, Eleutherococcus senticosis (Siberian Ginseng) has many medicinal uses and helps to improve overall systemic health. It may also help to correct hormone imbalances, boost libido and sexual pleasure, and support uterine functioning.
There are also many ways to reduce stress and therefore increase chances of conception. These include therapeutic massage, listening to calming CD’s, yoga or even taking a daily, relaxing walk! Your psychological state also plays a big part in promoting conception.
Many women struggle to fall pregnant despite a clean bill of health from their doctors. This could be attributed to emotional factors or subconscious fears arising from childhood experiences. Flower essences can be of great assistance in creating an emotional climate conducive to conception.
If you are a smoker, stop smoking naturally with non-nicotine based herbal and homeopathic remedies and cut down on all alcohol consumption to increase your chances of falling pregnant and having a healthy pregnancy.
Infertility in women may be treated with fertility drugs, surgery, artificial insemination or assisted reproductive technology – however many of these treatment options may have negative side effects like premenstrual symptoms such as nausea, headaches and weight gain.
In addition, fertility treatments have also been known to increase a woman’s chance of having twins, triplets or other multiples. The most common fertility drugs are Clomiphene citrate (Clomid) and Gonadotropin-releasing hormone products which trigger the ovaries to release eggs.
Your doctor may recommend surgery if your fallopian tubes are blocked or there are any anatomical defects. Surgery is also helpful if endometriosis, fibroids or ovarian cysts need to be removed.
Artificial insemination refers to a range of techniques in which the man's sperm is placed into the woman's genital tract artificially. Placing the sperm in the neck of the cervix is known as intra-cervical insemination. When sperm is introduced directly into the uterus itself, this is known as intrauterine insemination, IUI.
Assisted reproductive technology, ART refers to the various methods used to help infertile couples. It entails the removal of eggs from a woman’s body, then combining them with sperm in the laboratory and placing the embryos back into the body.
The different types of assisted reproductive technology include In vitrofertilization, IVF, zygote intra-fallopian transfer, ZIFT or tubal-embryo transfer, gamete intra-fallopian transfer, GIFT and intracytoplasmic sperm injection, ICSI.
Other methods of ART also include donor eggs and embryos or gestational carriers more commonly known as surrogate mothers. In vitro fertilization is the most popular and effective ART, with fertilization occurring outside the body. It is often used when a womanexperiences ovulation problems or when her fallopian tubes are blocked.
Foods to Increase the Chances of Fertility
Research has shown that saying "goodbye" to some foods while saying "hello" to others may increase your chances of getting pregnant. Eating a well- balanced diet is important for increasing fertility; this includes eating protein packed vegetables like beans. Beans are a great source of protein, especially white, kidney, navy, black and lima beans. Other protein filled veggies are spinach, chickpeas, peas and lentils.
Another must in the fertility food-chain is carbohydrates, but not just any carbohydrate. Fertility increasing carbs consist of those that are low on the glycemic index. Low glycemic foods such as brown rice and wheat bread are substitutes for "white" carbs, (white bread, and white rice) which contain sugar and triggers PCOS- a major cause of infertility in women.
Women who are trying to become pregnant should be eating iron-rich foods. Iron-rich foods and supplements can prevent ovulation problems and fortify your diet. On top on beans, add lean meats and leafy green vegetables to get the iron your body needs. In addition, dried fruits like prunes, apricots, raisins and dates are great sources of iron.
NOTE: It is important to speak to your doctor before starting a new diet regimen.
How to Increase the Chances of Conception
If you have been struggling to fall pregnant, there are some useful tips that may help to increase your chances of conceiving and prevent miscarriages.
- Follow a healthy, balanced diet by eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables as well as foods that are rich in iron, calcium and folate, essential for reproductive health
- Maintain a healthy weight as being overweight or underweight can affect the body’s hormone levels which in turn makes conception difficult
- Healthy weight loss can increase chances of getting pregnant; however, too much weight loss can affect a healthy pregnancy
- Regular exercise such as walking, swimming or cycling will help keep you fit and active before and during your pregnancy. It will also help get you back into shape after the pregnancy
- Avoid drinking alcohol and caffeine as this can make you less fertile
- Stop smoking to increase your chance of falling pregnant and your partner’s sperm quality and try to naturally detox and cleanse your system
- Increase your intake of folic acid, iron and calcium by taking supplements
- Monitor your basal body temperature to determine the most likely time of ovulation and plan sexual activity
- Reduce stress by practicing relaxation techniques such as acupuncture, visualization or meditation, or listen to calming music with guided imagery
- Manage negative emotions during the pre-conception process by gaining support from your partner, family and friends
- Join a support group or attend counseling services to help you to deal with depression, anger or guilt