Everyone falls pregnant at the drop of a hat, right…?
Through our early years we are certainly led to believe this is the case, with sex education at school mostly about contraception, STDs and how NOT to fall pregnant. Therefore, years later, when you want to start a family, many couples have no idea how to do it (well… they know the ‘how’ but not the ‘when’!).
A recent survey revealed that more than two-thirds of Australians do not know the ideal time to get pregnant. The narrow window when conception should occur, and the things to do to protect your fertility is not openly spoken about unless you are in the space of trying to fall pregnant.
According to Professor Jane Fisher, a Clinical Psychologist with longstanding interests in the links between women’s reproductive health and mental health, there are several factors that can reduce our fertility. There are changeable risk factors such as having a high BMI (which can affect fertility in both men and women), smoking, alcohol, diet. And there is age.
Dr Fisher reported that people underestimate when fertility declines by about 10 years. She states that women’s fertility begins to decline at 30, and then more rapidly after 35; and men’s fertility just after 40.
Today, approximately 22 per cent of women aged 30 will never have children. One in 6 couples of reproductive age will be experience fertility problems.
Dr Nicola Kettleton-Butler from Saltwater Medical believes that there are multiple reasons for these statistics. “Generally speaking, many women are now choosing to have children at an older age which shortens the fertility ‘window’,” Nicola explains. “The average age a woman is having her first birth in Australia is 29.1 years, which is amongst the oldest in the world. Unfortunately, fertility declines with age.”
Dr James Orford, IVF Medical Director and Obstetrician-Gynaecologist at Fertility Solutions, believes there is a need for educating couples on when their fertile time is, when to try, how often, as well as counselling about background lifestyle factors. “The main thing we see is couples who are concerned how long it is taking to get pregnant,” says Dr Orford.
“Some people are surprised how long it would take, or conversely some believe that two years is reasonable.”
For a normally fertile couple, there is around a 1 in 5 chance per month of falling pregnant, so as a typical fertile couple it’s normal to take about 4 months to conceive.
“Sometimes couples come in simply for reassurance; others have been trying for some time and feel it’s time to look at the reasons why,” Dr Orford explains.
“We will investigate why – such as natural history and health. Some results might lead us quickly to assisted reproduction. If there is no obvious cause, dependent on age, we could try some alternative treatments.”
- 1 in 35 men will have a fertility issue, one in 25 men are thought to suffer from low sperm count.
- Females over 35 have a one in three chance of having fertility issues.
- The ability to conceive starts to fall around the age of 32 years.
- At age 30, chance of conceiving is around 20% each month.
- At age 40 it is around 5%.
And it’s not just first-time parents that are experiencing these challenges. Because couples are leaving it later to have a first child, one-third of couples seeking fertility treatment are there due to secondary infertility – where the increase in age since having the first child has led to them not managing to conceive a second child naturally.
If you have any concerns about fertility, Dr Kettleton-Butler recommends seeing your GP as soon as possible. “Your GP is the first point of call to get the ball rolling. As the causes of infertility are often complex, it’s important to ensure there are no underlying medical conditions that are impacting on fertility,” says Dr Kettleton-Butler. “The GP can also organise a referral to a fertility specialist if needed.”
Dr Orford agrees saying, “Age is important. If you are in your thirties, rather than keep trying past six months, seek help. You might spend three or four years trying, and in that time there is a decline in fertility. It may not lead to treatment or assisted reproduction, but it’s important to get that information and know whether there is a problem.”
Dr Nicola Kettleton-Butler is Practice Principal and co-founder of Saltwater Medical, Sunshine Coast. saltwatermedical.com.au
Dr James Orford is IVF Medical Director and Obstetrician-Gynaecologist at Fertility Solutions Sunshine Coast, and Fertility Solutions Bundaberg. fertilitysolutions.com.au