Q&A With an Infertility Expert
Infertility is a common problem, and anyone can face infertility challenges. To uncover answers to common infertility questions, we spoke with Dr. Esther Eisenberg, director of the Reproductive Medicine and Infertility Program at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. She shares the basics of infertility, including what it means and when to see a doctor. She also shares her advice on how to cope with infertility.
What's the most common question you get about infertility?
Women often ask, “What is infertility?” I tell them that infertility means not being able to get pregnant after one year of trying. I also think it’s important to let women know that infertility is not uncommon, and millions of women have trouble getting pregnant and staying pregnant.
When should a woman see her doctor about infertility testing?
Generally, a woman should talk to her doctor about infertility testing after one year of trying to become pregnant without success or if she has conceived but has had two or more miscarriages. Because the risk of infertility increases as a woman gets older, if she’s over 35, she should consider having infertility testing after six months of trying to become pregnant without success.
What should she know about infertility testing?
Infertility can result from problems in a woman, a man, or a couple. For women, the tests aim to answer the following questions: Does she have eggs? Are her eggs released from the ovary every month (a process that we call ovulation)? Are the fallopian tubes open to allow the egg to travel from the ovary to the uterus? Does she have a uterus, and are there any structural problems with her uterus? Are her hormones, such as her thyroid hormone, normal?
For men, the tests will determine the following: Does he produce sperm? Do the sperm move forward and are there enough?
Infertility tests look for problems that we know about, but some couples have unexplained infertility. That means that after doing all the standard infertility tests, we cannot find a problem and we do not understand why the couple is not getting pregnant.
What’s your advice for a woman who just found out she has fertility problems?
If a woman finds out that she has a fertility problem, it would be wise to talk to a doctor, even if she is not ready to become pregnant immediately. Perhaps there are steps she can take to improve her fertility in the future. If she is ready to conceive, then she may be tested to see if she has a specific problem that can be treated. However, the outlook is bright! There are many treatments that have been developed that will increase a woman’s chances of becoming pregnant and giving birth to a healthy baby.
What questions should a woman ask her doctor about treatment options?
Once a woman learns what is causing infertility, she might ask about treatment options, the success rate of each option, and how long it will take to become pregnant. It may be helpful for a couple to develop a treatment plan that covers four to six months because most patients do not become pregnant during the first cycle in which they are treated. If your doctor is not familiar with various infertility treatments, it may be useful to work with a reproductive endocrinologist, a doctor who specializes in infertility.
What’s the biggest myth surrounding infertility?
There are many myths surrounding infertility. It is important to know how the menstrual cycle works and what steps are part of the process to get pregnant. I encourage women to learn what external factors can affect fertility, such as what you eat.
How can women support other women who are dealing with infertility issues?
Women can support other women by talking to each other and sharing resources about infertility rather than dealing with infertility alone.