Facts about fertility

Fertility is the natural capacity to produce offspring. It’s a complex and highly personal issue and one that carries its fair share of myths, often making it difficult to determine fact from fiction. But considerable scientific research has occurred in this field, so there’s plenty of essential information you should know.

Understanding these fertility facts can help improve your chances of having a baby.

  • One in six Australian couples suffer infertility, so it’s important to know that you’re not alone.
  • With infertility, multiple minor problems can often add together to form a larger problem.
  • When dealing with infertility, feelings of frustration, sadness, anxiety and lack of control are common, even for people who don’t normally experience these types of emotions.
  • Fertility reduces with age due to a declining number of eggs and a reduction in quality of those eggs, which leads to a lower chance of pregnancy and a higher risk of miscarriage.
  • Fertility in women reduces gradually after the age of 35 but decreases more rapidly after the age of 37. The chance of natural conception per month is around 15% at 37, but reduces to under 10% by 40 years and approximately 5% at 43 years.
  • The quality of the sperm produced by men declines as they get older. Partners of men over the age of 45 take about five times longer to fall pregnant than partners of younger men. They are also more likely to have a miscarriage. Although rare, autism and other congenital problems are slightly more common in children with older fathers.
  • The risk of chromosomal abnormalities increases with maternal age. It’s estimated that the risk of a baby having a chromosomal abnormality is approximately 1 in 400 for a woman aged 30, and 1 in 100 for a woman aged 40.
  • There are several lifestyle factors which can positively affect fertility levels. To give yourself the best chance of getting pregnant, ensure you exercise regularly and have a healthy diet, reduce your alcohol intake, quit smoking, limit your caffeine intake to two cups of coffee a day, avoid toxic chemicals and try to reduce your stress levels.
  • Additional vitamins and minerals (micronutrients) for women, such as folic acid, iodine and vitamin D, can benefit your fertility and pregnancy health. Zinc and selenium supplements can help to improve sperm quality.
  • Obesity in women can cause hormonal changes that interfere with ovulation, and decrease the chance of conception. Obese women, on average, take longer to conceive than women in the healthy weight range and are more likely to experience infertility and miscarriage. Obese women are at a higher risk of experiencing pregnancy complications and medical intervention during their birth.
  • Obesity can lower fertility in men due to a combination of factors including reduced sperm count and a decrease in sperm quality, as well as sexual dysfunction.
  • Endometriosis is now a recognised risk factor for reduced reproductive capability. Younger women with severe endometriosis should speak to their doctors about egg freezing or fertility preservation.
  • If left untreated, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including chlamydia, genital herpes, gonorrhoea, syphilis, Mycoplasma genitalium and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), can adversely affect both male and female fertility levels. Their early detection and treatment significantly reduces the chance that they will lead to infertility.
  • The window of opportunity to conceive each month is fairly small. Knowing when you’re at your most fertile and making sure you have sex during this time is critical if you want to get pregnant. Ovulation predictor kits, which can be purchased at pharmacies and supermarkets, can be useful if you’d like help getting your timing right.
  • The risk of miscarriage increases with age. The usual miscarriage rate is 15%, but this increases to 25% if the woman is in her late 30s, rises to 50% after 40 years and is almost at 100% once a woman is over 45.
  • The typical cost of egg freezing is around $5,975 for the first cycle, $5,375 for the second and subsequent cycles, and approximately $1,500 in medication costs each round.
  • A typical egg collection procedure takes about 20 minutes. Two factors affect the success rate of egg freezing and the probability of achieving a live birth – the first is the woman’s age at egg collection and the second is the total number of eggs available.
  • When an egg-freezing patient decides they’d like to use their eggs, first the frozen eggs are thawed, then they’re fertilised with either the partner or donor sperm via ICSI to form an embryo. Next the embryo is transferred to the uterus where, if the embryo implants successfully, it will develop into a fetus.

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