Infertility is when a couple fail to conceive (get pregnant) despite having regular unprotected sex. Although one in seven couples has difficulty conceiving, the number of couples who are actually infertile is relatively low.
About 85% of couples will conceive naturally within one year if they have regular unprotected sex. Of 100 couples trying to conceive naturally:
• 20 will conceive within one month,
• 70 will conceive within six months,
• 85 will conceive within one year,
• 90 will conceive within eighteen months, and
• 95 will conceive within two years.
Therefore, you will only be diagnosed as infertile if you have not managed to have a baby after two years of trying. If you have never conceived a child, it is known as primary infertility. Secondary infertility is when you have had one or more babies in the past, but you are having difficulty conceiving again.
Some women get pregnant very quickly but, for others, it can take longer. Although there is not a cut off point to say when a couple is infertile, it is best to see your GP if you have not conceived after one year of trying.
If you are a woman over the age of 35, or you are already aware that you may have fertility problems, then you should see your GP sooner. They may be able to check for common causes, and suggest treatments that could help. If fertility problems are diagnosed, there are many different treatments and procedures which may be available to you.
For couples who have been trying to conceive for more than three years, the chance of a pregnancy occurring within the next year is 25%, or less.
Factors Affecting Male and Female Fertility
There are a number of factors which can affect fertility in both men and women. These include:
• Weight – being overweight, or obese, reduces both male and female fertility. In women, it can affect ovulation. Being underweight can also impact on fertility, particularly for women, who will not ovulate if they are severely underweight.
• Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) – there are several STIs which can cause infertility. The most common is chlamydia, which can damage the fallopian tubes in women and cause swelling and tenderness of the scrotum (pouch of skin containing the testes) in men.
• Smoking – not only does smoking affect your general and long term health, it can also affect fertility.
• Occupational and environmental factors – exposure to certain pesticides, metals and solvents can affect fertility in both men and women.
• Stress – if either you, or your partner, are stressed, it may affect your relationship. Stress can reduce libido (sexual desire), therefore reducing the frequency of sexual intercourse. Severe stress may also affect female ovulation and can limit sperm production