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Infertility can be a confusing and heartbreaking condition for couples who are trying to conceive.
How do we know if there's a fertility problem?If time just seems to be passing you by without any signs of being pregnant then it could indicate that there are fertility problems.
Most importantly, try not to be anxious. The time it takes to conceive varies enormously. Even if everything is absolutely fine, you still have only a 20 per cent to 25 per cent chance of getting pregnant each month.
Although, that said, your age can and does make a difference. If you and your partner are in your early 20s, you should expect success within a few months. But the older you are, the longer the wait is likely to be. If you're over 35 and have been trying for six months without conceiving, you should consider seeing your GP.
Getting pregnant isn't completely down to good luck. Try to have intercourse every two or three days and learn to spot the signs that you're in your fertile window.
If you feel you've already taken all the advice and waited the recommended time, go to see your doctor. Infertility affects as many as 15 per cent of couples at some stage. But even if you turn out to be one of these couples, it doesn't mean you'll never have a baby. You may just need more time or some medical help to conceive.
Why am I infertile?Once you've set your heart on having a baby, not getting pregnant can be hard to come to terms with.
It's perfectly normal to believe that there must be "something wrong" with you or your partner. Because infertility is a shared experience, it won't really be helpful to see it that way. Fertility problems affect men and women roughly equally.
There may be health issues affecting one of you that are interfering with getting pregnant, so...
You may be having fertility problems if:
You have an STD, such as chlamydia or gonorrhoea.
You have had pelvic or abdominal surgery, such as for appendicitis or an ovarian cyst.
Your partner has had a hernia or testicular operation.
You have irregular periods or painful periods.
You have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
You have pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).
You have endometriosis.
You have fibroids.
You have had an ectopic pregnancy in the past.
Even with one of these conditions, you'll probably still be one of the 85 per cent of couples who conceives within 12 months. If you're not, there's still a very good chance you'll get pregnant the following year without needing medical help.
If you have had three or more miscarriages, you may want to talk to your doctor about trying for another baby.
Also see your doctor if you take medication that affects fertility. Some anti-inflammatories and antidepressants can compromise your fertility. Most GP surgeries offer a check-up before conception, and this is exactly the sort of thing you can discuss then.
Apart from current or previous medical conditions, what you eat and your overall lifestyle may have some effect.
Your fertility can be affected if you are:
overweight, with a body mass index (BMI) of more than 29
underweight, with a BMI of less than 19
Why is my partner infertile?There may be clear reasons why your partner has fertility problems.
If any of the following apply to him, do advise him to see his GP:
STD, such as chlamydia or gonorrhoea.
A lifelong illness such as diabetes, thyroid disease or heart disease.
Infection with the mumps after puberty.
Testicular tumours, cysts or cancer.
Surgery in his groin or injury to his testicles.
Problems getting or keeping an erection.
Problems with ejaculating.
Your partner should also see his doctor if he takes medication such as antihistamines, androgens or beta blockers.
Just as with women, lifestyle can affect a man's fertility. These are:
Working in a hot environment or spending long periods sitting down. Either could result in your partner's testes overheating.
Working with chemicals or radiation.
Being overweight with a body mass index (BMI) of more than 29.
Being a heavy smoker.
What should we do if we think there's a problem?The best person to see first is your GP. Ideally, you and your partner should go together, as he is just as likely as you to need help.
Feel free to talk to your GP about your concerns or fears, no matter how long you've been trying to get pregnant. He or she should be able to answer any of your questions, arrange for some initial tests and then, if necessary, refer you to an infertility specialist.