When a couple hoping for a baby is having trouble conceiving, a quick review of fertility facts might be in order.
“Half of the patients who come to me hoping to get pregnant don’t understand a woman’s ovulation cycle,” says Billie Park, D.O., of St. Jude Heritage Medical Group, who works out of Yorba Linda and sees many couples with fertility problems.
To understand her cycle, a woman should begin by taking her temperature every morning at the same time for a few months, marking it each day on a calendar. She will soon recognize her baseline temperature, and notice when it rises—usually at about day 14—indicating that she is ovulating.
Paying attention to exactly when this temperature rise occurs over several months can help a woman identify the days when she is fertile—this is during the two to three days before her temperature rises.
A side benefit of this tracking is that by becoming attuned to their bodies, some women might see abnormalities in temperature fluctuations, “which could indicate other underlying diseases such as thyroid disorders, certain cancers, gynecologic disorders and infections,” says Park.
Although the National Institutes of Health defines infertility as the inability to conceive after one year, Park says he sometimes refers couples to a specialist if conception does not occur after six months.
There are many causes of infertility, from lifestyle habits to medical problems. Women with fibroids or blocked fallopian tubes might have trouble getting pregnant. Abnormal sperm production or blockages in men can also cause infertility.
For men, smoking can decrease sperm count and quality, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. In women, smoking can decrease the number of eggs. High alcohol consumption also can negatively affect fertility.
For information about causes of infertility and how to find a doctor with expertise in this field, the nonprofit group Resolve (resolve.org)—founded in 1974 by a nurse who was trying to cope with her own infertility—is a comprehensive resource.
The experience of not being able to achieve pregnancy can be extremely emotional and stressful for couples. To stay healthy and as relaxed as possible, the Resolve.org website suggests eating a balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight and taking steps to reduce stress, such as keeping up with regular exercise. Receiving help from a counselor also can relieve stress.
Park recommends that a woman who is trying to conceive take a daily prenatal vitamin, so that when she does become pregnant her developing fetus will get a healthy start.