Fertility problems may be more common than we think…

images-1New research published this week shows that more more than a third of those who became mothers aged 35 or older had experienced a period of infertility and that nearly a fifth of all women aged 35 to 44 have struggled to conceive. The research project included more than 15,000 people and their results showed that 18% of 35-44 year old women had tried to get pregnant for a year or more. Overall, the figure was 13% of women of all ages who had experienced fertility problems.

The research team found that fertility problems were more likely in couples who moved in with their partner later, who were older when they started trying to conceive and who were from a higher socio-economic group. The research also found that many people didn’t seek any medical help for their fertility problems – only just over half reported getting help.

It won’t surprise anyone with experience of infertility to learn that the team found higher rates of depression associated with fertility problems and the research team called for an acknowledgement of the impact of infertility and the availability of appropriate support. The research was led by Jessica Datta from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and was published in the Journal Human Reproduction – you can find the full text here

How late can you leave it…

What do you think? Are women leaving it too late to get pregnant?  The Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, hit the headlines last week after expressing her concerns about the steady shift towards women leaving it later to try to get pregnant, and about the fact that many more women are choosing not to have children at all.

I went to Sky News to talk about this with author Daisy Waugh and presenters Jayne Secker and Sarah-Jane Mee.  There are all kinds of reasons why women are leaving it later to have children, and it’s unrealistic to think that by banging on about the risks we are going to suddenly see many more women opting to have their children in their twenties. This may be the ideal time biologically, but it’s not always remotely ideal in any other way. Many women in their twenties haven’t yet met the person they want to have children with, they may be still finishing their studies or looking for their first job, they may be living with their parents because they can’t afford a place of their own – and getting pregnant is certainly not on the agenda.

I was interested in some of the comments the story drew from those who were keen to point out that more and more women are having babies in their forties. It’s absolutely true that more women are having children at this age, but it is also true that it’s not so easy to get pregnant and stay pregnant in your forties.  I meet so many women who are feel they are in a battle against time trying to conceive in their late thirties and early forties, and who have assumed that fertility treatment will be able to offer a solution when IVF is not able to turn back the biological clock. I come across so many who are trying treatment for the first time in their forties, and who don’t realise quite how poor the chances of getting pregnant with IVF become. Success rates for IVF are around 5% for women who have reached 42 and fall to around 1% for women of 45.  The risk of early pregnancy loss is high for women of this age too, rising above 50%.

We don’t want to petrify women into believing that it’s virtually impossible to get pregnant naturally in your late thirties and forties because it’s simply not true – but at the same time, anyone leaving it until then does need to be aware that there may be problems.  I always think we talk about it a lot – but people still don’t appreciate how unsuccessful a treatment IVF becomes once you are heading into your mid-forties.

What do you think? Should we talk about it more? Are women still unaware of the realities? Or are we terrifying a generation of thirty-somethings, many of whom will still get pregnant without any trouble?


Is infertility on the increase?

We’re always told that infertility is a growing problem and there have been some dire warnings about the way it will affect future generations – but a new global survey suggests that the picture may not be quite so bleak.  A study published in PLoS Medicine which analysed regional, national and worldwide trends in infertility found that there was very little difference in the rates of infertility between 1990 and 2010 – and that there had been declines in the numbers in some parts of Africa and South Asia.

The report’s authors do add a note of caution to their findings as they looked at couples who didn’t have a child after five years as a benchmark, and they say that the levels would probably be higher had they looked at those who had reported having a problem – in reality many couples who experience difficulty conceiving do manage to have a child before five years have elapsed.

You may want to have a look at the research yourself here