If you’ve been trying to become pregnant and you’re not having success, you may wonder how to increase your fertility.
Infertility is a very common challenge, affecting 10% to 15% of American couples, according to the Mayo Clinic.
What is infertility? The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) defines it as “not getting pregnant after one year of having regular sexual intercourse without using birth control.”
Dr. Esther Eisenberg, director of the Reproductive Medicine and Infertility Program at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, weighs in on how to increase fertility naturally, what drugs may help, and how to know when you need extra medical assistance.
How to increase fertility naturally
“Infertility can result from problems in a woman, a man or a couple,” Eisenberg said in an extensive Q&A with the Office on Women's Health. Males who face infertility likely have sperm cells that function incorrectly. Females living with infertility often struggle with ovulation. However, sometimes medical professionals can’t identify the cause. That’s called “unexplained infertility.”
It helps to know the cause of the infertility to figure out how to treat it. You and your partner may need to talk with a reproductive endocrinologist (a physician who specializes in infertility), Eisenberg recommends. Options that may increase fertility naturally include:
Your lifestyle can affect your fertility, ACOG states. Women, discuss your weight and exercise routine with your doctor. If you’re overweight or underweight, or if you exercise too much, that may decrease your chances of getting pregnant. Smoking tobacco may also reduce fertility, so talk to your doctor about a plan to quit. And either avoid or only have a small amount of alcohol. Both women and men should stay away from illegal drugs.
Experts also recommend that men avoid heavy drinking. Smoking tobacco and using marijuana can also decrease the number of sperm and slow their movement.
Treat any health obstacles
The following health challenges can affect female fertility:
- Hormone issues
- Conditions that involve the thyroid gland
- Conditions that involve the pituitary gland
- Scarring in the fallopian tubes (from sexually transmitted infections or endometriosis)
- Blockages in the fallopian tubes (from sexually transmitted infections or endometriosis)
- Any other health challenge that involves the reproductive organs
Men who are infertile often have issues with blockages in the tubes that lead to the testicles.
ACOG lists the following surgical procedures as treatment for female infertility:
- Surgery on the fallopian tubes to fix anything blocked or damaged (possibly by scarring)
- Surgery for endometriosis, where the extra tissue is removed
- Surgery on the uterus, to get rid of fibroids and/or polyps
Men may need surgery on the scrotum. Swollen veins may contribute to infertility.
Medications may also help – especially those for women that stimulate the ovaries to release an egg. Talk to your doctor about the following options.
Clomiphene citrate (Serophene) and aromatase inhibitors
Two go-to medications for women who need ovulation stimulation are clomiphene citrate and aromatase inhibitors. These drugs increase the likelihood of your ovaries releasing an egg. You’ll need consistent monitoring to see if the drugs work. Urine tests and blood tests may be necessary.
Like clomiphene citrate and aromatase inhibitors, this type of drug also stimulates ovulation to produce an egg. You’ll be monitored with blood tests, but to see the results you’ll also need ultrasounds.
There are other options you could consider in addition to drugs. Talk to your doctor.
When to see your doctor
Eisenberg recommends that women discuss infertility with a doctor “after one year of trying to become pregnant without success or if she has conceived but has had two or more miscarriages.” If you’re age 35 or older, don’t wait that long. Talk to your doctor after six months.
Eisenberg emphasized that infertility is not uncommon. Millions of women face this challenge. Fortunately, there are steps to take that may increase your chances of getting pregnant.