What is infertility?
The term infertility is used if a woman is not pregnant after 12 months or more of regular unprotected sex. Having regular sex means having sex every 2 or 3 days throughout the month.
Infertility is common. Whether you are trying to fall pregnant for the first time, or are already parents who would like more children, infertility can be a stressful and frustrating experience for everyone involved. It takes time for many people to fall pregnant. Many couples with fertility problems go on to get pregnant, with or without fertility treatment.
What are the causes of infertility?
There are many causes of infertility. Sometimes the problem is with the woman, sometimes the problem is with the man, sometimes with both, and sometimes there is no obvious reason for it.
For example, a woman may have:
- hormonal disorders
- damaged or blocked fallopian tubes
- very thick cervical mucus
A man may have:
- low sperm count
- poor sperm movement or shape
- no sperm released due to a blocked tube, or ejaculation failure
Age is an important factor. From the age of 32, a woman’s chances of getting pregnant start to decrease, and from age 35, the rate of that decrease speeds up.
Men aged 35 are half as fertile as they were at the age of 25, and from the age of 55, their fertility decreases dramatically.
Your weight will also affect your fertility. Both women and men who are overweight have changes to their hormones that make it harder for them to be fertile.
Smokers are more likely to be infertile than non-smokers.
The more alcohol men and women drink, the less likely a successful pregnancy is.
Some sexually transmitted infections such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea can reduce fertility in both men and women.
Read more about good fertility health.
How do I talk about infertility with my partner?
For couples trying for a baby, it is normal to have feelings of uncertainty, disappointment, and anxiety. It may affect a couple in the same way or in different ways.
It is good to talk through any problems and for both of you talk about how you feel.
If there are difficulties between you, talk to your doctor as a couple. Your doctor may refer you both to a counsellor if necessary.
You can also access support services like Your Fertility and Relationships Australia.
What are my options for treating infertility?
If you are infertile and want to have a child, there are many treatment options.
You may increase your chance of falling pregnant if you know your most fertile days.
You can treat any underlying causes like endometriosis or sexually transmitted infections. You can use artificial insemination, or you can seek a fertility treatment like in vitro fertilisation (IVF). You may consider surrogacy or adopting a child.
When should I visit my doctor?
If you’re under 35 years and have been trying to get pregnant for 12 months or more you should think about seeing your doctor.
If you’re over 35 years, you should think about seeing your doctor if you’ve been trying to get pregnant for 6 months.
You should see your doctor straight away if you would like to have a child and think you or your partner may have problems with fertility because of endometriosis, testicular problems or anything else.
If you’ve been having regular unprotected sex for more than 12 months, your doctor may recommend a range of tests to determine what's stopping you from conceiving.
If the tests determine that either you or your partner are infertile, there are a number of fertility treatments that are available to you, such as in vitro fertilisation (IVF).
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Last reviewed: May 2022