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Infertility

7-minute read

Key facts

  • The term infertility is used if a woman is not naturally pregnant after 12 months of regular unprotected sex.
  • There can be many causes of infertility including lifestyle factors or some diseases.
  • Having a healthy lifestyle can improve your fertility.
  • If you are infertile and want to have a child, there are many treatment options, like ovulation induction or IVF.

What is infertility?

The term infertility is used when a woman is not pregnant after 12 months or more of regular unprotected sex.

Infertility affects about 1 in 6 Australian couples who are trying to fall pregnant. Having regular sex means having sex every 2 or 3 days throughout the month.

Infertility can be stressful and frustrating 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?

About 1 in 3 infertility problems are because of fertility issues with the woman.

About 1 in 3 infertility problems are because of fertility issues with the man.

The other 1 in 3 infertility problems are because of:

  • fertility issues with both people
  • when the reason is not known

There can be many causes of infertility.

Things that may cause infertility in both women and men:

  • ageing
  • smoking tobacco, alcohol, illegal drugs, or too much caffeine
  • being overweight or underweight
  • sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • medical conditions (like diabetes, thyroid disease, or autoimmune diseases)
  • genetic causes

Things that may cause infertility in women:

Things that may cause infertility in men:

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.

You can also access support services like Your Fertility and Relationships Australia.

How can I improve my chances of pregnancy?

Age

Age is an important factor. From the age of 32, a woman’s chances of getting pregnant starts to go down.

Some women freeze their eggs when they are younger. This can improve their chances of having a baby when they are older. You should talk to your doctor if you want to know more about this.

Weight

Your weight will also affect your fertility. Being overweight changes your hormones and make it harder for you to be fertile.

You should aim to be at a healthy weight. Exercise can also help improve your fertility.

Alcohol, smoking and recreational drugs

Quitting smoking can improve your fertility. Smokers are more likely to be infertile than non-smokers. The negative effects of smoking are generally gone one year after you give up smoking.

Alcohol and recreational drugs (like cocaine, heroin, cannabis, and ecstasy) have also been shown to affect fertility. They should be avoided if you want the best chance of getting pregnant.

Supplements

For women, taking folate supplements can also help improve the chances of getting pregnant.

You may also improve your chance of falling pregnant if you know your most fertile days.

What are my options for treating infertility?

If you are infertile and want to have a child, there are many treatment options.

You can treat any underlying causes like endometriosis or sexually transmitted infections.

You can use artificial insemination, or you can get a fertility treatment like in vitro fertilisation (IVF).

You may consider surrogacy or adopting a child.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

When should I start to think about being investigated for infertility?

Talk to your doctor if you’re:

  • under 35 years and have been trying to get pregnant for 12 months or more
  • over 35 years and have been trying to get pregnant for 6 months

See your doctor straight away if you would like to have a child and think you may have fertility problems. This may be because of endometriosis, testicular problems or anything else.

Your doctor may suggest a range of tests to determine what's stopping you from getting pregnant.

If the tests show that either you or your partner are infertile, there are fertility treatments available. These include ovulation induction or in vitro fertilisation (IVF).

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Speak to a maternal child health nurse

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Last reviewed: December 2023


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