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Infertility

3-minute read

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. There is plenty you can do.

What is infertility?

Many people take time to fall pregnant.

But doctors call it infertility if a woman is not pregnant after 12 months or more of regular unprotected sex.

What are the causes?

There are many causes of infertility.

Sometimes it is a problem with the woman, sometimes 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
  • endometriosis
  • very thick cervical mucus

A man may have:

  • low sperm count
  • poor sperm movement or shape
  • no sperm released due to an obstruction, or ejaculation failure

Age is an important factor. From the age of 32, a woman’s chances of conceiving 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 declines 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 is a successful pregnancy.

Some sexually transmitted infections such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea can reduce fertility in both men and women.

Read more about good fertility health.

Discussing infertility with your partner

For couples trying for a baby, it is normal to have feelings of uncertainty, disappointment and anxiety. It may affect a couple the same way or in different ways.

It is good to talk through any problems, and have 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 call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby on 1800 882 436 to discuss your options and speak with a maternal child health nurse.

Options for infertility

If you are infertile and want to have a child, there are many 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 adopt a child. You can use artificial insemination or you can seek a fertility treatment like in vitro fertilisation (IVF).

When to visit your doctor

If you’re under 35, you should think about seeing your doctor if you’ve been trying unsuccessfully for 12 months or more.

If you’re over 35, you should think about seeing your doctor if you’ve been trying for 6 months.

But 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 due to endometriosis, testicular problems or anything else.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: September 2019


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Need more information?

Fertility tests

There are a number of tests that are available to determine your fertility.

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There are several factors that can affect a woman's fertility. Treatments are available for many of the causes of female infertility and assisted reproductive technology such as IVF can help some women get pregnant.

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Male infertility - Symptoms & Causes | Healthy Male

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Male infertility is a major factor in 30-50 per cent of difficulties conceiving. It usually results from low numbers of, or poor quality, sperm.

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Sperm health How important is my health when I’m trying for a baby? How does being overweight affect fertility? How does smoking affect fertility? How does drinking alcohol affect fertility? How does age affect fertility? How can STIs affect fertility? How does the use of certain drugs or medications affect fertility? How do environmental and occupational chemicals affect fertility? Resources and videos Resources Filter resources Type: Fact sheet Booklet Video RESET Fact sheet Sperm health fact sheet Download PDF Booklet Your sperm and how to look after them Download PDF Video Sperm health and having a baby WATCH VIDEO SEE ALL RESOURCES

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If you've been trying unsuccessfully to fall pregnant for a year or more, it's time to see your doctor.

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Suspecting infertility | VARTA

What are the causes? Infertility is defined as the inability to conceive after 12 months or more of unprotected sex. If you have been trying to have a baby for a year or more, it is time to speak to your GP. If you are over 35, you should see a doctor if you have been trying to conceive for six months or more. About one in six Australian couples experience fertility difficulties. There are many reasons for this, some relating to the male partner, some to the female partner, and sometimes both. For many people, there is no medical explanation as to why they can’t conceive.  This is referred to as unexplained infertility. A diagnosis of infertility often comes as a shock and can be emotionally challenging. Unlike other adverse life events, which may have a clear resolution, infertility is uniquely distressing because it can last for many years and the outcome is uncertain. If you suspect a fertility problem, talk to your GP who will guide you through the steps of an infertility investigation. There are many reasons why pregnancy does not occur. About 20 per cent of infertility cases are due to male factors and 30 per cent are due to female factors. Sometimes both partners have a fertility problem, and in about 20 per cent of cases, there is no apparent cause of infertility (idiopathic or unexplained infertility). Many people are delaying starting a family beyond their most fertile years. If you are unable to conceive due to social circumstances, such as relationship, age, financial or practical reasons, and are concerned about your fertility declining, you might want to consider fertility preservation (e.g. freezing eggs or sperm for future use). The Better Health Channel has helpful information on infertility in men and infertility in women. Getting help Speak to a GP The first point of contact should be your GP who will start an infertility investigation. This involves a detailed medical history and a physical examination of both partners and some basic tests to make sure that the woman is ovulating and that the man produces sperm. If everything seems in order, your GP may advise you to keep trying for a little longer before consulting a fertility specialist. However, if your test results indicate a problem, your doctor will refer you to a fertility specialist straight away. The fertility specialist will do more tests to establish the cause of infertility and determine the type of fertility treatment you may need. The chance of fertility treatment working has greatly improved since the late seventies when the first IVF baby was born. Although your chance of having a baby with fertility treatment depends largely on factors that are beyond your control, there are some things that you can do to improve the odds. The lifestyle factors that influence the chance of natural conception for both men and women also affect your chance of success through fertility treatment. Finding a fertility specialist Fertility treatment is physically and emotionally demanding, and depending on your needs it can be expensive, so it is important to find a clinic and doctor that is right for you. You can ask your GP for advice about choosing a fertility specialist, but you can also do your own research before committing to a doctor and clinic. You can find out more about choosing a fertility clinic here. Finding a fertility counsellor If you want to speak to a private counsellor specialising in infertility, the Australian and New Zealand Infertility Counsellors Association (ANZICA) has a list of independent counsellors. You can also ask your fertility clinic about the counselling sessions included as part of your treatment.

Read more on Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority website

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The information is not a substitute for independent professional advice and should not be used as an alternative to professional health care. If you have a particular medical problem, please consult a healthcare professional.

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