Many couples are fortunate enough not to have any fertility problems and are capable of conceiving without any medical intervention.
However, according to Fertility UK, one in six couples face fertility issues and National Fertility Awareness Week – October 31 to November 6 is aimed at sharing advice and information for those affected.
How fertile are you?
Both men and women appear to be at their most fertile in their early twenties.
In women, fertility declines more quickly with age, especially after 35. Around one third of couples where the woman is over 35 have fertility problems, rising to two thirds if the woman is over 40.
The role of age on men’s fertility is less clear, it would seem that men’s fertility gradually declines after 40, although many men can father children into their 50s and beyond.
According to the NHS about 84% of couples will conceive within a year if they have regular intercourse and don’t use any contraception. Of the remaining 16%, around half of these will conceive in the second year. Regular sex, for the purposes of fertility, means every few days throughout the month.
Weight and fertility
Being either over or underweight can affect your fertility. A healthy body mass index (BMI) to aim for is between 20 and 25.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), along with other ovulation problems, accounts for 10-15% of difficulties with female fertility.
PCOS can cause irregular cycles, higher levels of male hormones and cysts within the ovaries. Patients with PCOS may find they struggle with their weight and losing weight can improve the symptoms of PCOS and may have a positive impact of fertility.
Smoking and drinking
The Chief Medical Officer recommends that women planning to get pregnant don’t smoke or drink at all – as both can affect fertility and harm an unborn child.
Men with partners trying to conceive shouldn’t drink more than 14 units of alcohol a week, which should be spread evenly over three or more days. Smoking can reduce the quality of the sperm – so quitting may help and will also help the health of your partner.
A man’s testicles produce the sperm which fertilises the egg. Testicles need to be kept one or two degrees cooler than the rest of the body to keep your sperm count high. If you’re planning on becoming parents, consider avoiding hot baths/showers and tight underwear.
STIs and fertility
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can cause fertility problems, especially in women. Chlamydia and gonorrhoea, particularly if left untreated, can damage a women’s fallopian tubes, which can make it harder to get pregnant.
If you think you may have an STI visit your GP or sexual health clinic.
When to get help
If you’ve been trying to conceive for over a year without becoming pregnant (or for more than six months if you’re a woman over the age of 35), than you should consult your GP.
Your GP may suggest potential tests, such as female hormone levels or sperm sample testing for men, to identify possible fertility problems and advise on the next steps.
Pharmacy2U stocks a number of fertility products aimed at supporting couples considering starting a family.
Dr Alexandra Phelan is a working NHS GP and member of the Pharmacy2U Online Doctor service. Visit www.pharmacy2U.co.uk/onlinedoctor/ for further information