If you and your partner have been trying to conceive, there are a few things you may want to know.
When sex education was on our curriculum, we were taught how to avoid getting pregnant and how to avoid getting an STI (sexually transmitted infection). Unfortunately, sex education did not include fertility education.
First of all – it can take up to one year to conceive. The NHS explain that around 84% of heterosexual couples will conceive within a year if they have regular, unprotected intercourse. This also means that 1 in 7 couples may experience difficulties. After 1 year of trying, you should get in touch with your GP who may determine that you’re eligible for fertility investigations. You’ll be asked questions about your menstrual period, if you’ve previously been on contraception and how long since you stopped using it, and they may also ask specific questions about when you’re having sex.
Fertility specialists recommend having sex every 2-3 days around the time of ovulation. If you’ve been trying for a few months, you could consider tracking your cycles to determine your ovulation. The length of menstrual cycles varies from woman to woman. If you have a 28 day cycle, it is likely that you ovulate around day 14. But a menstrual cycle could be between 21 and 40 days long, so it can be harder to estimate when you ovulate.
How do I test for ovulation?
When testing for ovulation, you can use OPKs (ovulation predictor kits), observe changes to your cervical mucus and test your BBT (basal body temperature), but it’s important to know that there are factors that can impact these tests so check if they’re suitable for you.
Once you’ve determined ovulation, you can calculate your fertile window for future cycles. The fertile window is the day of ovulation and the five days prior to ovulation (which is the length of time sperm could potentially survive in the female reproductive system). Having intercourse during your fertile window can increase chances of conceiving.
What fertility investigations might I be offered?
If you’ve been having regular intercourse around the time of ovulation and not conceived within 1 year, your GP could conclude that you’re eligible for initial fertility investigations. These investigations may include blood tests during your cycle to confirm if your ovulating, an ultrasound of your ovaries, fallopian tubes and uterus, and a semen analysis.
After your investigations, you will discuss the results with your GP. The results may indicate that there is a cause of your fertility problems, most commonly this can be related to ovulation problems, or a low sperm count or low sperm motility. But in some cases, the cause can not be determined. This is called unexplained infertility and affects approximately 1 in 4 couples in the UK.
What fertility treatment is available?
It’s important to know – IVF isn’t the only treatment option. Depending on the results of your investigations, you could be offered a range of different treatment types. If you have ovulatory problems, you could be offered medication which could help encourage ovulation. If you have blocked fallopian tubes or a blockage in your testicle, you could have a surgical procedure to attempt to unblock it. If you have endometriosis, you may be offered a laparoscopic surgery to remove it. For any of the above treatment options, you would be advised to continue to try to conceive naturally to see if the treatment has helped. You could also be offered IUI (intrauterine insemination) or IVF (in-vitro fertilisation) treatments at a fertility clinic.
You may be eligible for IUI or IVF on the NHS if you fulfil certain criteria as set out by your local CCG (Clinical Commissioning Group). Some CCGs have restrictions based on age or length of time trying to conceive. They also have different allowances for how many cycles you may have access to. It varies a lot depending on where you live so be sure to ask your GP about what you could be entitled to.
Always ask questions
If you’ve been offered a specific treatment type – ask why it’s recommended for you. Ask how it will improve your chances of conceiving. If you’re being referred to a fertility clinic for treatment, be sure to ask your specialist about your chances of success with the treatment type that is recommended. If anything is unclear – always ask questions. The more informed you are about what options are available to you, the more confident you may feel about making educated decisions in regards to your treatment. This can have a huge impact on your emotional wellbeing as well, as treatments can be all consuming.
The reality is that for some, trying to bring home a baby can be really hard. Be sure to seek support when you need it.