The hard reality is that secondary infertility is a growing problem
When planning a second pregnancy, fertility problems can come as quite a shock.
It is always exciting to try for a brother or sister to your first child. However, if conceiving your first child was straightforward, it can be unnerving and upsetting to run into issues while trying to get pregnant the second time around.
This is called secondary infertility and it is not uncommon. In fact, roughly one in seven couples encounter infertility and it is estimated that secondary infertility accounts for 60 per cent of fertility cases in Ireland.
Dr Osman Shamoun, Clane Fertility Clinic, says you are not alone. Fertility specialists are on hand to offer advice, so don’t be ashamed to ask for help.
“I always think that after 12 months of trying, it is important to investigate if there is an issue. Of course, if the woman is 39 or 40 it is important that she investigates sooner.”
Indeed, a woman’s age is the most common cause of fertility issues.
“Age is very important because women are born with their eggs. We believe that egg quality starts to significantly deteriorate after the age of 35. By the age of 40 the percentage of damaged eggs is much higher than when she was 20.
“The longer the eggs stay in the ovary, the more changes take place and more damage occurs to them. That is why it takes much longer for an older woman to get pregnant than a younger one. On average, it takes a 40-year-old woman three years to get pregnant. When you compare that to a woman in her 20s, it should only take six months.”
While Dr Shamoun says that the most important factor in infertility is the woman’s age, there are other issues to consider. “There are many possible causes. The fallopian tubes are very important.
Sometimes they can get damaged, during a surgery for example. If someone has an infection, such as Chlamydia, it can block the tubes. This can cause great difficulties in getting pregnant.
“In other cases there might be a male factor involved. And, if a woman has an overactive thyroid it can prevent her from ovulating.
“Also, keep in mind that sometimes there is no reason for it. It just takes a bit longer to get pregnant the second time.”
If you encounter secondary infertility, there is no reason to panic. There are many treatment options available and, according to Dr Shamoun, the success rates are very encouraging.
The first place to start is with your lifestyle. Little changes can make a big difference.
“If a woman is a heavy smoker it will affect her eggs. Similarly, if a man is a heavy smoker it will affect the quality of his sperm. So the first thing I advise is to give up smoking. But there are a lot of ways in which lifestyle can have an impact on fertility. A small amount of alcohol won’t cause damage, but heavy drinking definitely will.
“Men must also be wary of taking certain body building proteins and storing mobile phones in their front pocket as this may also have an effect on sperm quality.”
The treatment route that you will take very much depends on the type of fertility issue you experience.
“If it is an ovulation problem, you can take tablets and you will ovulate again. Your cycle will be monitored and your chances will be quite high. However, if there is damage to the tubes, the only option left is IVF. This is still very successful.
“If men have slightly damaged sperm it can be improved by careful preparation and use for insemination. If the sperm is more severely damaged, IVF is the best treatment option.”
There is a lot to be positive about. “Success rates are high. Again, it depends on the woman’s age. We are always optimistic with a younger woman, up to her mid 30s, especially with secondary infertility.
“We are able to correct ovulation problems in 75 per cent of women. Quite a large amount of these women will be pregnant within six months.”