Infertility can affect women at any age. More often than not, infertility refers to women struggling to conceive for the first time. But did you know that there’s a whole other group of women battling secondary infertility?
What Is Secondary Infertility?
Secondary infertility refers to the inability to conceive or carry a pregnancy to full-term after previously giving birth to a child.1
For many women, secondary infertility can be an even greater source of confusion and heartbreak if they had a particularly easy time conceiving their first child.
Oftentimes, couples may even receive less support from friends and family because they already have a child.
However, it’s important to note – the emotional devastation caused by secondary infertility should not be underestimated or overlooked. It can be an incredibly frustrating experience for parents hoping to have another baby.
What Causes Secondary Infertility?
As it turns out, infertility and secondary infertility often share the very same causes. These may include:
Advanced Reproductive Age: As women age, their ovarian reserves will continue to diminish. So, even if it’s only a short couple of years between children, a woman’s egg quantity and/or quality may decrease.
Conditions of the Reproductive System: Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, polyps, uterine scarring, or abnormalities of the fallopian tubes can all make it much more difficult to conceive. It’s important to note that these conditions can also develop after a healthy pregnancy.
Male Infertility: A change in sperm count and/or quality can also occur relatively quickly – often over the course of just a few years.
Lifestyle Factors: Weight gain can contribute to ovulation problems in women and sperm problems in men.
Unknown Factors: Secondary infertility can also be completely unexplainable – and it’s not a rare occurrence. Approximately 20 percent of all cases will turn out to be “unexplained infertility.” But that doesn’t mean there aren’t options.2,3
How To Face Secondary Infertility
First and foremost, it’s important to put away any myths or expectations you have because you carried a child to term once before – that’s far too much pressure to put on yourself. The best way to face secondary infertility is exactly the same way as you would infertility for a first child:
1. Get Proactive
It’s smart not to waste too much time if you’re having trouble conceiving. Each year that passes may make it even harder.
The standard advice is that you should consult with a fertility specialist:
- After one year of trying to conceive if you’re under age 35
- After six months of trying if you’re over age 35
- After just a few cycles if you’re over age 404
Be sure to consult your own doctor if you believe this is the best option for you – only he or she will know what is best for your unique needs.
2. Take Some Tests
A fertility specialist can run thorough diagnostic tests for you and your partner. If you’ve had these tests in the past, this specialist can compare what’s changed. Or, if it’s your first time, he or she can assess the current state of your fertility.
What kinds of tests can you expect?
- Blood work and ultrasounds (to check ovarian reserve and egg quality)
- A hysterosalpingogram (HSG) to check for blocked fallopian tubes
- A semen analysis to check sperm count
You may also be tested for thyroid function (which can affect fertility) and hormonal imbalances. Additional ultrasounds can help detect fibroids, polyps, tumors, or scar tissue that may have occurred from the first pregnancy.5
3. Set an Action Plan With Your Partner
It’s important to have an action plan – after all, if you’re concerned about your ability to conceive, playing the “wait-and-see” game tends to make the situation even more emotionally difficult.
Make a plan with your partner for how long you will try each step along the way, and how far you’re willing to go. Here are a few important questions to consider:
- Will you go straight to IVF, or first try a lower-tech method, like ovarian stimulation drugs or Intrauterine Insemination (IUI)? IUI involves placing sperm directly inside the woman’s uterus while she’s ovulating.
- If you’re open to IVF, how long will you try, and how much are you willing to spend?
- Are you open to an egg donor?
4. Keep Stress at Bay
It’s a double-edged sword – stress can contribute to infertility, and infertility can absolutely lead to stress.6 And the stress you feel if you’re dealing with secondary infertility can be compounded by “well-meaning” friends and family continually asking when you’ll be giving baby number one a brother or a sister.
But it’s essential that you keep stress to a minimum. If you’re experiencing secondary infertility and you need some stress-busting inspiration, give these tips a try:
- Start a daily meditation routine. You can turn to basic mindfulness meditation, or you may like to meditate using imagery of the life you’re imagining with your family.
- Consider acupuncture. Many people recommend acupuncture for infertility, including fertility specialists – and clinical tests have found some correlation too.7 The connection between acupuncture and infertility is unknown, but some experts believe it may be due less to the actual process, and more to the relaxation effects.
- Make sure you’re getting enough exercise. It can be hard to exercise when you already have a young child in tow – but do your best to find time, even if it’s with a quick online yoga video. Exercise ensures that you’re going into this process with a healthy body (and stress-free mind).
- Eat right. A healthy, well-rounded diet can sometimes take a backseat when you’re caring for children, but taking the time to prepare healthy meals is essential to your fertility.
Secondary Infertility: Know Your Options
If you’re struggling with secondary infertility, you’re not alone – and you’re not without options.
Scheduling an appointment with a specialist, if only to discuss your fears, is a great first step. He or she will be able to help you better understand secondary infertility, provide tests to get a clear idea of your current fertility picture, and advise you how to best move forward.
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