What is the difference between primary and secondary infertility?
Primary infertility refers to never having been able to conceive or maintain a pregnancy. Secondary infertility refers to situations where a couple has conceived and had a child at least once before and then begins experiencing infertility. In both cases, infertility is marked by a period of one year without being able to get pregnant naturally (six months if your 35 or older).
What makes secondary infertility different?
Secondary infertility occurs when a couple is unable to conceive naturally after already having at least one child. While childless couples experience primary infertility, those who have been able to conceive a child on their own, and then are unable to, are experiencing secondary infertility.
Can you have fertility problems after having a child?
There is a common misconception that if you are fertile once, you will always be fertile. This is simply not the case every time. Couples who experience infertility after having a child where infertility issues were not present before are still susceptible to infertility issues.
The factors that cause infertility are not always carried lifelong and may manifest between pregnancies in the male or female partner. Infertility can happen at any time, no matter how many children you have.
Is secondary infertility common?
Secondary infertility is more common than you likely thought. Some secondary infertility statistics show that up to 60% of infertility cases are cases of secondary infertility.
According to the results of a 1995 National Health Statistics survey, 3.3 million women in the U.S. were experiencing secondary infertility. The same surveys in 1988 revealed only 2.7 million women were experiencing it at that time.
You may be wondering why, if secondary infertility is so common, we don’t hear more about it. Only recently, has the concern or recognition of secondary fertility being a problem, come into higher visibility.
Many share a sentiment that if you already have one or more kids, the desire to have another isn’t as validated as couples who have no children at all. Likely if you’re reading this, you know how just how much the misconception lacks understanding and empathy.
Luckily, others are recognizing this and elevating the importance of addressing secondary infertility.
Can secondary infertility be avoided?
Secondary infertility is no more preventable than primary infertility. The vast majority of issues that lead to infertility cannot be prevented.
However, certain lifestyle choices—not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, lowering stress, etc.—do positively affect fertility so maintaining adequate general health overall is your best weapon against preventable fertility problems.
Age plays a big role in fertility. Roughly one third of couples with a female partner over will have trouble conceiving.
That number rises to two thirds for women over 40. Age often, but certainly not always, accounts for the root cause of secondary infertility.
What are the signs of secondary infertility?
Secondary infertility is defined by an inability to conceive after having unprotected sex for over a year. If you are having frequent, unprotected sex for a) one year if you are under 35 or b) six months for women over 35, you are experiencing secondary infertility.
While trying to get pregnant without success is the most common sign of secondary infertility, there are others. If you experience changes in ovulation or irregular menstrual cycles, it may be a sign of secondary infertility.
If your period is irregular, it’s important to decipher the root cause, as that is an indicator of something being off in your reproductive patterns. Additionally, if you’ve experienced multiple miscarriages while trying to get pregnant with an additional child, it may be a sign of infertility.
Your doctor can help you identify the cause of the secondary infertility after miscarriage and hopefully a plan to avoid them in the future.
C-sections can also cause secondary infertility. In some cases, scarring from a C-section can cause fertility issues as well as pain and bleeding. If you feel your C-section has not healed properly or is causing issues, it is advised to contact a medical professional.
Certain fertility clinics specialize in fixing these kinds of issues and restoring fertility cause by C-sections.
How is secondary infertility diagnosed?
A couple is considered to have secondary infertility if they are unable to get pregnant while having frequent, unprotected sex over a set period of time. For couples with a female partner under 35, one year of regular, unprotected sex that does not result in a pregnancy is diagnosable as secondary infertility.
For couples with a female partner over 35, six months is the standard.
Diagnosing the presence of secondary infertility is arguable just the beginning. Without identifying the cause of the infertility, there is little chance of overcoming it.
From diagnoses, your doctor will present and explore options for figuring out what is causing the secondary infertility and how to treat that specific issue or issues. Secondary infertility is not treatable in and of itself, but rather by treating whatever is expected to be causing it.
When is secondary infertility diagnosed?
Secondary infertility is diagnosed when couples seek medical help after being unable to conceive. If you have been having consistent, unprotected sex for six months if 35 or older or twelve months if under 35 and seek medical intervention, you will likely be diagnosed with secondary infertility.
When should you see a doctor about secondary infertility?
If you’ve been having unprotected sex for over one year if you are under 35, or over six months if you are 35 or older and have not gotten pregnant, you should see your doctor about secondary infertility.
It is always wise to bring you doctor into the conversation when you are trying to conceive, especially if you are having trouble doing so. If you are 35 or older, you should speak to your doctor shortly after you begin trying for a baby. T
hey may be able to do some testing, though it is not always covered by insurance, to check for certain issues that can impact fertility. Since getting pregnant gets more and more difficult at this age, it’s smart to get as ahead of the timeline as possible.
Is secondary infertility curable?
Many couples are able to overcome fertility issues and get pregnant. Some root causes of fertility call for more invasive and expensive treatments, while others are relatively non-invasive and low cost.
That being said, the reason(s) for infertility are so wide-ranging, it’s impossible to speculate on how successful treating your specific case will be. The good news is, there are options for virtually all fertility issues and technology continues to get better and more effective.
Secondary Infertility Treatment Options
Intrauterine Insemination (IUI)
IUI is one of the fertility treatments lower in cost and invasiveness. It helps treat male infertility (e.g. men with low sperm count or misshapen sperm) by implanting sperm directly in the reproductive tract to help increase the chance of an egg being fertilized.
Using donor sperm increases the chances of success even more.
In vitro fertilization (IVF)
In vitro fertilization is one of the most expensive and invasive fertility treatments, but also the most effective. IVF involves harvesting eggs and sperm from donors or parents and creating embryos in a lab that are then implanted into uterus of the mother or a surrogate.
Medications are available to address issues such as irregular ovulation. These fertility medications help balance hormones and regulate ovulation, which can often be a source of infertility.
Can secondary infertility be treated naturally?
The same natural treatments that may work for primary infertility can work for secondary infertility. However, these methods, which include things like charting your cycle and improving lifestyle, are often less efficient and more ineffective than modern medical treatments.
If age is causing secondary infertility, choosing a method that takes time may not yield the result you want. Ultimately the best treatment will be determined by the reason you are experiencing infertility. Your doctor can help you decide what may work for you.
Where can I get treatment for secondary infertility?
Fertility clinics treat all types of infertility. Secondary infertility is very common and any fertility well versed in primary infertility will also be able to address your secondary infertility.
How to cope with secondary infertility
It is common for issues with secondary fertility and depression to go hand in hand. Infertility can bring up feelings of guilt, inadequacy and selfishness—“I already have a child and others don’t; I should feel lucky.”
Do not discount your feelings. Anyone who desires to have a child and is hitting roadblocks naturally experiences these ups and downs. Getting medical advice, being open with your partner and seeking support are all ways to cope with secondary infertility.
What type of support is available for those facing secondary infertility?
There are many online forums and support groups available for parents just like you. Just because secondary fertility isn’t a common household topic does not mean it is not common. You are not alone!