Am I infertile? This is how you can tell
Getting pregnant and giving birth to a healthy baby seems like the most natural thing in the world. And yet sometimes it doesn’t happen.
Some women will conceive the moment they first try (or even with no planning at all) while some will wait for months and years to experience this joy.
Wouldn’t it be good to know to which group you will belong?
To know whether there might be any troubles coming up on the horizon?
Luckily, there are a few signs which can tell you whether you are more or less likely to be on the safe side of this equation.
What are the early signs of infertility?
So you’re thinking about having children and becoming pregnant sometime soon.
It may not be a bad idea to learn how to spot signs of fertility issues, common in both men and women.
(Important: never panic. Most of the symptoms can be treated, and could even disappear spontaneously.)
Here are the twelve signs that your fertility may not be at its best.
1. Your periods are heavy and irregular
The length of a woman’s fertility cycle is individual. I know many women who say they always had regular cycles of about 35 days. Or they had irregular cycles of 24-28 days.
Fluctuations of about few days are perfectly normal.
One missed cycle in a year (some doctors even say two) are perfectly normal, and can happen to any healthy, fertile woman.
But, if your cycle suddenly misses out or stops, if it becomes non-ovulatory (meaning your cycle is there, but the follicles are not maturing), it might be hard to become pregnant once you decide you’re ready.
Various conditions can be the cause of irregular ovulation and cycles.
Daily stress can trigger hormonal changes and affect your thyroid for example. PCOS is another probable reason for menstrual irregularity. To this, being over or underweight, or exposing yourself daily to strenuous training and hard physical or mental work can disturb a fine biochemical balance and send a clear message to your body that it’s not the right time to get pregnant.
These kinds of problems often get solved spontaneously. As your life circumstances change, you work less, or live in another climate (and even with another partner), your cycle will normalize again. Very often, the right diet can help. And luckily, there are medications which can trigger ovulation as well as some other medical approaches.
2. You don’t have periods at all
As already mentioned, missing a period once in a while due to flu, stress, climate change, etc. should not be a cause for concern. I often hear that women miss a cycle while moving to a new home. There seems to be a switch in our bodies that can turn off our fertile clocks when times are very turbulent.
But never having a menarche or having a period that suddenly stopped and would not appear again even after several months is a red flag. Go see a doctor.
3. Your periods are very painful
I don’t think there’s a woman who has not experienced cramps. But I’m not talking about cramps.
I’m talking here about serious abdominal pain, about vomiting and not being able to go around your daily activities because of having a period. These things could be a sign of endometriosis.
Endometriosis is one of the leading causes of infertility (Endometriosis – Symptoms and Causes – Mayo Clinic) in women. It’s a condition that causes your uterine lining to spontaneously migrate and continue growing in places where it shouldn’t, leading to pain and inflammation.
If you notice that your periods are making your life miserable, or that having sex hurts despite foreplay and lubricant, make an appointment with a reproductive endocrinologist. Do you have a chance to still conceive naturally with endometriosis? For sure. Most women with endometriosis have/will have their own biological children. At the same time, the infertility rate is higher in this group. So, you may need extra time. Allow yourself for that.
4. Oily skin and acne
The onset of acne in adults could be a sign of hormonal imbalance. Sometimes it can indicate you are suffering from polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
If you suddenly have oily skin, your body odor changes, or it becomes difficult to maintain ahealthy weight, consult your doctor, and run a blood test. An excess of androgens, referred to as “male hormones” can lead to this. While this may not have anything to do with your fertility, it is worth investigating.
5. Dark hair growing in new places
This could derive from the same place as acne. If you have PCOS, your body produces more androgens, which affect secondary sex characteristics – unwanted facial and body hair.
PCOS is treatable, and it doesn’t necessarily affect your chances of having a biological child.
6. Weight gain
Are you are eating a fresh and nutritious diet, leading a healthy lifestyle, and still gaining weight that you cannot explain? This may be yet another sign of PCOS. In addition to androgen excess, women with PCOS frequently have insulin resistance, making it really easy for them to lose weight.
Healthy weight is important. I write about that a lot. Being overweight, as well as underweight, can make it difficult to get and stay pregnant.
7. Untreated sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
Untreated STDs impact both fertility and health in general. Luckily, there are adequate treatments, and most of them work fast.
While no one will directly tell you that you’re (too) old, you need to constantly remind yourself of the fact that a woman’s chances of conceiving a baby start to significantly decrease around her 30th birthday.
Also, not only the quantity of her egg pool decreases but the quality goes down, too. Older egg cells don’t produce as many healthy and robust embryos and babies as the young ones do.
A number of studies have demonstrated that many women are unaware of natural fertility decline. Don’t overestimate your chances of conceiving after the age of 35, and don’t assume IVF will work for everyone who tries.
9. Chronic illnesses
Chronic conditions and their treatments can lead to fertility problems. Among the infertile women I’m coaching (this is how you can find me if you need my help), I notice that one chronic condition comes up particularly often: a dysfunctional thyroid gland. Also, diabetes, food intolerances, and digestion issues seem to be heavily linked with later infertility.
10. Being a cancer survivor
Specific cancer treatments can cause infertility. If you or your partner have to go through cancer treatments, especially radiation therapy, you need to freeze your gametes (it’s the stuff that babies are made of: eggs, ovaries, sperm), there are many ways medicine can help cancer patients preserve their fertility. It’s important to address this problem early enough in the process, e.g. before the tissues become irreversibly damaged.
11. Smoking and alcohol
This is common knowledge, and if you’re smart enough to find my blog, I’m sure you’re smart enough to not smoke (or heavily drink) while trying to conceive.
Numerous studies have confirmed the negative effects of both nicotine and alcohol on fertility. These two can be the reasons of premature ovarian aging, early menopause, a decrease in egg cell quality, and many more health issues. The good news is that if you or your partner quit early enough in the process, you may be able to reverse some of the damage.
12. Exposure to wrong chemicals
Does your work involve daily contact with toxic chemicals or pesticides? I hope not. Because if this is the case, you may be at greater risk for infertility and decreased egg quality.
Chemical engineers, farmers, painters, and metal workers have all been found to be at risk for reduced fertility. Also, the scientific postdocs in research labs around the world, I would dare to add. When I think of all the occasions when I was hurrying to set another experiment before the next meeting starts, inhaling all kinds of chemicals on the bench to save time before the chemical hood had a free spot – I’m surprised I have children at all.
To summarize: most doctors will tell you to not worry about infertility until after a year of trying to conceive with no success.
Don’t take this seriously, it really depends on your age and life circumstances.
There are women with medical issues who easily conceive naturally within a year. And there are others – healthy couples who end up in IVF treatment for no apparent reason.
The fertility journey can sometimes be long and exhausting, but it surely is worth a trip. I hope you’ll enjoy yours.