Secondary infertility is a term that is being used more often when talking about reproductive health, and that is not good news for the couples dealing with it. Secondary infertility occurs when a woman who has previously given birth to biological children can no longer get pregnant. It can also refer to a woman who has successful had one or more children but who can now not carry a pregnancy to term.
For over a million couples, secondary infertility will be an issue. This condition can be startling since most people assume once they've had a child they will be able to conceive again without an issue. It can be very difficult to adjust to the idea of being suddenly infertile when biological children are already in the picture.
Since infertility problems are not limited to women and each gender suffers from them at the same rate, it may take a while to determine what has changed since the last child was born. Is it dad's sperm? Has mom developed a condition that affects her reproductive organs? What happened?
Secondary infertility is treated the same way regular fertility is, so mom and dad will have to start the discovery process from scratch even though they have successfully conceived and delivered one or more biological children. This process can be invasive and time-consuming, but it's the only way to find an answer about what suddenly went wrong.
When doctors start looking at secondary infertility issues, they look at changes since parents are at a different stage of life and may have developed different habits or conditions that can impede fertility. This list explores a few of the possible causes.
Aging is a privilege, but when it comes to fertility, it can also be a curse. For men and women age is an issue, and a couple who conceived easily a couple of years ago may not be able to do it again.
For women, their eggs are kind of in one basket, and when that basket is empty, baby-making time is over. Women only have so many eggs in their lifetime, and there's no way to replenish the original supply. As a woman ages, her egg supply drops, and the eggs that are left may not be as good of quality. There is also an increased risk of miscarriage for women as they age.
Unfortunately, there's no way to turn back the clock, and the current trend of having children later in life may mean parents can't have as many of them.
Aging sperm in men also causes problems for fertility. WebMD reports that a man's chances of successfully impregnating a woman decrease yearly, and the sperm aging means there may be quality issues in this department as well.
14 New Partner
Relationships end and new ones begin, and this can be a factor in secondary infertility. When a person has successfully had a child in the past but can no longer conceive when trying with someone else, the problem may be their partner.
This situation is difficult to assess because there are so many factors that play a role in secondary infertility. Each year that passes lowers the chances of pregnancy for both genders, and it's possible to develop health issues that make conceiving difficult.
However, if mom or dad is attempting to have a baby with someone new and having problems, it's fair to assume the other person may need to be checked out first. The partner who has the biological children may still be the one with the infertility issue, but it's a good idea to have the person who has never conceived successfully checked out first.
If both partners are coming into the relationship with biological children from other relationships, then it's back to the drawing board.
13 Low Sperm Count
The reason analyzing semen is a go-to procedure for those suffering from secondary infertility is because of what it reveals. This non-invasive procedure helps doctors determine if dad's sperm count is what it needs to be. Just because a man had millions of swimmers ready to engage a few years back doesn't mean he will continue to command a large fleet.
Sperm changes, and some of those changes are due to age. Others may have to do with medication a man is taking or his overall health. If dad decides to partake in less-than-healthy habits, his fertility can suffer.
Low sperm count is called oligospermia, and the Mayo Clinic says that men with less than 15 million sperm suffer from it. That means they have less than 15 million sperm per milliliter of semen. Even those of us who aren't great at math know that can still be a lot of sperm, but that's all it takes to be declared suffering from low sperm count.
Though this condition can cause secondary infertility, there are also plenty of men who father children despite their sperm count being low. This is just one of the possible causes.
For women who suffered from endometriosis before having children, they know the signs: cramping, excessive bleeding, pain during intimacy. Endometriosis affects ten percent of women in the United States, though it can be very difficult to diagnose.
Endometriosis occurs when tissue that is supposed to be inside the uterus escapes and attaches to other parts of the body. It can affect fertility and is a common cause of problems for women who can't conceive.
A woman who knew she had endometriosis before trying to become pregnant was probably put on birth control pills to try to preserve her fertility. Since birth control pills suppress ovulation, they can offer mom relief from symptoms and keep her from developing more endometriosis.
However, some women may develop this condition in between having children, or the endometriosis that was previously under control may come back full force. This can make conceiving again very difficult.
There are treatments for endometriosis, and mom may need to undergo one or more of them before she can successfully conceive.
11 Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome(PCOS) causes mom hormone chaos that can cause her to ovulate irregularly or not at all. Without ovulation, pregnancy isn't possible.
The hormones that appear in surplus in women with PCOS are called androgens, and they are most commonly seen in high levels in men. That's why women with PCOS may notice growth of facial hair and acne. It's true that women need androgens to produce estrogen, but the amount a woman has in her body is the problem in the case of PCOS.
There is no definitive reason that women develop this condition, though some think it may be inherited. A woman who has developed PCOS in between pregnancies may be surprised to find she can't get pregnant and that her periods don't follow any sort of pattern. Doctors can offer help with this problem if they can determine it's what mom has, and mom may be able to conceive after being diagnosed and treated.
10 Weight Changes
Our bodies change over time, and that is never more true than when we have children. For some women, breastfeeding causes them to lose baby weight quickly and may even cause the number on the scale to dip too low if they aren't consuming enough to support themselves and the baby.
Other women may hold onto pregnancy weight and have a hard time finding time to work out while raising a child. Either way, women who are out of their recommended weight range can experience problems with secondary infertility.
The reason weight affects women's fertility is due to hormones. A woman who is overweight may not ovulate normally, and a woman who is underweight may stop ovulating altogether. Without ovulation, pregnancy can't occur, so women who want to conceive need to work to get their weight within the normal range.
This news isn't just for women. Men's weight matters as well since it can affect the quality of their sperm. Guys don't get a free pass when it comes to taking care of their health.
9 Irregular Periods
Many women report a change in their periods after they have children. Where mom might have once had a normal period that came around every 28 days and lasted three to five days, it's possible that after birth she has no idea when she is going to have a period or for how long it's going to last. Many women also report heavier bleeding and much worse cramping.
It's normal for the body to change after having a child, but the problems these changes cause can affect fertility. A woman who doesn't know when her period is coming is going to have a hard time trying to figure out when she is ovulating. Without knowing her most fertile days, it's very difficult for a woman to become pregnant.
Choices for ovulation tests are many, so there are ways that mom can try to track her cycle. However, if periods are irregular after birth, mom should contact her OB to discuss how to help them get back on a normal schedule. Being able to predict ovulation is extremely helpful when mom is trying to conceive.
8 Early Menopause
From the first day many women start their periods, they start asking the question, "When is this going to end?" The constant cramping and bleeding that can disrupt everyday life are necessary for a mom to become pregnant, but having a period is exhausting and painful for many women. The good news is there is an end. The bad news is the end sometimes comes before a woman is ready to stop having children.
Menopause is defined as a missing period for a year. However, there is a phase before menopause called perimenopause, and it can be extremely problematic for women trying to have another baby. While the average age of menopause is 51, perimenopause can strike much earlier and offer moms unpredictable or missed periods and a host of other annoying symptoms.
It's not impossible for women to conceive while in the perimenopause phase. In fact, almost everyone knows that woman who thought she was finished having kids because her periods were letting up only to have a late-in-life blessing surprise her. However, it is much more difficult for mom when her body is getting ready to end the menstruation phase of life and she is still trying to have those last few eggs fertilized. Talking to a doctor and seeking guidance on how to move forward can help, but there's no way to turn back the clock on menopause.
7 Fallopian Tube Problems
The fallopian tubes are extremely important for a woman when she is trying to conceive. In fact, women who no longer want to become pregnant will often have a tubal ligation, which blocks or ties off the tubes so an egg can no longer pass through. The tubes usher the egg to the uterus, and if they are block or harmed, they can't do that job.
Blocked fallopian tubes often don't cause any symptoms for mom, so it can be hard for her to know if this is the cause of her problems. Women who have a history of pelvic inflammatory disease(PID), infections from abortions or miscarriages, or endometriosis may be at higher risk, but many women don't know they have a problem until they can't conceive.
Problems with the fallopian tubes can develop after a woman has already had a biological child, so this can be a cause of secondary infertility when mom tries to conceive again. If mom finds out she has blocked tubes, there are options, but she will have to assess her unique situation with her doctor to figure out how to move forward.
6 Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease(PID) is a condition that affects a woman's reproductive organs. It's an infection that can lead to infertility if not treated quickly since it can cause major scarring in the fallopian tubes that renders them unable to carry an egg to the uterus.
Pelvic inflammatory disease is most common among women who have chlamydia or gonorrhea. Women who aren't practicing safe sex and end up with a sexually transmitted infection open themselves up to this possibility. That means if mom had unsafe sex with one or more partners after the birth of her other biological children, she may have caught an STI that causes pelvic inflammatory disease.
Other causes can be bacterial infections or previous abortions. Women who have suffered from PID before are at a higher risk of developing it again as well.
It's important to be diagnosed and treated for PID as soon as possible. To avoid this possible fertility killer in the first place, practice safe sex every time if not in a monogamous relationship.
5 Low Quality Sperm
Just like the quality of mom's eggs is important, the quality of dad's sperm also matters. As we age, our reproductive systems change, and that means our bodies that once had no problem coming together to produce offspring are now finding it difficult to do so.
One area that doctors analyze when looking at sperm quality is how motile they are. Motile rhymes with mobile and basically means the same thing. When doctors look at sperm motility, they are determining if the man's sperm can move properly enabling them to swim to their destination and fertilize an egg.
Even if a man's sperm count isn't low, having problems with motility is just as big of a problem. A lot of sperm that don't know how to go anywhere aren't going to help a woman get pregnant.
A range of issues from alcohol and tobacco consumption to certain medications can cause sperm to be immotile. It's important than men are tested so they can figure out what the next steps are moving forward.
For whatever reason, smoking is still sometimes portrayed in a sexy light with pictures of men and women puffing away available all over the Internet. What people need to remember when viewing these images is that the person partaking in this activity is actually inhaling thousands of toxic chemicals. There is a very large chance that those chemicals are going to adversely affect a person's body after a certain amount of time.
Women who smoke are more likely to experience problems with ovulation, and they can actually cause problems to their reproductive organs that make conceiving extremely difficult. Women who smoke are also more likely to go through menopause earlier than is normal, effectively shutting down their chances to conceive completely.
If mom is smoking, she needs to quit right now. Not only can stopping boost her chances of getting pregnant, but it will also offer a plethora of other health benefits.
Alcohol's relationship to fertility is not an easy one to understand. If fertility had a Facebook page and was listing alcohol as its partner, the relationship status would read it's complicated. While it's widely known that alcohol can have devastating effects on a growing fetus, it's effect on a woman's fertility has been largely misunderstood, and researchers still aren't 100% sure they understand all of the implications.
What is known is that binge drinking is not a good idea for a woman who is hoping to become pregnant. It's also necessary for mom to stop drinking when she knows she's pregnant. However, drinking moderately, defined loosely as between one and seven drinks a week, may not affect fertility at all.
If mom has developed a drinking problem since she last gave birth, or if she went back to bad habits she had only suppressed while pregnant, she needs to get help. Heavy alcohol consumption can affect her ability to conceive, and it can affect her ability to parent the children she already has.
2 Autoimmune Disorders
When the immune system is working properly, it's our best defense against germs and foreign invaders that can make us sick. However, when it's not, it can be our worst enemy.
Women with autoimmune diseases suffer at the hands of their own bodies as their immune system starts attacking tissues and organs within the body. Common autoimmune diseases include thyroid disorders and Celiac disease, but there is quite a long list of diseases caused by a wonky immune system.
In between pregnancies is the perfect time for mom's body to start working against itself. Hormones are all over the place during and after pregnancy, and the immune system is tested during pregnancy since it has to let a foreign invader-the baby-grow without attacking it. If something goes wrong and the immune system starts to misfire, mom's fertility is at risk.
Having an OB test hormone levels and look at a comprehensive panel of bloodwork is a start if mom suspects an autoimmune disorder may be the cause. Once the autoimmune disease is under control, mom may be able to get pregnant again.
It's difficult to fully understand the effect stress can have on our bodies. From making us more prone to develop certain health problems to keeping us from conceiving, there's not a place in our lives that stress doesn't touch.
In the last few years, science has definitively connected stress to problems with conceiving. Women who had alpha-amylase in their bodies in high levels were over ten percent less likely to become pregnant than women with lower levels. Alpha-amylase is an enzyme that is connected to stress levels, so its presence in high amounts found in women who couldn't get pregnant is telling.
It's hard to live a stress-free life, especially when we are already mothers. Moms trying to conceive a second or third time are already dealing with the stress of sleep deprivation and parenting. While a certain amount of stress can help motivate us to complete tasks and do things properly, long-term stress that doesn't take a vacation damages our systems, and this is especially true when looking at the reproductive system.