What Are the Signs You Can’t Get Pregnant?
When you decide you’d like to have a baby, it can take some time to conceive. But knowing how long is too long can be difficult. Some women have a medical condition that may make getting pregnant more difficult, have a partner that may have a fertility issue, or be older than age 35, which can affect the likelihood they will get pregnant. Knowing the potential signs that a woman can’t get pregnant can help you determine if you should seek the advice of a reproductive endocrinologist.
As a general rule, if you have had unprotected sex with your partner for about a year without conceiving, this is a sign you may not be able to get pregnant without additional medical support. However, if a woman is older than age 35, she may wish to seek help from a reproductive endocrinologist after six months of trying to get pregnant. Some of the signs that you may not be able to get pregnant without fertility treatments can include the following:
Being Older Than Age 35
Age can significantly affect fertility in both men and women. In men, being older than age 35, can mean a decreased sperm count. Because there are less available sperm to fertilize the egg, it is less likely that a woman will conceive. However, men are not affected in terms of fertility as quickly as woman are when they turn 35. When a woman is older than age 35, her egg quality and number of eggs is usually affected. Eggs that are of a poorer quality cannot be fertilized as well, nor can the egg mature as effectively. According to Fox News, a woman at age 30 is 20 percent likely to get pregnant each month. These numbers go down as a woman ages.
Women older than age 35 can conceive, but doing so may be more difficult. This is why women older than age 35 often benefit from seeing a reproductive endocrinologist as quickly as possible if they haven’t conceived after six months of trying.
Having Polycystic Ovary Syndrome/Conditions That Affect Ovulation
Polycystic ovary syndrome or PCOS is a medical condition that affects a woman’s menstrual cycle and ovulation. Women with PCOS have an increased amount of male hormones, such as testosterone. This can affect her ability to ovulate, which involves releasing an egg for fertilization. Without ovulation, a woman cannot get pregnant. According to Fox News, an estimated 5 to 10 percent of women have PCOS. Some women may be unaware they have PCOS. Symptoms can include:
- Gaining weight unexpectedly
- Having irregular periods or missed periods
- Experiencing hair loss
- Growing hair in unusual places, such as on the chest, face, back, and stomach
- Having repeated miscarriages
- Experiencing depression or mood swings
Treatments are available to help a woman control PCOS and help her ovulate. If these symptoms sound like something you could be experiencing, contact your gynecologist.
In addition to PCOS, there are other conditions that may affect a woman’s ability to ovulate. Examples of these include being very overweight or underweight. Having a disorder that affects the balance of a woman’s thyroid hormones can also be problematic.
Having a History of Endometriosis
Endometriosis is a medical condition that causes tissue that normally grows only in the uterine cavity to grow in the abdominal cavity as well. The results can be a significant amount of pain. Heavy bleeding and infertility can also occur in anywhere from 30 to 50 percent of women who have endometriosis. Sometimes the growth of irregular tissue can cause a woman’s fallopian tubes to become blocked. As a result, a woman cannot release an egg that will travel to her uterus as a means to become pregnant. If a woman’s Fallopian tubes becomes blocked, a doctor may recommend in vitro fertilization, where a doctor removes an egg or eggs from a woman’s ovaries directly, so the egg does not travel down the fallopian tube. However, if a woman has endometriosis are her fallopian tubes are open, she may benefit from taking a medication called Clomid. This medication helps to ensure ovulation. A doctor may recommend women with endometriosis take this medication and use intrauterine insemination or IUI as a means to conceive. This method involves taking sperm that have been “prepared” to ensure sperm quality and inserted directly into a woman’s uterus to promote greater chances of conceiving.
Other medical conditions can also cause a fallopian tube to be blocked. Examples include a sexually transmitted disease or STD. Chlamydia can especially cause a woman’s fallopian tube to become blocked.
History of Injury or Damage to the Testicles
Male infertility can contribute to difficulty in conceiving just as much as female infertility can. A woman may have difficulty conceiving if her partner has a history of injuries to the testicles or scrotum. This can damage or destroy semen. A man may not even know that his testicles have been damaged to the point of causing infertility until he and his partner are trying to conceive. Men may also experience temporary damage to the testicles due to overheating, such as from wearing underwear that is too tight or taking baths in hot water. Both of these practices should be avoided while a woman is trying to get pregnant.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 35 percent of couples have difficulty conceiving due to male and female factors that affect fertility.
Having Unhealthy Habits
Women and men who have unhealthy habits, especially smoking, are less likely. Women who smoke or are subject to significant secondhand smoke exposure typically take longer to get pregnant. There are a number of reasons why smoking can contribute to infertility. For example, smoking affects egg maturation in women as well as sperm maturation in men. Smoking can also damage DNA in eggs and sperm and affects hormone production needed to successfully help an embryo grow. Also, women who smoke are more likely to experience an ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage – all good reasons to quit if you want to conceive.
In addition to smoking, unhealthy habits such as heavy abuse of alcohol, taking anabolic steroids, or using illegal drugs can all affect a couple’s abilities to get pregnant. If you or your partner use these substances, talk to your doctor about how to quit. Doing so will not only improve your chances of conceiving, it will promote better health overall for you.
Being Overweight or Underweight
Extra fats releases its own hormones, which can affect a woman’s ovulation. Women who are overweight are more likely to have PCOS as mentioned before. They are also more likely to be insulin-resistant, where their bodies cannot use insulin to process glucose. As a result, a woman’s blood sugar is not only higher, her body may start to release male hormones known as androgens. These hormones do not support ovulation.
Being underweight is problematic if you’re trying to get pregnant as well. Women tend to produce less of the hormone estrogen, a hormone needed to support ovulation. This can cause a condition known as function hypothalamic amenorrhea or FHA. Women can also experience FHA is they exercise excessively or have a lot of stress in their lives. If a woman is underweight, a doctor may recommend a program to gain weight in a healthy manner. As a result, a woman may be more likely to get pregnant.
Sometimes, a doctor may not be able to identify why a woman can’t get pregnant. Doctors call this unexplained infertility. Even when a woman has unexplained infertility, there are still fertility treatments she can use that can help her to conceive. If a couple decides they are going to try to conceive, living as healthy a lifestyle as possible can increase their chances for getting pregnant. This includes refraining from smoking, eating healthy foods, exercising, and trying to limit stress whenever possible. These habits promote a healthy body that can foster the growth of a healthy baby. Treating sexually transmitted diseases may also help to reduce inflammation in the pelvic cavity. Men should also refrain from wearing clothing (especially underwear) that is too tight or exposes the testicles to excessive heat, such as when swimming or bathing.
According to the National Institutes of Health, an estimated 7 percent of men and 11 percent of women in the United States have problems with fertility. If a couple hasn’t gotten pregnant in six months to a year, a doctor can perform blood testing for the presence of certain hormones, such as follicle-stimulating and anti-Mullerian hormones that are vital to fertility. They can also test to ensure that a woman is ovulating. Imaging studies of the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries may also help to identify structural abnormalities that may be keeping a woman from getting pregnant. Men can also undergo testing for the presence of male sex hormones, such as testosterone. A doctor may also measure a sample of the man’s semen to determine the amount and quality of sperm present to ensure enough sperm are present (or if sperm are present at all) for fertilization.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Infertility FAQs
Mayo Clinic: Infertility
The National Infertility Association: What Is Infertility
National Institutes of Health: About Infertility and Fertility
Planned Parenthood: Infertility