While some people seem to have an easy time having a baby, others struggle. Infertility is quite common, though. About 12% to 15% of people struggle to have a baby, and infertility affects around 1 in 8 heterosexual couples. How do you know if you're not able to have a baby? There are some signs of infertility that you should see your doctor about.
The term infertility means that you are unable to get pregnant after 12 months of having regular sex with a consistent partner and no birth control methods. For females, after age 35, infertility is considered after 6 months of regular sex without contraceptives.
Some women get pregnant in one cycle, but this isn't very common. On average, it takes couples 4 months to conceive. If you've just started out or are in this range, it might not be time yet to see the doctor, especially if everything else is normal and you're having regular sex.
Heavy periods happen when your period lasts longer than 8 days, you soak a tampon or a pad within one hour, or you have large blood clots. Many women have heavy periods and don't think about it as a sign of infertility because they're still getting a period, but you shouldn't ignore it. Heavy periods can be a sign of an underlying condition and could be a symptom of endometriosis, which is linked to infertility.
The average menstrual cycle is 28 days long. You might have a period that is longer or shorter, which is normal as long as it consistently stays that way and isn't shorter than 24 days or longer than 38 days. If your periods start to change to where you no longer can predict or expect them consistently, you have irregular periods. This could be caused by a disorder called polycystic ovarian syndrome, ovulation problems, or hormone problems, all of which can cause infertility.
Men can also experience infertility and ejaculation problems might be a sign. Ejaculation is the release of semen and sperm cells following an orgasm. If you can't ejaculate or you ejaculate too early, sperm can't meet up with the egg inside the uterus. Sometimes these problems happen for emotional or psychological reasons, but it can also be a side effect of a testicle injury or surgery, certain medications like antidepressants or blood pressure pills, or from some diseases like diabetes. If you have trouble ejaculating, it's a good idea to see your doctor.
Pain during sex can be a sign of a condition like an infection or endometriosis, which can cause infertility. If you've always had painful sex, you might think it's normal. Sometimes women have pain when the penis first enters the vagina, but having deep pain during sex is a sign of a problem. Make sure to talk to your doctor about this symptom.
Erectile dysfunction (ED), also called impotence, is a condition where you have trouble keeping or getting an erection hard enough for sex. While impotence can be emotional or psychological, it's usually caused by other health problems like high blood pressure, diabetes, stress, and hormones. Low testosterone can cause infertility, so it's a good idea to have erection problems assessed.
As women age, the chances for infertility get higher. This is because ovulation naturally slows down and stops with age. As you get closer to menopause, your body has fewer eggs, and your chances for infertility are higher.
Swelling or pain in your testicles can be a sign of a physical problem like torsion, infection, injury, or cancer, which can lead to infertility. It can also lead to problems making testosterone, which can affect fertility, too.
Recurrent pregnancy loss happens when you have two or more miscarriages. Miscarriages are common and can occur for many different reasons, including genetic irregularities, hormone changes, uterus disturbances, and autoimmune problems. Most people who have recurrent pregnancy loss don't have fertility problems. Having one or two miscarriages doesn't mean you'll have issues with infertility in the future.
If you've had repeated miscarriages, talk to your doctor. Testing can help you find and treat the cause, which can help you towards a healthy pregnancy. Sometimes it's not always clear why there is repeated pregnancy loss, and, in these cases, some people choose to use assisted fertility treatments to help have a baby.
If you plan to have a baby, it's a good idea to get a check-up with your doctor before you start having regular unprotected sex. Your doctor can run some bloodwork and make sure you're in good health and adjust any medications. If you're having sex every 2 to 3 days for 12 months and you don't have a pregnancy, it's a good time to talk to your doctor.
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- University of Utah Health: "Should You Worry About Swollen Testicles?"
- Washington University School of Medicine Fertility & Reproductive Medicine Center: "Recurrent Pregnancy Loss."