Infertility in women - quick facts and top tips for improving fertility

Written by: Mr Stuart Lavery
Edited by: Cal Murphy

Having a baby is a big decision in anyone’s life, and it is a decision that many long-term couples will make at some point in their relationship. However, things don’t always go to plan. Sometimes, even with regular unprotected sex, a couple will have trouble conceiving.

Fertility: quick facts

  • Over 80% of women under 40 in a couple having unprotected sex regularly will conceive naturally within a year.
  • “Regular unprotected sex” is considered to be every two to three days, without any form of contraception (pills, condoms, etc.).
  • Fertility decreases with age, especially in women – when a woman reaches her mid-30s her fertility declines more quickly.


What causes infertility in women?

Women can have trouble conceiving for many reasons, the most common of which include:

Other factors that affect fertility include age, weight, smoking, alcohol consumption, stress and sexually transmitted diseases (STIs).


Tips for improving female fertility

Depending on the cause of infertility, there may be things you can do to improve your chances of conceiving:

  1. Attain a healthy weight: obesity affects your body negatively in a number of ways, and in women, being particularly overweight can reduce ovulation.
  2. Steer clear of cigarettes and alcohol: yes, every medical pamphlet, article and poster about every health condition or illness out there will tell you about all the bad effects that smoking and drinking can have. The thing is, it’s totally true! Smoking reduces the chances of conception in the woman (and negatively affects semen quality in men too!), while alcohol is always a bad idea when thinking about having a baby.
  3. Test for STIs: Chlamydia causes infertility in both women and men, and can easily be tested for by a swab or urine test. Chlamydia is easily treatable with antibiotics.
  4. Reduce stress: easier said than done, but stress can negatively affect relationships, libidos, and even ovulation (ditto for sperm production in men). If you are trying to conceive, it is a good idea to try to find a way to manage any stress in your life – taking time for yourself to relax or exercise, for example.

Sometimes, however, a couple still can’t conceive even when doing everything recommended. There are a number of treatments that may be offered, including medical treatment to increase ovulation, surgery (for example, on the Fallopian tubes, to remove scarring from the womb, or to treat endometriosis), or assisted conception. This could be artificial insemination or IVF (in vitro fertilisation).

If you are concerned about your fertility, consult your doctor or a specialist.

By Mr Stuart Lavery
Obstetrics & gynaecology

Mr Stuart Lavery is a leading London-based consultant in gynaecology, reproductive medicine, and surgery at the Hammersmith and Queen Charlotte's Hospitals in London. Mr Lavery leads the Preimplantation Genetic Testing team and the Fertility Preservation Service. Mr Lavery was a founding partner of The Fertility Partnership, the largest provider of assisted conception services in the UK, with eleven clinics.

Mr Lavery serves on national and international advisory boards for the pharmaceutical industry. He is also an honorary senior lecturer at Imperial College Medical School. Mr Lavery has served on several national committees including NICE, HFEA Panel, and NHS England IVF Expert Advisory Group.

Mr Stuart Lavery's research interests are assisted conception, fertility preservation, and PGT. He has presented his research work at numerous international and national meetings on these topics and has over 50 peer-reviewed articles published.

Mr Lavery is the official spokesman for the British Fertility Society and plays an active role in a myriad other professional bodies including the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

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