Fertility is the ability to reproduce; men who are fertile are able to father children and fertile women are able to get pregnant and carry their baby to full term, with a live birth nine months after conception. This all happens naturally as a result of sexual intercourse.
Of course, fertility can sometimes be a problem. When we are in our late teens and early 20s, our sex drive is high and our fertility levels also peak. This combination leads to a high level of unwanted teenage pregnancies in many countries in the western world and to a high birth rate in areas of poverty in the less developed world
What is Fertility?
Fertility in women means being able to get pregnant and give birth to a baby. The parts of your body that allow you to do this include your Ovaries, Fallopian Tubes, Womb (uterus), Cervix and Vagina. This is called your reproductive system. The pituitary gland at the base of your brain is also important for Fertility. It releases hormones that control how your repeoductive system works.
As we age, our fertility starts to decline. This is particularly true in women; pregnancy rates for natural conceptions, and after infertility treatments, drop drastically between the ages of 35 and 40. This is thought to be one reason why fertility issues have been increasing steadily over the last 50 years in developed countries; women tend now to leave having a family until later because the pressure to work and have a career is greater. Other factors include increasing obesity and the rise in sexually transmitted disease.
Around 10% to 15 % of couples who want to start a family face problems with their fertility. This may be due to a problem with the male partner or the female partner, or a combination of the two. Although many people spend their early sexual life suppressing their fertility, when they want to have children and cannot, they feel cheated of an important part of normal life and this can cause severe emotional and social issues.
Fertility clinics around the world now offer a range of treatments to allow couples who are experiencing infertility to become fertile and have the family they want. Not all cultures and religious groups agree with medical intervention of this kind, so not all couples have access to infertility treatments.
Fertility in women depends on having:
- a supply of eggs from the ovaries
- a healthy womb
- suitable hormone levels
To become pregnant, a woman's egg needs to be fertilised by a man's sperm. Normally once a month, from puberty to menopause, one of the ovaries releases an egg. This process is controlled by hormones produced by the pituitary gland and by the ovaries.
Lifestyle and fertility
Your fertility is affected by your lifestyle. These are the top lifestyle tips for improving your fertility:
- Don't smoke. Smoking ages your ovaries and
- your eggs and is linked to lower fertility
- Cut down on alcohol. Heavy drinking is linked to lower fertility
- Keep caffeine intake below 200 mg a day
- Stay active. Being moderately active has been shown to help with fertility
- Stay away from illicit drugs
- Be a healthy weight
All about fertility tests
If you and your partner have been trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant, you will both be offered fertility tests.
Tests for men
Men should be offered a semen test to measure the quantity and quality of their sperm.
Tests for women
Fertility tests for women may include: blood tests to check your hormone levels
tests (including blood tests) to see how well your ovaries may respond to fertility drugs
an examination to see whether your fallopian tubes are blocked
What are fertility treatments?
Although it is strictly accurate to say that couples can have problems with their fertility, or that they are experiencing infertility, and that fertility clinics provide infertility treatments, the terms are commonly used interchangeably. So, you will find some internet sites that describe fertility clinics while others refer to infertility clinics. Similarly, fertility treatment and infertility treatment are used to mean the same thing.