By Dr. Shaun Williams
If you are having trouble starting a family, you may feel alone, but you are not. Infertility affects 6.7 million women in the United States, which is about 11 percent of the reproductive-age population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Infertility is more prevalent than most people realize, and that is only the beginning of misconceptions that surround this disease.
Below are some of the leading topics that my patients ask me about.
Myth: Infertility is a woman’s problem
While many people assume that infertility is a woman’s issue, it actually affects men and women equally. In approximately 40 percent of infertile couples, the male partner is either the sole cause or a contributing cause of infertility, according to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM). Because of this, we evaluate both spouses through simple diagnostic tests.
It is important for couples to realize that infertility is a couples issue that is best handled together. We encourage our patients to support each other. This can include attending seminars, participating in support groups or changing eating and exercise habits together.
Myth: Infertility doesn’t affect women in their 20s
I cannot pick out infertility patients in a crowd, despite my years of experience. I have patients who are stunned with their diagnosis; they are frustrated because they take care of themselves, eat healthy, exercise and see their doctors regularly. While age can be a factor of infertility, even women in their 20s can be affected.
Anyone who has not gotten pregnant after one year of not using contraception should see a fertility specialist. For women over 35 years old, this timeframe is only six months.
Myth… and sometimes Fact: What you eat can boost fertility
There is no one single, magic food that will result in a pregnancy. However, eating habits are closely connected to hormone production. Patients with a balanced diet that includes fruits, vegetables, low-fat protein and complex carbohydrates are more likely to have predictable ovulation cycles and hormone levels.
One of the leading causes of infertility is a metabolic and hormonal condition called Polycystic Ovulation Syndrome (PCOS), which can be managed through diet and medication. PCOS affects about 10 percent of women of reproductive age. RMACT has two nutritionists on our team because nutrition can play such an important role in infertility and healthy pregnancies.
Fact, for the most part: Stress affects fertility
While there are no clinical data to absolutely prove or disprove the link between stress and infertility, there is no downside to stress management.
That said, the most frustrating advice is: “just relax.” Infertility is a disease that requires a medical treatment plan that can include yoga classes, acupuncture, mind-body training, support groups and counseling. I have seen a difference in my patients who take advantage of RMACT’s Integrated Fertility & Wellness Program.
Myth: Fertility treatment always includes IVF
Depending on the diagnosis, there are several options that I can recommend to my patients. Some are non-invasive, such as managing diabetes or using fertility drugs with timed intercourse. Others are more medically advanced, such as intrauterine insemination (IUI) and in vitro fertilization (IVF). For patients who have experienced multiple miscarriages, I may recommend a cutting-edge treatment called Comprehensive Chromosome Screening, also known as SelectCCS.
Over the past decade, there have been incredible strides in our understanding of infertility and its treatments. But that does not mean that we jump to the most medically advanced treatment first. Taking into account factors such as age and overall health, we ideally like to start with a non-invasive treatment plan and only utilize the most advanced assisted reproductive techniques when needed.
This article was written by Dr. Shaun Williams, a fertility specialist with Reproductive Medicine Associates of Connecticut (RMACT). Dr. Williams is a board certified OB/GYN and reproductive endocrinologist who sees fertility patients in Trumbull, Danbury, Stamford and Norwalk. He also leads RMACT’s FertiFamilia team, which is a Spanish-speaking team that includes a nurse, financial advisor and patient navigator. To contact Dr. Williams, please call 800-865-5431 or go to www.rmact.com; if you prefer to read in Spanish, click the Spanish flag on our website.