Dr. Amy Schutt, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology, and Dr. Larry Lipschultz, professor of urology, at Baylor College of Medicine discuss infertility from both male and female perspectives.

Becoming a parent is something many people hope for but for some, getting pregnant is harder than imagined, especially when compared to what is often depicted on TV and in the media. An expert at Baylor College of Medicine wants couples to know about the realities of infertility and treatment options to improve their chances of becoming a parent.

Infertility is defined as being unable to conceive after trying to become pregnant for at least 12 months. “For couples trying to conceive, infertility is discouraging and stressful and may take a toll on relationships,” said Dr. Terri Woodard, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Baylor. “It’s important for men and women who suspect there might be a problem to see a fertility specialist sooner than 12 months of trying to conceive. For women who are older than 35, we suggest they come in to see us sooner rather than later, because as women get older it becomes more difficult for them to become pregnant.” 

Unlike what many of us see on TV, becoming pregnant at any age is not always easy. The most fertile years for women are in their 20s and fertility typically declines more rapidly in their mid to late 30s, Woodard said.

“I caution people to be more aware of what we see in the media because we see individuals who are having babies in their 40s or 50s, but we don’t really know how they are doing that. They may not be using their own eggs, or they might have frozen their eggs at a younger age are using in vitro fertilization. The media hasn’t always done  a good job of portraying the reality or biology behind infertility,” she said. 

For women, some contributing factors to infertility can be hormonal disorders that cause anovulation such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), diminished ovarian reserve, where women’s ovaries have fewer eggs than expected for their age, damaged or blocked Fallopian tubes, uterine fibroids and polyps and thyroid disease.

Although little can be done to prevent women from developing some fertility issues such as PCOS or thyroid disease, Woodard said making healthy choices can potentially help women become pregnant. “Leading a healthy life, eating right and exercising regularly is good for women. When women start to try to conceive it is important they optimize their current health status and make sure they are not on any type of medication that can interfere with pregnancy or cause birth defects.  They should also take a prenatal vitamin to make sure they are getting enough folic acid.” 

According to Woodard, couples have many different options when trying to become pregnant.

“It begins with education. Many people don’t understand the menstrual cycle and don’t know the optimal time to conceive. So for some couples, it’s about knowing the best time of the month to have intercourse,” she said. 

Other opportunities for couples could be treatments like ovulation induction, intrauterine inseminations, in vitro fertilization (IVF) or even third-party reproduction such as using donor sperm, donor eggs or donor embryos.  Women who are unable to carry a pregnancy can also consider using a gestational carrier—a woman who agrees to carry a pregnancy for them. 

“These days, there are a lot of options for people who are experience infertility. Sometimes you have to build your family in ways you didn’t necessarily intend to, but you can create a family,” Woodard said.