Photo Credit: by Drew Hays, Unsplash.com
Did you know there’s a fertility crisis? If you are currently in your childbearing years or anywhere near them, you may have heard the news that more people than ever are struggling to conceive.
There are a number of reasons for this, and it’s not the same as the social issue that fewer couples are choosing to have children. In this article, we’re taking a look at those who do desire to have children but are unable to conceive or carry a pregnancy to full term.
Read on for everything you need to know about the fertility crisis, what’s causing so many infertility issues, why procreation is costing so much, and tips for boosting fertility, even in women who are reaching the tail end of their childbearing years.
The fertility crisis and its effect on the world
Fertility is on the decline around the world. Did you know that in the 1950s, the average family around the world had five children? These days, they have less than three on average. Fertility rates have dropped drastically around the world, not only because people are choosing to have fewer children but also because they are facing increasing obstacles to having children.
The World Economic Forum reports, “For the last 70 years, fertility rates have decreased worldwide, with a total 50% decline. Reasons include women’s empowerment in education and the workforce, lower child mortality, and the increased cost of raising children. Lower fertility rates, coupled with increased life expectancies around the world, are creating an aging population, which puts pressure on healthcare systems globally.”
And the World Health Organization puts it this way: “Large numbers of people are affected by infertility in their lifetime … Around 17.5% of the adult population – roughly 1 in 6 worldwide – experience infertility, showing the urgent need to increase access to affordable, high-quality fertility care for those in need.”
What effect does this have on society as a whole? The World Economic Forum explains, “Lower fertility rates, coupled with increased life expectancies around the world, are creating an aging population. Since 1950, the global median age has grown from 25 years to 33 years. An older population comes with a number of economic risks, including rising healthcare costs and a smaller global workforce… A smaller working population puts more pressure on those who are working to support those who are collecting pensions. This could ultimately lead to an economic slowdown if countries don’t prepare and alter their pension systems accordingly, to account for our aging population.”
It might seem like fertility only affects individual families, but the reality is that fertility rates affect the whole world! Even if you do not want children and choose never to have kids, you need to be thinking about the fertility crisis because it has a direct impact on you, too.
What factors affect female fertility rates?
For women, fertility is finite. A woman’s fertility occurs only during her menstrual years, while a male can conceivably get a woman pregnant from puberty until his deathbed. A woman’s fertility is affected by many factors, not the least of which is her ovarian reserve, or the number of viable eggs she has remaining.
The main factors that affect female fertility are age, genetics, imbalanced hormone levels, anatomical or gynecological issues, certain medical treatments or diseases, and lifestyle. For example, cigarette smoking is extremely detrimental to female fertility, as is being significantly overweight or underweight and not having a regular, healthy sleep cycle.
Hormonal birth control has also been linked to women with difficulty getting pregnant. If you’re on the pill, you should give your body a break to reset before trying to get pregnant.
The Mayo Clinic defines infertility for us by saying, “Infertility is defined as trying to get pregnant with frequent, unprotected sex for at least a year with no success. Infertility results from female factors about one-third of the time and both female and male factors about one-third of the time. The cause is either unknown or a combination of male and female factors in the remaining cases.”
Infertility can be difficult to diagnose, but there are many treatments available, depending on what is causing the infertility (if and when it is known). The good news is that many infertile couples will go on to conceive a child without having to endure fertility treatment.
How do you know if you’re infertile as a woman? The main symptom is not getting pregnant or being unable to get pregnant when trying. One major cause of not getting pregnant successfully may be that you are not ovulating, which is the basic prerequisite for getting pregnant. Taking ovulation tests during the proper point in your cycle can help you confirm that you are ovulating (or not), but signs of not ovulating can be irregular or absent periods, or menstrual cycles that are very long or very short.
The Mayo Clinic also recommends when to seek help with getting pregnant, which can be determined by not only your health history but also your age group:
* “Up to age 35, most doctors recommend trying to get pregnant for at least a year before testing or treatment.
* If you’re between 35 and 40, discuss your concerns with your doctor after six months of trying.
* If you're older than 40, your doctor might suggest testing or treatment right away.
Your doctor might also want to begin testing or treatment right away if you or your partner has known fertility problems, or if you have a history of irregular or painful periods, pelvic inflammatory disease, repeated miscarriages, cancer treatment, or endometriosis.”
While it may seem like babies are everywhere, the reality is that getting pregnant is not quite as easy as it seems! Many factors contribute to fertility problems or fertility success. But it’s not only women who need to be thinking about this.
How males affect fertility rates
Keep in mind that the fertility crisis applies not only to women, but to men too. As you surely know, it takes two to tango. When a couple cannot conceive, the infertility may be on behalf of the woman, the man, or both.
In fact, according to The Guardian, “Global figures suggest sperm concentration has halved in 40 years – and the rate of decline is accelerating.” The article continues, “Humans could face a reproductive crisis if action is not taken to tackle a drop in sperm count, researchers have warned after finding the rate of decline is accelerating.”
A recent report links male infertility to pollution. The BBC reports, “Male infertility contributes to approximately half of all cases of infertility and affects 7% of the male population. However, it is much less discussed than female infertility, partly due to the social and cultural taboos surrounding it. For the majority of men with fertility problems, the cause remains unexplained – and stigma means many are suffering in silence. … Factors including pollution have been shown to affect men’s fertility, and specifically, sperm quality – with potentially huge consequences for individuals, and entire societies.”
But that’s not all. Part of the problem is a male’s ability to get and maintain an erection… or not. The BBC also states, “At the same time, there may also be a decline in a different kind of fertility, known as fecundity – meaning, a person's physical ability to produce offspring. In particular, research suggests that the whole spectrum of reproductive problems in men is increasing, including declining sperm counts, decreasing testosterone levels, and increasing rates of erectile dysfunction and testicular cancer.”
It’s important to look at the link between fertility and erectile dysfunction, which is a growing problem for men (no pun intended). The fact that there are so many erectile dysfunction drugs on the market today is proof. The fertility crisis is not just a female issue.
The increasing costs of having a baby
One of the big issues of the fertility crisis is that many people are choosing not to have children, or to have fewer children, due to the increasing costs associated with having kids. This is especially true of trying to conceive, if a couple is not able to come by it naturally.
Those who seek fertility treatments are in for a long, expensive journey. The WHO explains, “Despite the magnitude of the issue, solutions for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of infertility – including assisted reproductive technology such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) – remain underfunded and inaccessible to many due to high costs, social stigma and limited availability. At present, in most countries, fertility treatments are largely funded out of pocket – often resulting in devastating financial costs. People in the poorest countries spend a greater proportion of their income on fertility care compared to people in wealthier countries. High costs frequently prevent people from accessing infertility treatments or alternatively, can catapult them into poverty as a consequence of seeking care.”
And MSN puts it even more into perspective: “Whether people choose to pursue intrauterine insemination (IUI), in-vitro fertilization (IVF), surrogacy or adoption, the costs can reach six figures in many cases. Just ask Becky Fawcett, a mom from New York City who spent more on her journey to become a parent than she spent on her first house in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Her total expense? Nearly $200,000. Fawcett shared this breakdown of the costs she faced: $82,000 for five rounds of IVF resulting in three pregnancies that all ended in miscarriage. That was followed by two adoptions, one of which cost $40,000 and the other $63,000.”
The potential costs of infertility treatments are huge. Those who want to have a family will spend whatever it takes to achieve their dream, but for many, these possibilities are out of reach if they simply cannot afford them. For others, they may face devastating financial consequences in the simple, natural pursuit of creating a family.
Can you reverse infertility? Tips to boost fertility
The good news is that many couples will end up conceiving naturally, even if they have faced difficulties in getting pregnant. There are many things you can do to boost your fertility.
Some of the things to focus on if you want to boost fertility include lowering stress levels, getting your gut healthy, limiting your toxic load by reducing exposure to environmental toxins, taking prenatal vitamins and supplements, regulating your sleep cycle, exercising regularly, and leading an active lifestyle. Even acupuncture may be able to help with fertility.
Balancing your blood sugar and maintaining a healthy diet is also key. Consider an anti-inflammatory diet for its many health benefits, including the boost to fertility.
What about couples who can’t seem to get in the mood to even try to conceive? If you or your partner are struggling with a low sex drive, see a doctor and look into ways you can boost your sex life and increase desire. Ladies may want to consider the female Viagra pill.
Some couples may need to look into IVF and other fertility therapies or medications, and some people may require the assistance of fertility specialists, fertility treatments, and fertility drugs like Femara or Clomid to get pregnant. Consult with your physician or a fertility specialist to learn more about the best options for your unique situation.
What about women who are on the older end of the childbearing spectrum?
Fertility for women who are advanced in age (at least according to their ability to conceive) is even more complicated. However, women can get pregnant until they hit menopause. To optimize fertility health at 35 or even 40, women will need to be patient (it can take up to two years to successfully conceive), as well as make sure they are physically, mentally and emotionally healthy.
A visit with a health care provider to review medical history, current medications, lifestyle, and potentially taking an at-home fertility screening test is a good idea for women who are in their late 30s or 40s.
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