Do Irregular Periods Cause Infertility?

by Gina M. Florio

Consider the primary health concerns that occupy the minds of women today and there's no doubt our menstrual cycles and fertility are up there. The Huffington Post recently surveyed a group of women in their twenties, asking what they worried about most in terms of physical wellbeing, and the majority of them admitted to being preoccupied with their ability to get pregnant. This fear isn't completely unwarranted; 11 percent of women today will face difficulties getting pregnant, according to the Center For Disease Control and Prevention.

There have always been whispers about how irregular periods affect our ability to conceive, and it is certainly something worth thinking about if you want to become a mother one day. Thirty to 40 percent of infertility cases are connected to abnormal menstruation and ovulation. If you're concerned with how your period affects your likelihood of making a baby, the first step is talk to your doctor. Because no matter what you read here or anywhere else online, there is no research that has looked at your body individually to determine what your own chances are.

In the meantime, here are the facts you need to know about the connection between irregular periods and the likelihood of getting pregnant.

1. How Do I Know If I Have Irregular Periods?

Before we can chat about chances of getting pregnant, we've got to tackle what it means to have abnormal menstrual cycles. You already know that women generally get their periods every 28 days, but anything between 28-35 days is still considered healthy, as long as you're not experiencing any severe pain or discomfort. If you're dealing with a cycle that regularly falls outside of this window, you might want to consider doing some research on what the cause is and how you can remedy it. Additionally, if you struggle with irregular or heavy bleeding for more than a week straight, schedule a visit with your doctor.

There are numerous different explanations as to why women don't see consistent patterns in their menstrual cycles, including but not limited to chronic stress, physiological issues, and the medication or birth control you're currently taking. However, irregularity doesn't always mean something is wrong. Ask yourself how you feel. Are you constantly run down? Wrestling with mind-numbing cramps? The body is pretty good at sending a message if it needs to be looked at by a professional.

2. How Do Irregular Periods Relate To Ovulating?

Simply paying attention to the days you menstruate won't give you enough of an idea of pregnancy rates. It's more beneficial to see the relationship between your period and ovulation; the problem, though, is that irregular cycles make that correlation difficult to understand. Half the battle is being sure of when the days of ovulation are approaching, making it tough to identify the prime baby-making time. If you are one of the women who tend to have longer menstrual cycles — more than 35 days — there is a chance your window of ovulation is smaller, and your likelihood to ovulate regularly is reduced.

That being said, just because you don't possess a normal pattern doesn't automatically mean that you're not ovulating. It just makes it a bit harder to identify when that stage of your body arrives. If, for some reason, you don't think you are ovulating at all, that could be a different problem entirely. You may have to look into methods that stimulate ovulation — and there are certainly intervention programs out there that can be recommended to you by your doctor, which we'll talk about in more detail below.

3. Do Irregular Periods Mean I'm Less Likely To Get Pregnant?

Technically, yes; statistically, women who don't menstruate on a consistent schedule have more trouble conceiving, but that doesn't mean it's impossible. Put simply enough, if you are ovulating, you can get pregnant. The challenge for women who fall under this category is that they don't know if or when they are ovulating because there is no reliable cycle to base it on. They have to pay close attention to their bodies, monitoring their internal temperature and recording their cervical discharge, in order to get a sense of when the ovulating days arrive.

Dr. Carolyn Alexander of the Southern California Reproductive Center told the Huffington Post that we have to pay more attention to the little things when we're dreaming of bringing a baby into the world, no matter how insignificant they may initially seem. Factors like how much sleep we're getting, where our food comes from, and how much stress we're under can all be relevant in the process of trying to get pregnant.

4. Could Irregular Periods Point To More Serious Infertility Issues?

You shouldn't immediately jump to this conclusion, but it is worth asking a professional about if you are struggling to get pregnant and have inconsistent periods. One out of every 10 women suffer from PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome), a hormonal disorder that enlarges the ovaries and produces cysts, which mess with the menstrual cycle, causing irregular bleeding and ovulating. Not surprisingly, this disorder makes can make it more difficult to conceive, though by no means does it make it impossible.

The condition endometriosis is also a potential disease that is causing these afflictions. The tissue that normally grows inside the uterus ends up growing on the outside, paving the way for intense pelvic pain during periods and infertility. Ten percent of women suffer from it, and Dr. Alexander recommends taking a low-dose birth control pill to help with endometriosis as well as get on a regular menstrual cycle. Obviously, this doesn't help when it comes to getting pregnant, when you and your doctor will have to plan a course of action.

5. Are There Treatments For Irregular Periods?

There are natural remedies that help address irregular periods. Other than the basicsno smoking, healthy diet, moderate exercise — some doctors will recommend plant proteins for regulating periods. These include hummus, dark chocolate (no complaints there), and boiled eggs. Acupuncture and meditation, when done regularly, also help the body relax and prepare for menstruation and ovulation.

Of course, the pill might be used to regulate your cycle in the immediate, but isn't useful once you're trying to get pregnant. Luckily, there are plenty of fertility drugs out there that can assist women get pregnant should the above methods fail to work. Clomid and Serophene are two of the more popular ones, and they work by inducing ovulation, resulting in multiple gestation (twins or more) in 10 percent of women. However, always be wary of what kind of treatment you're jumping into; do your research and speak to multiple doctors about which is best for your body.

Images: Meagan/Flickr; Giphy (5)