If you're wondering what your chances are of conceiving a child, there are certain signs that you may have trouble getting pregnant. For instance, your periods may be irregular or you may have endometriosis. If you're in your thirties and have no kids, your OB/GYN may start asking you if you're thinking about having a family, aka code for having children. If you're closer to 35, their questions may be more frequent — since fertility lessens with age — with the addition of asking you if you're planning on freezing your eggs or adopting one day. While there are certain signs to take notice of regarding your fertility, they are not the be all end all in determining if you'll have trouble becoming pregnant. Only you and your OB/GYN can assess what the signs may mean, and if your irregular menstrual cycles are being caused by something else entirely, such as a hormonal imbalance.
Approximately 10 percent of women (6.1 million) in the United States aged 15–44 years have difficulty getting pregnant or staying pregnant, states the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "The general definition of infertility in women is when you and your partner have had unprotected intercourse for 12 months and have not been able to get pregnant," Dr. Sherry A. Ross, women's health expert and author of She-ology. The Definitive Guide to Women's Intimate Health, tells Bustle. According to the CDC, if a woman is 35 or older, 12 months goes down to six months.
Ross says your fertility is affected by many factors, from your advanced maternal age to genetics to BMI to other physical female conditions that don't quite fit into this textbook definition of infertility. "For women with infertility, there is often an inability to produce a healthy egg — an egg may be unable to travel to the uterus or can be unexplained," Dr. Ross says.
Regarding fertility, there are some signs to watch out for that could mean you may have trouble getting pregnant. However, only you and your OB/GYN can determine the path to take next.
You've likely heard of your biological clock ticking, and that ticking symbolizes your fertility and ease with which you can get pregnant. "Fertility declines progressively with age," Dr. Ross says. "The aging of eggs is a well-known biological phenomenon and what is referred to as our 'biological clock.' As a woman gets closer to 40, the ticking becomes louder, and, by 45, it can be deafening. Fertility peaks between the ages of 20 to 24. After 35, your fertility declines quickly, especially as you get closer to 40. Over 40, a woman will have a 50 percent miscarriage rate due to poor egg quality and quantity."
Dusty Williams, M.A., Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Infertility Counseling Center of Jacksonville, agrees that age is a factor. "Every day, I sit with women who are dealing with infertility, and every day, I hear some version of, 'If I'd only known sooner that I was going to have trouble…' A woman's fertility decreases with age, so having more time equals more options and more success. Information is power! If you are worried, listen to your gut and get a simple fertility test and workup. It's never too early to get a baseline assessment of your fertility, especially if you are experiencing any symptoms that are common indicators that something might be off."
At some point, your periods may become irregular, which can contribute to you becoming infertile. When I was in high school, I was anorexic and lost my period for several months. When my doctor said I could become infertile if I didn't start eating regularly, I listened and began eating more. And that was it. Dr. Ross, too, says to watch for a history of irregular periods. "They suggest you are not ovulating each month, which would make it challenging to get pregnant on your own," she says. "You may have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) or other hormonal problems, include thyroid ones, which can make getting pregnant more difficult."
In addition, Williams suggests trying to get your period back onto a natural cycle. "If you've been on birth control for many years, you are not seeing an accurate picture of your natural cycle," she says. "It can be helpful to give your body a break every once in awhile to really see what your normal looks like."
3History Of Painful Cramps And/Or Long, Heavy Cycles
Some women have bad menstrual cramps while others have really bad ones, which can indicate endometriosis. In fact, the main symptom of the condition is pelvic pain, while other symptoms include pain during or after sex and excessive bleeding. According to the Mayo Clinic, endometriosis is first diagnosed in some women who are seeking treatment for infertility. "Endometriosis is where tissue that normally lines the uterus is found outside the uterus," Dr. Ross says. "This can lead to scarring of the fallopian tubes, which can affect the egg's ability to find the sperm, and cause infertility."
4History Of Or Recurrent STDs
You already know the importance of safe sex to prevent STIs, but also to prevent fertility issues. "Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) is a common pelvic disease caused by sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis," Dr. Ross says. "Any of these STIs can cause serious and potentially long-term reproductive problems that include chronic pelvic pain and infertility." For example, an infection and inflammation from chlamydia or gonorrhea can cause fallopian tubes to be blocked. This can lead to infertility or an ectopic pregnancy. Men, too, must be careful about STIs. Untreated ones can cause scar tissue within men's reproductive tracts, disabling semen's role in conception.
Chronic illnesses and/or diseases, such as cancer, periodontal disease, and diabetes, can increase one's risk for infertility. Their treatments can, as well, including insulin and antidepressants. Similarly, with cancer treatments, if radiation therapy was done near reproductive organs, speak to your doctor about the potential impact on your fertility.
6Signs Of Male Infertility
While some people may think infertility is based on women, think again. "Male infertility affects 40 percent of infertile couples," Dr. Ross says, "so make certain that your partner is paying extra attention to his own personal lifestyle habits. Both marijuana and Propecia have been known to affect sperm production and quality, so what your partner does socially can ultimately cause abnormal swimmers!"
Smoking cigarettes, too, can negatively impact sperm and semen quality. In April of 2016, European Urology published results of the effect of smoking on semen health. It included 20 studies and just over 5,000 men across Europe. The findings? That smoking was associated with decreased sperm count, decreased sperm mobility, and poor sperm morphology.
7Consuming Too Much Caffeine, Alcohol, And Too Many Cigarettes
As mentioned above, smoking cigarettes may contribute to males being infertile. On a similar note, both men and women are advised not to smoke or drink alcohol while trying to get pregnant, or at least reducing their consumption of tobacco and alcohol, as well as caffeine. "Limiting caffeine to one 12-ounce cup a day and quitting alcohol and smoking altogether will improve your chances of getting pregnant," Dr. Ross says.
8Stress, Depression, and Anxiety
Your mental state has a lot to do with your physical state, and it's the case as far as fertility is concerned, too. According to the Calm Clinic, anxiety has been linked to infertility and can decrease the chance of pregnancy. "It's proven that stress leads to depression and anxiety, which can affect fertility," Dr. Ross says. "In order to reduce stress, it's important to manage it. Relaxation training, mindfulness, yoga, and acupressure are successful ways to battle the negative energy and help you towards and through pregnancy."
9Working The Night Shift
Did you know that working the night shift can contribute to infertility? According to the Malpani Infertility Clinic, another name for the night shift is the "infertility shift" — not just because a lack of sleep affects the production of certain key hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone, which are linked to fertility, but also because insomnia impacts hormones, too. "Working the night shift may also affect the overall hours you sleep, which may affect ovulation," Dr. Ross says. In addition, leptin is the main link between sleep and fertility, the clinic states, since the hormone affects ovulation and must be produced to help with fertility. Hence, getting enough sleep is key.
10High Miscarriage Rates
Recurrent miscarriages may be related to infertility. According to Verywell, miscarriages occur in 10-20 percent of pregnancies. However, when a woman has two or more successive miscarriages, it's cause for concern, and just one percent of women will miscarry three times in a row. Furthermore, Miscarriage rates for women with a history of infertility tend to be higher than for fertile women, states the Advanced Fertility Center of Chicago. "Older" women have a higher risk of miscarriage, the center states, due to the increase in chromosomal abnormalities (abnormal karyotype) in their eggs.
As you can see from the above, although there are many signs that may contribute to how fertile you are, only a doctor can determine how the above are affecting your personal fertility levels.