What to know about fertility treatments

KEY POINTS

  • There are many kinds of fertility treatment that can help women get pregnant. Talk to your health care provider to find out if one is right for you.

  • Fertility treatment can cause complications, like having premature birth and having a baby with birth defects and getting pregnant with twins or more.

  • If you need fertility treatment, there are ways to help you get pregnant with just one baby. This can help reduce the risk of pregnancy complications.

  • Things like smoking and weight can affect your fertility. Making certain changes in your life may help you get pregnant without fertility treatment.

What is fertility treatment?

Many women need special medical treatment to help them get pregnant. This kind of treatment is called fertility treatment. If you’ve been trying to get pregnant for 3 or 4 months, keep trying.

You may want to talk to your health care provider about fertility treatment if:

  • You’re younger than 35 and have been trying to get pregnant for at least a year.
  • You’re 35 or older and have been trying to get pregnant for at least 6 months.

How can you find out if you need fertility treatment?

If you think you and your partner may need fertility treatment, here’s what you can do:

  • Talk to your health care provider. You can see a prenatal care provider like an obstetrician, midwife or fertility specialist (also called a reproductive endocrinologist).
  • Tell your provider about your family health history.
  • Make changes in your life that may help you get pregnant without treatment. Smoking, being over- or underweight, drinking too much caffeine and taking certain medicines can affect fertility and make it harder for you to get pregnant.  Even using a hot tub can affect fertility in men because high temperatures affect sperm movement.   
  • Keep track of your periods to find out when you ovulate.  Use the March of Dimes ovulation calendar for help.  
  • If your provider recommends it, a semen analysis can be done for your partner.
  • Your provider may also give some tests to check your fallopian tubes or uterus.  If your tubes are blocked or if there are problems with your uterus, you may have trouble getting pregnant. You may be able to get treatment to fix these problems.

What problems can fertility treatment cause?

The most serious problem is that treatment can cause you to get pregnant with multiples because some fertility treatments may cause you to release many eggs at the same time. Being pregnant with multiples can cause serious problems for you and your baby including premature birth, low birthweight and birth defects.

The March of Dimes believes that if you’re getting fertility treatment, it’s important to try to get pregnant with just one baby. Talk to your provider about ways to help lower your chances of getting pregnant with multiples.

Other risks depending on your fertility treatment include:

  • Bleeding and infection
  • Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS).  This is a side effect of the medication and may cause pain your ovaries, bloating, nausea and in rare cases emergency treatment.

What kinds of fertility treatment are there?

There are several kinds of fertility treatment. You, your partner and your provider can decide which treatment gives you the best chance of getting pregnant and having a healthy pregnancy. Common treatments include:

  • Surgery to repair parts of your or your partner’s reproductive system. For example, some women require surgery on their fallopian tubes.
  • Controlled ovarian hyperstimulation (COH). This is when you take medicine including a pill and injections to help your body ovulate. Your provider may recommend that along with COH you also have a treatment called intrauterine insemination (also called IUI), where the provider places sperm in your uterus when you ovulate.   
  • In vitro fertilization (IVF).  With IVF, you take medication to help you ovulate. The egg and your partner’s sperm are combined in a lab to create an embryo, and this is placed in your uterus.
  • Intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). Like IVF, this combines your egg with your partner’s sperm in a lab but a single sperm is directly injected into a mature egg to create an embryo, and this placed in your uterus.

You can find out about other kinds of fertility treatments at resolve.org.

March of Dimes recommends that most women on IVF have just one embryo placed in the uterus. This is called single embryo transfer (also called SET). For women who’ve had certain health conditions, like chemotherapy to treat cancer, March of Dimes supports having two embryos placed in the uterus. This is called double embryo transfer (also called DET). If your specialist recommends IVF, ask about the number of embryos to transfer to get the best results from your treatment.