Infertility

Female infertility is a common problem in America affecting about 10% of women between the ages of 15 to 44.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this translates to approximately 6.1 million women who have problems getting pregnant or carrying a baby to full term.

Infertility doesn’t only affect women. Studies have shown that one-third of the time it is linked to male infertility, and one-third of the time it is linked to female infertility.  Moreover, in approximately 20% of the cases, the cause is unknown.

What is Infertility?

Infertility is defined as the inability to get pregnant after one year of trying. If a woman is 35 or older, the duration is six months. Women who get pregnant but are unable to carry a baby to full term also fit into this category.

Female Reproductive System

To better understand the issue of fertility, let’s take a moment to explore the female reproductive system that plays an important role in pregnancy:

  • Uterus – This pear-shaped organ consists of the body and the cervix and is located between the bladder and lower intestine.  During pregnancy, the growing fetus pushes the walls of the uterus apart. This allows for more space in the womb.  The uterus also provides nourishment to the fetus during pregnancy.
  • Cervix – This bottom section of the uterus allows blood to flow from the uterus into the vagina.
  • Ovaries – These organs produce eggs that eventually become fertilized after they leave the ovaries and implant in the lining of the uterus.
  • Fallopian Tubes – The eggs produced by the ovaries travel through the fallopian tubes.  These tubes are located on each side of the uterus.  The ovary is located near the end of these tubes.

The Process of Pregnancy

For pregnancy to occur, women need to ovulate.  The menstrual cycle plays an important role in ovulation.  During the start of menstruation, follicle-stimulating hormones (FSH) stimulate follicles to mature, while the eggs grow; however, only one of these eggs will become dominant.  This dominant egg will produce estrogen, which helps thicken the walls of the uterus in preparation for pregnancy.  Around the 14th day of the cycle, a surge of luteinizing hormone (LH) causes ovulation.  At this time, the egg is released into one of the fallopian tubes and is then ready for fertilization.

The fertilization window is six days long and begins five days before ovulation and ends on the day of ovulation. For fertilization to occur, male sperm must reach the egg in the fallopian tube.  Once there, the sperm can survive up to three days.  If the egg becomes fertilized, it then travels from the fallopian tube to the lining of the uterus for its 9-month incubation – known as pregnancy.

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