Explainer: What is secondary infertility and how can you and your partner overcome it?

Planning for parenthood 2.0 (or 3.0, or beyond) is filled with hope, expectation and dreams of rounding off your family nicely.

Thoughts of newborn smells, first smiles and siblings bonding float through your mind and quickly fill you with enthusiasm and butterflies of hopeful expectation.

But the sad reality is that for many couples, falling pregnant the second or third time around isn’t always a walk in the park, even if they did conceive quickly the first time around.

In the medical world, we call this condition secondary infertility and we estimate that around 15-20 per cent of Australian couples are affected (based on anecdotal reports by fertility experts of couples seeking help). We see it occurring more frequently in women who are older, but it does occasionally happen to younger women, too.

No matter what your age, or how many children you already have, if you dream of expanding your family and it’s not happening for you, it can naturally lead to stress, frustration, anxiety and depression.

None of this is ideal, so medically, we do our best to look at the possible causes and address them naturally and holistically.

Can you treat secondary infertility?

Firstly, seek medical advice.

All forms of infertility are upsetting. If you are having trouble conceiving another child after 12 months of trying, I suggest you seek consultation with a medical fertility specialist (make that six months if you or your partner are over the age of 35).

The specialist can test for any potential physical causes, which might include impaired sperm production and function in men and fallopian tube damage, ovulation disorders, endometriosis and uterine conditions in women.

Couples can also incorporate an array of lifestyle tweaks that will enhance reproductive health, boost fertility fitness and improve their chances of becoming parents.

We unpacked the facts and figures on infertility below. Post continues after video.

Video by MWN

How to increase your chances of conceiving

1. Start trying at a younger age

Women have a finite number of eggs and with each passing year, this number declines. The depletion is accelerated after the age of 35 until menopause, when the pool of eggs (also known as the ‘ovarian store’) is exhausted.

Obviously, this means that if you’re a bit older, you may experience some challenges falling pregnant naturally. However, there are ways to improve your chances.

Firstly, I’d suggest getting to know your menstrual cycle and keeping a track of when you’re ovulating. There are four ways you can do this, which I outline in point five below.

On top of this, you can improve your health as well as your chances of conceiving by maintaining a healthy body weight, getting plenty of quality sleep, eating a healthy diet that’s high in antioxidants, quitting smoking, reducing alcohol and drug intake and enjoying regular exercise.

Contrary to popular belief, the age of the father also matters. Statistics indicate that if a man is under 25 and all is well with the female, then it should on average take four and a half months for the couple to fall pregnant. This time frame jumps to almost two years if he’s over 40. If he’s over 45, it can be up to five times that of a healthy 25 year old.

This is where men get lucky though. New sperm are produced all the time and just by switching to a healthier lifestyle, they can rejuvenate their sperm and better the chances of it reaching an egg and fertilising it.

As with women, I suggest that all men trying to become dads quit smoking (this includes marijuana as well as tobacco), cut down on alcohol, exercise more and eat a diet high in antioxidants. We know for a fact that these all help improve sperm health, the latter in particular.

2. Get quality sleep

Fatigued mums and dads are less likely to have the urge for sex, and even if they do have the desire, it’s likely that a toddler is curled up in the bed with them, so all plans fly out the window. Tired couples are also less likely to be diligent about finding their fertility window.

Solution? Schedule in sleep when your toddler is napping, make strict bed time rules for your toddler and only let them in the bed at certain hours (say, in the morning), and invest in fertility tools that can accurately predict when you’re most likely to conceive.

3. Watch your weight

If either partner is overweight, the chances of conceiving are reduced.


Research shows it is much harder to conceive when either the man or woman has a BMI greater than 25, and significantly more so when greater than 30.

If you’re having trouble shifting extra kilos, search the App store for free health and nutrition apps, exercise apps that have programs that will easily fit into your schedule and weight management apps. There are myriad options available, many of which are either free or cost just a few dollars.

4. Manage medication

Some prescription medications may affect your chances of natural conception.

Check with your GP if you are taking any prescription medications while trying for a baby, to ensure that they don’t interfere with the process of conception and indeed a healthy pregnancy.

Mamamia Out Loud had an honest conversation about fertility and age below. Post continues after audio.

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5. Track your cycle

Don’t just leave it to luck. Woman who track their menstrual cycle are more aware of when they are ovulating and therefore have improved chances of conceiving. How to do this?

Firstly, monitor your basal body temperature using a digital high-speed thermometer. Women with a regular menstrual cycle will notice a small drop in temperature – about 0.2 degrees Celsius, when they are ovulating. This is a perfect time to start baby making!

Next, you can test for Luteinising Hormone (LH) using a simple urine test. Ovulation is triggered by the production and release of LH from the brains’ pituitary gland.

It’s also a great idea to monitor your cervical secretions each time you go to the bathroom. Changes in cervical secretions can be an indicator as to when you’re most fertile. When oestrogen levels are low, mucus secretion will be minimal. When they are high (when you are fertile), it will appear creamy and slightly wet, but when you’re at you’re most fertile, it will be clear in appearance, thin, slippery and stretchy.

Keep a look out for other signs of fertility, too. These include one-sided lower pelvic pain (on either side of the pelvis), which is a sign of ovulation, a heightened libido, an amplified sense of smell and taste and in some women, enlarged, tender breasts, fluid retention, acne and bloating.

6. Ditch illicit drugs

Taking any kind of illicit drug isn’t just bad for your health in general – it’s detrimental to the reproductive health of both males and females. It can also impair the sex drive of both parties in the couple and for men, can lead to impotency.


7. Stop smoking

There are myriad reasons to stop this bad habit, but top of the list in this case would have to be that it negatively affects the quality, health and ability of your reproductive organs – for guys and girls.

It hinders sperm in reaching its destination by a process called oxidative stress and it causes the health of the egg to be less than ideal.

This basically means it’s damaging both the sperm and egg’s abilities to function optimally and do the job that nature intended. If you’re having trouble quitting, call the Quit Line on 13 78 48.

8. Cut down on alcohol

Excess consumption of alcohol has a negative effect on the health of both the egg and the sperm, therefore will lower chances of conception when trying for a baby. Both the man and the woman in the couple should limit consumption to two standard drinks a day.

9. Eat a healthy diet

A well-balanced diet provides the body with all the essential vitamins and minerals it needs to facilitate conception.

Both partners should be sure to eat lean protein with each meal, lots of nutritious whole foods and load up on antioxidant-dense vegetables and fruits. Likewise, they should ditch processed, sugary food and drinks and anything chemical-laden. Try to eat organically, where possible.

10. Get moving

If you don’t get regular exercise, your health will suffer (including reproductive health).

Conversely, when you do exercise – even just a brisk walk three times a week, your general wellbeing improves. It’s easier maintaining a healthy weight, you’ll reduce stress and perhaps improve your sex drive, especially as you see your body improving physically and you look and feel better when you’re naked.

11. Start supplements

Ideally women who are thinking about having a baby or actively trying to conceive should start taking a 500mcg supplement of folic acid daily, at least month prior to conception.

Folic acid is a B group vitamin and is essential for neural tube development during the first 12 weeks of foetal growth.

For the males in the couple, I always suggest they increase their intake of antioxidants and selenium, zinc and garlic, as these support male fertility and sperm health.

For more information on improving your chances of fertility, visit