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Obstacles to Conception: What Is Your Body Really Telling You?

Obstacles to Conception: What Is Your Body Really Telling You?

Kindara | July 16, 2021 | trying to conceive
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When you’re trying to conceive, you’ll quickly start to learn just how many factors can potentially impact your fertility. You may not realize it at first, but your body may give you signs when something is affecting your chances of getting pregnant. Read on for some common obstacles to conception and what to do to increase your chances of getting pregnant.

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You recently stopped taking birth control: 

If you’re not menstruating at all, it may be a sign that you’re not ovulating either. This may happen when you first stop taking hormonal birth control, as it sometimes takes a few cycles for your periods to return to normal. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t get pregnant during this time, just that it may be harder to pinpoint your ovulation and plan to have sex when you’re fertile (1).

If your periods were irregular before you got on birth control, there’s a good chance they’ll be irregular again. If you still haven’t gotten your period 3 months after you got off birth control — and you’ve gotten a negative pregnancy test result — it may be time to visit a doctor and see if any underlying issues are keeping you from menstruating (2).

If you weren’t recently on hormonal birth control and you aren’t getting your period, it may be due to a condition called secondary amenorrhea. Basically, secondary amenorrhea means that you haven’t had a period in over 3 months (6 months if you’re used to having irregular periods) (3). 

This condition can be caused by a wide range of factors, including (3):

  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • Primary ovarian insufficiency
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Poor nutrition
  • Too much exercise
  • Having a BMI that’s too high or too low

Secondary amenorrhea is usually treated by working with a medical professional to diagnose and address the underlying cause (3).

You have irregular or absent ovulation:

When you’re trying to get pregnant, knowing when you ovulate can help you figure out when you’re fertile each cycle. You can only conceive during a short window each cycle: the day you ovulate and the 5 days before (4). If you’re not ovulating, it means that your body isn’t releasing any eggs. If there aren’t any eggs available for sperm to fertilize, you won’t be able to get pregnant. Addressing ovulatory infertility usually means figuring out why you’re not ovulating and working with your doctor to regulate your menstrual cycles. Some causes of irregular or absent ovulation include:

  • Hypothyroidism: With this condition, your thyroid gland isn’t producing enough thyroid hormone. This can cause anovulation and cycle irregularities. Treatment typically involves working with your doctor to get hormone levels back to where they should be (5).
  • PCOS: One of the most common causes of female infertility, PCOS is a hormonal condition that can cause acne, weight gain, excess hair growth, cysts on the ovaries, and irregular periods. Treatment for infertility caused by PCOS depends on the specific situation and can include a wide range of lifestyle changes, medication, surgery, and assisted reproductive technologies (6).
  • Being underweight: A low BMI (anything under 18.5) may cause irregular menstrual cycles or stop ovulation completely. If you’re underweight and you’re trying to conceive, you should talk with your doctor to address any underlying causes and come up with a treatment plan to help you reach a healthy weight (7).
  • Being overweight: A BMI in the obese range (30 or higher) may also interfere with menstrual cycles and ovulation, especially if it’s caused by an underlying health condition, such as thyroid disease, insulin resistance, and diabetes. If you’re worried that your weight may be keeping you from getting pregnant, your doctor may be able to recommend lifestyle changes or medications to help you reach a healthy weight (7).
  • Endometriosis: Endometriosis is a common, though underdiagnosed, condition that causes tissue similar to the uterine lining (called the endometrium) to grow outside of the uterus. This tissue growth may affect fertility by causing blockages in the reproductive system, making it harder for sperm to reach and fertilize the egg. Common symptoms include irregular menstrual cycles, heavy periods, and severe period cramps. Treatment for infertility caused by endometriosis may include surgery to remove the endometrial growths and clear up any blockages in the reproductive tract (8).

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You’re ovulating, but you’re not getting pregnant:

If you’ve confirmed that you’re ovulating regularly by ultrasound or measuring your basal body temperature (BBT) or continuous core body temperature (CCBT), then there are a couple other reasons you may not be getting pregnant:

    • You’re not having sex during your fertile window. There are only 6 days each cycle that you can get pregnant — the day you ovulate and the 5 days before (4). Mistimed sex could lead to a lack of conception in perfectly healthy couples. Use your fertility signs to figure out when you ovulate, then have sex when you’re most likely to conceive. 
    • You have a short luteal phase. The luteal phase of your menstrual cycle is the time between ovulation and the start of your next period. A short luteal phase (less than 12 days) may indicate a condition called luteal phase defect (LPD). LPD is associated with low progesterone levels and disrupted growth in the uterine lining that may make it more difficult to conceive. Treatment typically involves hormone supplements or fertility medications (9).
You don’t have fertile cervical mucus:

Cervical mucus (CM) is a natural fluid made by your cervix that helps keep sperm safe in your reproductive tract as they travel towards the egg. As you get closer to ovulation, your CM gets more watery and slippery. After ovulation, CM becomes more sticky and eventually dries out as you approach your period (10). If you’re ovulating, but you have little or no cervical mucus, it may be due to (11, 12):

  • Dehydration
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Stress
  • Hormonal conditions or imbalances
  • Some prescription medications, such as Clomid
  • Vaginal infections

Problems with CM don’t usually have a significant effect on fertility, unless you have chronic cervical infections or have had treatment for precancerous cells that made your cervix more narrow (12). However, a lack of fertile CM or the presence of hostile (thick and sticky) CM around ovulation may make it more difficult for sperm to travel to the fallopian tube to fertilize the egg (11). If you’re concerned about your lack of fertile CM, you can work with your doctor to determine the underlying issue and decide how to treat it.

As you can see, there are many factors that can make it harder to conceive. If you pay close attention to your body’s signs, you may have an easier time pinpointing any conditions that are keeping you from getting pregnant. If you think you may be affected by any of the issues in this post, don’t be shy about asking your doctor for more information.

About the author:

Catherine Poslusny is a writer and content marketing strategist based out of Norman, Oklahoma. She's written for healthcare companies since 2016, and she's most passionate about her work in women’s health, fertility, and reproductive rights. You can find her at catherinerosewrites.com.

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