Fertility, IVF and conception: your questions answered

Fertility and conception are sensitive topics. Trying to make sense of the information and advice out there can be confusing. We put your questions to the experts at CARE Fertility – read their answers below.

Do fertility lubricants such as Conceive Plus and Pre Seed help you to get pregnant?

We are not aware of any scientific proof that these lubricants assist conception.

How much can stress affect my chances of conceiving? I’m constantly told to ‘relax and it will happen’ but I don’t think of myself as a particularly stressed person. How do we know what is too much stress?

Unfortunately everyone deals with stress differently, so it's impossible to say what counts as 'too much' stress. We would, however, recommend you try to reduce stress levels, if only for your own well-being, and adopt a strategy to maintain a robust psychological and emotional state.

What are the lower and upper age limits for those eligible for fertility treatment?

CARE's criteria for the upper age limit for treatment is 45 with own eggs and up to 52 with donor eggs, although this depends on the individual and their treatment needs. For example, we may well recommend donor eggs for someone under 45, if investigations prove this is the best course to achieve a successful outcome. As for lower age limits, it depends on the circumstances. We freeze eggs for teenagers who are undergoing invasive medical treatments, for example. A recent case at our Northampton clinic froze the eggs for one lady when she went through premature menopause. She has just had her first baby through IVF.

I have heard of a number of cases where couples have got pregnant easily and naturally after having successful IVF treatment for their first child. Is this just a coincidence?

The male and female reproductive systems are exquisitely sensitive and can be affected by a vast range of causes. Many patients are not totally infertile but have an efficiency problem which is sometimes diagnosed and sometimes remains 'unexplained'. Their chances of conceiving are reduced but this does not mean they cannot conceive. In fact, it is often a difficult decision to keep waiting when female age is all important.

Equally, many couples conceive easily on their own for their first child, but then find it extremely difficult thereafter – we call this secondary infertility. For couples who have an 'efficiency issue' it's an unknown 'odds risk'.

Is the age your mother goes through menopause a good indicator for fertility? I've heard that taking ten years off that age should be taken as an estimated 'cut off' point for the daughter?

We're not aware of any exact way of knowing when your fertility will 'cut off'. However, if you are struggling to conceive, we would always recommend seeking help as soon as possible. If you aren't in a position right now to have a baby, it may be worth considering freezing your eggs.

Is there a cut off date for using eggs that have been frozen? And do frozen eggs have a lower success rate?

From an HFEA (Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority) perspective, eggs can be stored for ten years and then extended beyond this if the patient fulfils the criteria for “premature infertility”.

Scientifically, eggs do not deteriorate in storage due to the temperature they are maintained at, and so the same success rates would be expected regardless of how long they have been frozen.

Eggs that are frozen now, using the current technique of vitrification, have excellent success rates, with an egg survival rate of around 70% and very similar success rates to fresh eggs.

Is it true that you have a spike in fertility in your early 40s, as your body does all it can to reproduce before menopause?

We are not aware of any scientific proof of this. All evidence shows that female fertility declines significantly after the age of 39.

How long after starting trying to conceive should you wait before seeking help?

There is no simple answer to this question, as it's a very personal decision. However, if you've been having regular unprotected sex for one year, or six months if the female partner is over 35, with no success we'd suggest you look to seek help.

Can you offer any advice for the best way to offer support to someone who has had a miscarriage? I don't want to do or say the wrong thing.

Just listen and ask how you can help. You don't need to have experienced miscarriage, or say something deeply insightful, to be helpful. The Miscarriage Association is a really supportive network with lots of information, and we would certainly recommend you look at their website. If you can't find the words, you can support someone just by sitting and listening to them talk, or by a giving them a hug.

How much does both partners being overweight affect fertility? Will my husband's diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes affect his fertility?

Being overweight affects fertility from both men and women, but particularly for women. Excessive weight can result in overproduction of estrogen, which can act in the same way as the birth control pill, actually preventing pregnancy. From your husband's point of view, we would suggest a sperm test to see if there is any fertility problems, and try to maintain good glucose control.

Is there any evidence that years of hormonal contraceptive use negatively affects your fertility in the long term (i.e. even after your cycles have returned)?

Once you've stopped taking the contraceptive pill, it may take a while for your body's natural hormones to take over and for your menstrual cycle to settle. There is evidence that long term use of oral contraceptive pills without a break could reduce your ovarian reserve. But it won’t directly affect your fertility and most women who have been taking the combined oral contraceptive pill conceive within a year of stopping.

Don't see your question answered here? CARE Fertility have added all your queries to their Q&A section.