Secondary Infertility: Coping, Tips for Managing, and Treatment

A man and a woman look at a pregnancy test. The test is likely negative, as the man has his arm around the woman, and they both look sad.

Most people believe that if they successfully have one child, they can quickly and easily conceive another baby. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Secondary infertility is the inability to conceive or carry a pregnancy to term after previously having at least one successful pregnancy. 

Needless to say, it can be a distressing experience for hopeful parents who have been trying to conceive again without success.  

It’s important to note that while infertility affects approximately 12-15% of couples in the U.S., secondary infertility is not uncommon. In fact, secondary infertility is estimated to affect around 10-15% of couples who have previously had a successful pregnancy.

While secondary infertility can be heartbreaking and frustrating, to say the least, we’ve got everything you need to know about this topic, including understanding each partner’s role in secondary infertility, as well as treatment options to help you move forward in your fertility journey!

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Why Is Secondary Infertility Happening to Us? 

There are several reasons why a couple may experience secondary infertility, including: 

●      Age-related decline in fertility

●      Changes in reproductive health

●      Medical conditions that affect fertility

●      And lifestyle factors 

If you and your partner have been unsuccessfully trying to conceive for six months to a year and have had a baby before without treatment, you may have secondary infertility. At this point, it’s a good idea to schedule a health appointment with a fertility specialist.

Understanding the Female Partner’s Role in Fertility

On the female side, secondary infertility may be caused by a variety of contributing factors. The main causes include:

●    Ovulatory disorders,

●     Endometriosis,

●     Pelvic inflammatory disease,

●     Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS),

●     Uterine fibroids, and other causes.

Factors like lifestyle, weight gain, and age can additionally contribute to secondary infertility in both partners.

Understanding the Male Partner’s Role in Fertility

Male factor infertility is estimated to be the sole cause or a contributing factor in 33-66% of infertility cases. There are several factors that can present as male infertility, including decreased sperm count, poor sperm motility, and abnormal sperm morphology. All of these factors contribute to sperm health.

A variety of potential causes can lead to male infertility, including lifestyle factors such as obesity, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, drug use, and exposure to certain chemicals or toxins. 

Some medications can also impact sperm production, so remember, be sure to share a list of all your medications with your reproductive specialist. Certain medical conditions such as varicocele, infections, and hormonal imbalances can also impact male fertility.

Evaluating the Male Partner for Secondary Infertility Issues

The male partner can play a significant role in cases of secondary infertility. While female factors are often the first to be evaluated, it’s important to remember that male infertility can also contribute to difficulties in conceiving or carrying a pregnancy to term. 

If a couple is experiencing secondary infertility, it’s important for both partners to be evaluated for potential fertility issues.

Male partners may be asked to undergo a semen analysis to assess sperm count, motility, and morphology. Treatment options for male factor infertility may include:

  •  lifestyle changes, 
  • medication, 
  • surgery, 
  • or assisted reproductive technologies such as intrauterine insemination (IUI) or in vitro fertilization (IVF).

Overall, the male partner’s role in secondary infertility cannot be overlooked, and it’s important for both partners to receive a thorough evaluation and treatment plan from a reproductive specialist.

Assessing Secondary Infertility

To properly diagnose secondary infertility, both partners should seek out fertility assessments from qualified medical professionals.

As noted, a semen analysis is the best first step for men to look for potential problems that could affect the ability to conceive again. If your analysis comes back as “abnormal,” your provider may order additional fertility assessments like blood tests to detect hormone imbalances. 

In some cases, a scrotal ultrasound may be required to check for structural abnormalities (e.g., enlarged veins, blockages in the tubes that carry the sperm, etc).

The female partner may be assessed using similar evaluations, like an ultrasound or hysterosalpingography (HSG). An HSG is an innovative assessment that uses X-rays to view the inside of the uterus and fallopian tubes. 

The assessment uses dyes to check for any blockages in the fallopian tubes, assess the shape of the users, and investigate any other issues.

Seeing a doctor sooner rather than later can help identify any possible issues preventing conception in both partners and ensure you receive the appropriate care and treatment needed to grow your family. With the right diagnosis and treatment plan, many couples can achieve their dream of having a family despite secondary infertility struggles!

Treatment Options for Secondary Infertility

It’s important to remember that each case of infertility is different and the appropriate treatments will vary depending on what’s causing the secondary infertility. 

In some cases, your fertility status may improve naturally without any treatments, thanks to lifestyle changes or other factors. If treatment is needed, fertility medications are often the first form of treatment for females and males experiencing secondary infertility.

And if medications can’t help, certain therapies like hormone replacement therapy may improve your fertility status. If not, surgery may be the next best option. In females, secondary infertility may be treated through surgical procedures that remove scar tissues, endometrial growths, fibroids, or uterine polyps.

In males experiencing secondary infertility, surgeries may be used to repair blockages in the sperm transportation tubes, repair enlarged veins, or reverse a vasectomy.

If these treatment strategies are not applicable, couples may consider conceiving via assisted reproductive technology (ART). For instance, couples may consider:

When to See a Doctor for Secondary Infertility 

If you or your partner have had biological children before and have been unable to conceive after trying for 6-12 months, it’s time to contact a medical professional to understand your options.

If you and your partner are struggling with secondary infertility, it’s important to seek the advice of both a reproductive urologist (male fertility specialist) and a reproductive endocrinologist (female fertility specialist) who can help diagnose and treat the underlying causes and develop a personalized treatment plan for you. 

Secondary infertility can be a challenging and emotional experience for couples who are trying to expand their family. However, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone. Don’t be afraid to seek out support from loved ones, medical professionals, and infertility support groups.

With patience, perseverance, and the right resources, you can overcome secondary infertility and create the family you’ve dreamed about!

What questions do you have about secondary infertility? Leave us a comment below!