More and more lately, women are coming forward to talk about their heartbreaking struggle with infertility. Celebs like Chrissy Teigen and Giuliana Rancic have been very upfront with their battles to conceive, and have opened up an important conversation that has helped alleviate the stigma surrounding infertility.
But less has been said about secondary infertility — when a couple has trouble conceiving after getting pregnant in the past without any problems. That’s why we appreciated when actress Molly Sims talked about her problems with secondary infertility. In a 2016 YouTube video, she talked about how she faced some “dark moments” and how much she dreaded calls from her fertility specialist because for so long the news on the other end wasn’t good.
Happily, Sims was able to get pregnant again, and is now raising three kids. But secondary infertility remains, for many women, a gut-wrenching problem that’s actually more common than you might imagine. SheKnows reached out to Dr. Erika Munch, a fertility specialist at Texas Fertility Center, and Dr. Rinku Mehta of the Frisco Institute for Reproductive Medicine in Texas to find out everything you need to know about trying for baby No. 2 (or 3!) and when to seek treatment if things aren’t happening on their own.
1. Secondary infertility is not uncommon
“Secondary infertility is at least as common as primary infertility,” say Munch. It affects approximately 1 in every 8 couples who are trying to have a baby.
2. Whether or not you have secondary infertility depends on your age and how long you’ve been trying to conceive
Technically, secondary infertility is when a couple who has become pregnant and given birth in the past without difficulty is unable to conceive and deliver thereafter. But how long before secondary infertility is considered depends on your age. If you’re under 35, this means you’ve tried getting pregnant for 12 months without success. If you’re 35 or older, it’s 6 months.
And when it comes to infertility, history may repeat itself. “If you had trouble conceiving your first child or needed infertility treatment to achieve a pregnancy in the past, it’s possible that you’ll need treatment again,” says Munch.
3. When you should see a doctor depends on your age and medical history
If you have a known fertility issue, then doctors recommend heading in as soon as you’re ready to start trying for another pregnancy. If you’re under 35, it’s recommended that you consult with your doctor after a full year of unprotected sex with no pregnancy. If you’re over 35, you only have to try for six months before making the call for an appointment.
4. There are things you and your partner can do to try to prevent secondary infertility issues
Biological issues like irregular ovulation or problems with sperm function or development may always have an impact on your fertility. But if you and your partner have no known problems that could prevent you from conceiving, Mehta suggests looking at your lifestyle. “Maintaining a normal body weight, regular exercise and healthy well balanced diet are all recommended for couples trying to conceive. And poor lifestyle factors such as obesity, smoking, excessive alcohol or drug use can contribute to infertility.”
She also points out that when it comes to avoiding secondary infertility, the clock is ticking. “Age of the woman is the single most predictive factor regarding fertility. I would advise women to not wait too long between trying to have children if they were already over age 35 when they conceived the first time.”
5. There are lots of treatment options for secondary infertility
If you find yourself unable to get pregnant on your own, don’t panic. Just like when a couple has trouble getting pregnant the first time around, there are a ton of treatment options. In fact, the ways primary and secondary infertility are treated are very similar, and your doctor can help tailor a plan that’s best for your exact issues. Options include medications to help regulate ovulation, inseminations to help in situations in which poor or low sperm quality is the issue and even in vitro fertilization. Don’t worry if it sounds overwhelming. “The vast majority of couples with secondary infertility are successful in achieving another pregnancy; it’s just a matter of how much extra help is needed to get them there,” says Munch
6. Treating secondary infertility isn’t just physical
Having trouble getting pregnant can be extremely stressful for a couple, especially if conception is something that happened easily for you in the past. It’s important to be kind to yourself while coping with secondary infertility, and whether it’s talking to a close friend or doing yoga, trying to find healthy ways to relieve your stress. Mehta recommends that couples coping with secondary infertility have honest discussions about their family goals as well. “I always recommend that couples keep open communication between them and be on the same page as far their desires to pursue fertility goes.”
Originally published November 2016. Updated July 2017.