Fertility problems due to female factors

Previously I wrote about the recent decline in male fertility. Now we will look at female causes of infertility. In order to get pregnant your ovaries must ovulate (release eggs), your partner needs healthy sperm, you need to have regular sex during your fertile time, and you need clear fallopian tubes and a normal uterus (womb). When your ovary releases a mature egg it must be picked up by a fallopian tube. Sperm have to swim through your cervix and uterus and into the fallopian tube to fertilise the egg. The fertilised egg then has to travel down your fallopian tube to your uterus and implant and grow there. Many different problems can occur on this journey.

Your ovaries ovulate and produce the female hormones. They are stimulated by two hormones from your pituitary gland. An imbalance of these pituitary hormones may prevent ovulation. Obesity and stress can cause this imbalance, and you will have irregular or no periods. 

Imbalance of your ovarian hormones also affects ovulation. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is the most common cause of female infertility. It is linked to diabetes and obesity and affects ovulation, although your periods may be normal.

Thyroid problems, both overactive and underactive can stop you ovulating, and another pituitary hormone, prolactin, in excess, can cause infertility too.

If you ovulate normally we must then look further. Blocked fallopian tubes can prevent sperm reaching the egg, or prevent a fertilised egg from travelling to your uterus. Causes of fallopian tube damage may be infection, often caused by sexually transmitted diseases, or previous surgery. Pelvic surgery can damage and scar your fallopian tubes.

Endometriosis is a painful condition where small pieces of the womb lining start growing in other places such as in and around your ovaries and fallopian tubes, where they bleed monthly and cause damage and scarring.

If ovulation and your fallopian tubes are normal, there are several uterine and cervical causes of infertility. Polyps and fibroids in the uterus are quite common and can interfere with implantation of the fertilised egg. An inherited abnormally shaped uterus can also prevent implantation. A narrow or damaged cervix may prevent sperm getting through. Cervical surgery can cause scarring or shorten the cervix. 

When you are ovulating your cervical mucus becomes thinner so that sperm can swim through it more easily, but if there’s a problem with mucus, sperm may not get through.

Many medications can affect your fertility, such as ibuprofen, aspirin, drugs used to treat psychosis and fluid retention, and illegal drugs such as marijuana and cocaine.

Sometimes no cause is identified at all. Several minor causes from both partners, combined, may result in infertility.

You can improve your chances of getting pregnant naturally, or by IVF, by maintaining a normal weight, not smoking or drinking alcohol, reducing your stress, and limiting your caffeine consumption. Seek out a Seren trained reproductive reflexologist to support you on your journey as many of these causes can be greatly improved naturally.

Shirley Jackson

Clinical and Reproductive Reflexologist