Recently, a number of celebrities have come forward about their struggles with secondary infertility, a subject seldom discussed openly. Many women may have never heard of this term, while others are all too familiar with the struggles associated with conceiving. By openly discussing this topic, their stories are giving encouragement to couples dealing with their own challenges in this area.

Our fertility nurse Kate Davies recently wrote an article for Thrive Global reviewing secondary infertility. 3 million women are affected – so what is it, what can you do, and where can you find support?

What is secondary infertility? 

Secondary infertility is the inability to become pregnant or carry a pregnancy to term after previously having a baby. Just as with primary infertility, the causes and treatments vary widely depending on the unique circumstances involved. 

Post-pregnancy, some women experience changes in their cycle, which can make it more difficult to figure out when they are ovulating compared to when they tried to conceive for their first pregnancy. These changes may be due to weight gain, less sleep, more stress, or post-partum hormonal changes. Complications from a first pregnancy may also be a factor in secondary infertility. 

When to see a doctor?

While women under 35 should generally try to conceive for a year before seeing their doctor, it is recommended that women over 35 try for just 6 months before consulting with their doctor. 

However, if you have already experienced fertility challenges or underwent fertility treatment with your first child, you should consult with your doctor, and possibly seek referral to a specialist to take control of the situation and optimize your time spent trying to conceive.

What can you do about it?

Depending on the medical advice you receive from your doctor and where you are in your fertility journey, there are a number of options for women struggling with secondary infertility.

Monitoring your ovulation is one of the first steps in battling infertility. Without having insight into if and when you are ovulating, it can be difficult to figure out when you should be trying to conceive. Variability in your ovulation timing is relatively common after giving birth, particularly during breastfeeding. Using an ovulation monitor such as OvuSense, which can predict when you ovulate 24 hours in advance, allows you to understand when you are ovulating in real time and when you should be trying to conceive or need further tests.

Stimulated or medicated cycles are a treatment option that can be used to increase the production of eggs, to allow a better chance of conception when timing intercourse around ovulation. Monitoring your ovulation during this time is extremely important to maximize those chances.

Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) is used to more optimally time the arrival of sperm into the fallopian tubes. During an IUI, sperm are placed directly inside a woman’s uterus to facilitate fertilization. It is a less invasive and less expensive alternative to in vitro fertilization (IVF).

IVF is often suggested after couples struggling with secondary infertility have tried other options, because of the invasive nature of the treatment and the associated costs. In the USA, only 5 states mandate the offering of IVF treatment under health insurance, so it’s very likely that couples will pay privately.

Regardless of what you decide your next step should be, taking back some control by educating yourself on the decision can help you feel more confident and take some of the stress out of trying to conceive.

Where can you find support?

It’s often difficult for people with secondary infertility to find communities dealing with similar struggles. In infertility support groups, the focus is often on those with primary infertility which makes people dealing with secondary infertility reluctant to speak up about their own challenges. 

Remember that while seldom discussed, secondary infertility is more common than you think — likely even among others you know. An increasing number of resources and honest conversation can help turn this silent struggle into a commonality no woman should feel ashamed of. 

For more information or to connect with others going through secondary infertility, you can find a support group through RESOLVE, the national infertility organization, or through online communities like Facebook and Inspire.