What you need to know about secondary infertility

Have you been trying for a second child but struggling to conceive? You’re not alone.

Increasing numbers of women are experiencing the heartbreak of secondary infertility.

But what is secondary infertility and what causes it?

What is secondary infertility?

“Secondary infertility is when a woman has been pregnant before but it’s not happening the second time around,” says Melbourne IVF medical director Dr Lyndon Hale.

“She might have been pregnant and had a termination, had a miscarriage, lost a baby or already had a baby.”

Monash University School of Public Health and Preventative Medicine senior research fellow Karin Hammarberg says secondary infertility can happen whether it’s a second, third or later pregnancy.

Dr Hale says secondary infertility can come as a shock to parents if they had no trouble conceiving previously.

What causes secondary infertility?

“The most likely reason why you might be struggling to have a second child is because age has reduced your chances,” says Dr Hammarberg.

“When you’re older you’re less likely to conceive and, if you conceive, you are more likely to miscarry.”

But age isn’t the only reason a woman might be having difficulties becoming pregnant a second time.

“Something may have happened during your last pregnancy that is impacting your chances,” Dr Hale says.

“You may have developed an infection post-delivery or there may have been something that happened during the pregnancy itself – such as the womb or the cervix getting damaged – that is causing issues.

Are secondary infertility rates rising?

Though there are no official figures, Dr Hammarberg believes secondary infertility is on the rise.

“Generally speaking, women are having first babies later in life,” she says.

Dr Hale says that means that many women are older again when they start trying for their second baby.

“Fertility starts to drop after age 35 and that drop accelerates after age 40 – and that’s assuming you don’t have any pre-existing issues,” says Dr Hale, who is also director of reproductive surgery at The Women’s Hospital.

“So, if you’re waiting until your mid-to-late 30s to have your first child, by the time you start trying for your second, you might have crossed that line.”

When should you seek help if you’re struggling to conceive a second time?

Dr Hammarberg says when it comes to pregnancy, the advice is the same for anyone.

“If you are under 36 years of age, 12 months is a perfectly normal time for conception to happen,” she says.

“But once you are in your late 30s time is of the essence. If you are over 36, it’s wise to consult a fertility specialist if you’ve tried for six months without success.”

If you have a family history of repeated miscarriages or issues, Dr Hale says to seek advice earlier.

“Seeing a fertility specialist doesn’t mean they are going to tell you what to do,” he says.

“They are going to give you the facts so that you can make the best decisions for you.”

Written by Tianna Nadalin.