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Hope for Infertile Couples

Infertility is a common problem. Learn more about how to get pregnant, when to get help and what options are available.

Getting pregnant may seem like a miracle, but in many cases it's mostly a matter of timing. Sex must take place at the right time for the sperm and egg to meet and make a baby. The right time is usually on the woman's few fertile days each month. The problem is that many couples don't know when those days are.

If you haven't succeeded in getting pregnant, it may help to learn more about fertility, when to get help and what options are available.

When is the "right time"? A woman is fertile around the time she ovulates, when an egg is released from the ovary. Ovulation usually occurs about halfway through a woman's cycle. But this varies. Your most fertile time is usually from about four days before you ovulate until about one day after.

Each woman and every cycle is different. So pinpointing the day when you ovulate can be very tricky. You can try any or all of these methods to help try and narrow down your fertile period:

   Chart your periods each month so you know how long your menstrual cycle is on average.
   Take your basal body temperature each morning. (You'll need a special thermometer. Your doctor can show you how to use it.) Your temperature will rise almost a degree on the day you ovulate and stay higher until your next period starts.
   Look for clear, slippery vaginal discharge, which occurs around the time of ovulation.
   Use an over-the-counter ovulation kit.

Check with your doctor about which methods would work best for you.

Planning ahead At any age, it's a good idea to see your doctor before you start trying to conceive. Your doctor can give you advice on diet and vitamins, plus medications online to avoid. Also, a physical exam can help spot any problems that might keep you from conceiving.

When trying fails Most couples conceive within a year of trying. If you haven't conceived after 10 to 12 months, see your doctor. About 1 in 6 couples has fertility problems.

If you are 35 or older or have a history of fertility problems, experts advise that you see your doctor after 6 months of trying. A woman's chances of getting pregnant decline in her thirties. You could still get pregnant but it may take longer, so see your doctor early.

Your doctor may refer you to a fertility specialist, who will try to identify the problem. In about 40 percent of cases, the problem lies with the man. In another 40 percent, the woman has fertility problems. In the last 20 percent, infertility is caused by problems in both partners or simply cannot be explained.

Many fertility treatments Depending on the cause of infertility, there are many treatment options.

   If a woman has problems ovulating, hormone pills or shots may kick-start ovulation.
   Sometimes, laparoscopic surgery (done with a few small incisions on the abdomen instead of one large one) can repair damaged fallopian tubes or look for other potential causes for infertility. This helps clear the way for fertilization.
   A man may be able to have surgery or take medications to increase his sperm count.

Before you have any of these treatments, check with your insurance company to see if they're covered.

In vitro fertilization When other treatments don't work, couples often turn to in vitro fertilization (IVF). Not too long ago, IVF was space-age medicine, but now it and similar methods are commonplace. About 1 out of every 100 babies born in the U.S. is conceived this way.

In IVF, the man's sperm is mixed with the woman's eggs in a lab. Doctors then implant the fertilized eggs back into the woman's womb so that they can grow. Often, it takes more than one IVF attempt to start a successful pregnancy.

Hormonal medications and IVF increase your chances of having twins, triplets or even more babies. While many couples might think having multiples is an added blessing, it puts the mother and babies at a high risk for problems.

IVF is expensive, but it offers many couples the chance to have a baby they wouldn't otherwise have. Infertile couples who use IVF have about a one-in-three chance of having a baby after one attempt if the woman is younger than 37. After age 37, the success rate drops significantly. Your doctor or infertility specialist can help you understand your options and chances for success.