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UW Medicine Reproductive Experts Share Their Fertility Tips

Whether you’re actively trying to conceive or are just thinking about expanding your family, your path to parenthood will be unique.

“There really is a spectrum,” says Ginny Ryan, MD, division chief of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. “Some couples conceive within a month or two after they start trying, and other people take much longer and may want additional treatment.”

That’s why UW Medicine is offering a new discount on fertility medications and treatments at Reproductive Care at UW Medical Center – Roosevelt exclusively for University of Washington employees and students.

To help support every individual on their family-building journey, Ryan; Judy Simon, MS, RD, CD; Emalee Danforth, CNM, MSN; Christopher Herndon, MD; and Charles Muller, PhD, bust myths and explain the need-to-knows of starting a family.

Ginny Ryan, Judy Simon, Emalee Danforth, Chris Herndon, Charles Muller
Left to right: Ginny Ryan, MD; Judy Simon, MS, RD, CD; Emalee Danforth, CNM, MSN; Christopher Herndon, MD; and Charles Muller, PhD

MYTH: Getting pregnant is easy

While most people don’t anticipate struggling with infertility, about 1 in 8 couples — around 15% — may have difficulty conceiving. And the true number may actually be much higher, Ryan says.

“That’s the general understanding, but you also have to consider people who don’t talk to their doctors about this and also people who try to conceive and don’t go into care,” she explains. “Infertility is quite prevalent and many don’t feel comfortable talking about their struggles.”

To avoid feeling isolated and alone in this situation, experts encourage all who want to start trying to conceive to have a pre-conception conversation with their primary care provider. If you’ve been trying for six months (if you’re 35 or older) to a year (if you’re younger than 35), don’t be afraid to make an appointment for a fertility evaluation.

“We get to know you and your history, take blood tests and just have a discussion about options during those initial visits,” Herndon says.

MYTH: Infertility is a woman’s problem

Cultural norms and societal stigma often leave men out of the infertility equation.

“The truth is, when you look at the diagnosis of infertility, between 40 and 50% of couples will have either a separate diagnosis of male infertility or a combined male and female infertility diagnosis,” Muller says.

That’s why it’s so important for both men and women to be evaluated when seeking fertility expertise and treatment.

“Infertility is not just a woman’s burden,” Muller notes. “Both sexes make a gamete, and both gametes have to come together to make an embryo, so it only makes sense that both men and women be evaluated.”

MYTH: Your stress is causing your fertility struggles

If you’re having a difficult time getting pregnant, you’ve likely had a well-intentioned friend or family member say something that’s, well, less than helpful.

“A lot of patients bring up to me that they’ve had friends or family say to them, ‘You just need to relax. You’re not getting pregnant because you’re so stressed about it,’” Danforth says. “That is condescending and not very useful advice. There are medical reasons why individuals or couples don’t conceive.”

“Chronic stress is a real thing, but it’s not the same as the general social stressors that everybody is experiencing all the time, especially women who are trying to have babies,” Ryan adds.

So while stress reduction is helpful for your overall well-being, it’s not what will make or break your ability to have a baby.

FACT: Age and weight can affect your fertility

What can affect your chances of getting pregnant are certain biological and health factors.

Although many couples are choosing to hold off on having kids in their 20s and early 30s, advanced age — 40 or older for men and 35 or older for women — can increase your risk of infertility and miscarriage. That’s not to say that people should have children sooner but rather that they should be aware of how age might factor into their plans.

Weight can also play a role before conception and during pregnancy, with better outcomes when you’re at an ideal weight, Herndon notes.

“We know that when you’re underweight or overweight, that it takes a longer time to conceive,” Simon adds. 

FACT: Diet and environmental factors can play a role, too

Although infertility in a person or couple can be attributed to a variety of potential medical reasons, there are measures you can take to boost your chances of conceiving.

“Your lifestyle isn’t what caused your infertility, but it does affect your fertility potential,” Simon says.

A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, fish, poultry and healthy fats can help set you up for success. In general, avoiding foods high in mercury and endocrine disruptors found in plastics and pesticides can also help.

As for things like smoking, vaping or recreational marijuana?

“We do know that smoking is an issue,” Ryan says. “It can decrease your age of menopause and affect your fertility and safety of a pregnancy.”

That goes for men and women. Smoking and marijuana can have an adverse effect on the neurological development of babies as well as on sperm motility, volume and concentration. 

FACT: Fertility treatments can be effective

The specific fertility medication or treatment you might consider is different for every individual and couple.

Women may take medications to help with ovulation or to encourage more eggs to develop for improved efficiency.

There are also treatments such as intrauterine insemination (IUI) that may be used when there’s an abnormality in the sperm count, when a single or gay woman is treated, or when the infertility is unexplained. These treatments have success rates up to 15% per month.

Assisted reproductive technology (ART), on the other hand, is a procedure that involves handling both an egg and sperm outside the body. There are several ART procedures, the most well-known of which is in vitro fertilization (IVF).

During IVF, an egg and sperm are combined in a dish to create an embryo, which is then transferred back into a uterus. IVF success rates vary by age, but can be as high as 50% for those younger than 35. 

Whether you need fertility treatments — and, if so, what types of treatments — depends entirely on your unique situation.

“Our focus needs to be on evaluation and education of treatments so we can find the one that can best help a particular individual,” Ryan says.

Learn more about the Reproductive Care discount

Special pricing on fertility medications and treatments is available to all UW students and employees at the Reproductive Care clinic. Bring your valid Husky Card to your first appointment. To learn more about the fertility discount, call the Reproductive Care clinic at 206-598-4225.

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