April 07, 2021

6 important fertility questions and answers

By Sylvie Tremblay and Sun Life Staff

From ways to boost your fertility at home to treatment options and costs, here’s what you need to know before you see a specialist.

Deciding to try for a baby is an important decision for many couples. But for the 1 in 6 Canadian couples who struggle with infertility, planning can be trickier than they anticipated. 

“People are paying more attention to their fertility,” says Dr. Sony Sierra, a Reproductive Endocrinology & Infertility Specialist at Trio Fertility in Toronto. “And fertility options than a few decades ago.” 

Women are pushing their decision to start a family until later in their 30s due to education and career goals. That’s one reason why we’re seeing more couples in fertility clinics, Sierra adds.  

If you’re just starting to explore your options, it’s natural to have these questions: 

Here are the answers to your questions about your fertility options, whether at home or through a fertility specialist.

1. What can you do at home to support your fertility? 

Eat a healthy diet, exercise and get enough sleep. To start, there’s a few simple steps you can take for the best chance of conceiving. That includes making sure you and your partner eat a varied and balanced diet filled with healthy foods. Sierra also recommends exercising for 30 minutes three times a week, maintaining healthy body weight, and getting 8 hours of sleep. 

Take your vitamins. Women can also consider taking a prenatal vitamin, she advises. That will help ensure your baby gets the proper nutrition once you do conceive. Since it takes two to create a healthy embryo, men should take supplements to improve fertility as well.  

Practice self-care. And don’t forget about your mental health. It’s important to nourish your mind during your reproductive journey, too. Programs like Expectful can help by offering guided meditations to induce calm and help you sleep. Your workplace benefits may have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that offers free virtual therapy or e-counselling. Talk to your employer or HR representative for more information.  

Track your ovulation cycle. Understanding when you’re most likely to get pregnant can boost your chances to conceive. Use an online interactive tool or an app, like Glow, to track when you’re ovulating.

2. When do you talk to a doctor about potential fertility issues? 

In general, a couple (under 35 years old) may try conceiving for 12 months before seeing a doctor. 

What if you’re a young, healthy couple having regular intercourse (two or three times a week)? “In such case, there’s about a 20% chance to conceive. But let’s say you’re continuing to try for over a year [and haven’t yet conceived]. Then that 20% chance per cycle starts to decline,” Sierra says. “We’d like to see you before your chances decrease further.” 

What if you’re over 35? You should ask your family doctor for a referral to a fertility specialist after six months of trying, she advises.  

You can also ask to see a specialist earlier if you have a personal history of: 

  • gynecological issues,  
  • irregular periods, or  
  • problems with sperm quality or motility. 

What about prospective single parents or same-sex couples? Then there’s no reason to wait. Simply ask for a referral to start exploring your options. 

3. What can you expect at a fertility specialist?

Your specialist will likely start with the basics. In most cases, this includes a series of tests and examinations to assess your reproductive systems. According to Sierra, your doctor may: 

  • order an ovarian ultrasound,  
  • test your hormone levels, and  
  • analyze sperm samples. 

From there, your doctor may lay out a few treatment options.

4. What fertility treatment options may you come across? 

Your doctor might suggest controlled ovarian stimulation, which helps increase the number of eggs you release.  

They may also recommend insemination — depositing high-quality sperm above your cervix. “This ensures the best-of-the-best sperm has a good chance of getting to the eggs,” Sierra explains. 

But what if those treatments don’t work? Or what if there’s risk of multiples, or advanced age? Your doctor might suggest in-vitro fertilization (IVF). IVF is often the safest, fastest way to conceive, especially in older women. During IVF, the woman’s eggs are removed and fertilized in a lab before being re-implanted into her uterus.

5. What are the costs involved with fertility treatments? 

The government covers some of the costs of fertility treatments, while others are paid out of pocket. 

Many provinces offer programs to help couples access some fertility treatments free of charge. However, you’ll likely still have to pay some costs out of pocket. Government health care won’t cover fertility drugs, which can cost about $5,000 to $8,000 per IVF cycle. It also won’t cover the costs associated with storing sperm or eggs. 

6. How can you plan for the costs of fertility treatment? 

Struggling with infertility is stressful, but making the most of your workplace benefits can help. For example, your health plan might help cover the cost of your fertility treatments. It might also enable you to access mental health care to get the support you need. 

Finally, an advisor can become a central part of your support team. They can help you budget for any out-of-pocket expenses associated with fertility treatments. In addition, they’ll help you plan your pre- and post-baby finances, so you can focus on your family. 

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