Why Is Infertility On The Rise? Here Are 5 Reasons, According To Experts
While there’s really nothing that can comfort you when you’re trying without success to conceive, you may find some solace in the fact that you are definitely not alone. But why are infertility rates rising? It can seem almost like everyone is facing the same challenges sometimes.
"The U.S. birth rate is the lowest in more than three decades, and the U.S. fertility rate is at a record low,” Dr. Alan Copperman tells Romper.
While the prevalence of infertility is on the rise, awareness about it is also growing, the latter of which may be a good thing. “We are more aware of [infertility] as there tends to be less stigma associated with the issue,” Dr. Lucky Sekhon, reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist, tells Romper. “It’s [now] commonplace for men and women with infertility to discuss their struggle openly. It’s an issue that has been tackled by the mainstream media, with many well-known figures admitting to making use of fertility preservation techniques and fertility treatment.”
While it may be difficult to increase your fertility, Sekhon says there are many things you can do to boost your reproductive system, including "avoiding unhealthy, toxic exposures as much as possible. ... Maintaining a normal body weight and consuming a healthy, balanced diet will help to promote overall health and fertility.” And if you're looking for a bit of hope during a difficult time, "the silver lining for people struggling is that you have an opportunity to really work on your marriage, your body, your stress, and all of those factors are going to make motherhood that much more meaningful and healthy," Dr. Angela Le, DACM, LAc, tells Romper.
Read on for five factors contributing to the rising infertility rate, and if nothing else, know that you're not at all alone on your TTC journey.
1. Delayed Maternal Age
Simply put, people are having babies later in life. Each of the three doctors I spoke with cited age as a major factor in infertility.
"The last few years have seen a shift whereby birth rates have fallen to their lowest levels yet in women under 40. In contrast, the most marked increase in birth rate occurred in women over 40," Sekhon tells Romper. "Women are born with all the eggs they will ever have which means that both the quantity and quality of eggs declines over time, with these changes beginning in the early 30s and accelerating at the mid 30s and onwards."
Fortunately fertility preservation methods (like egg freezing) are getting more mainstream, though their cost can be prohibitive to many people. "Insurance mandates and employer-sponsored benefits are becoming more common, and hopefully more and more patients will have access to care and to optimal family building outcomes," Copperman tells Romper.
2. Environmental Factors
“I spend a lot of time teaching people how to 'green' their homes, basically minimizing the risk of chemical exposure. We don’t know how exactly these things contribute to infertility, but we know that it doesn’t help,” Le tells Romper. It can feel sometimes like everything is bad for you from your makeup to the food you eat, and it may be overwhelming to think you have to overhaul your whole life in favor of green living. But Le suggests instead starting with small switches like opting for green cleaning products (she names Seventh Generation as a good choice), and natural beauty products whenever possible. You can even look for a green dry cleaner.
3. 'Permanent' Birth Control Being Reversed
You've probably heard that vasectomies are reversible, and while this is technically true, "specialized fertility treatments, such as in vitro fertilization, are often needed to overcome this form of infertility — to either bypass the fallopian tubes [in the case of having tubes tied] or to work with a limited number of sperm retrieved directly from the testes," Sekhon says.
During the vasectomy process, men develop antibodies to sperm, Le explains. “I’ve had a lot of women over the years have to do IVF with something called ICSI to fertilize the sperm and the egg because the sperm is damaged from vasectomies," she tells Romper.
4. Lifestyle Factors
Anything from having a high or low BMI to exposure to chemicals to a lack of exercise can contribute to rising infertility, though it's usually a complicated number of factors. "As the trend towards higher BMI, high fat diet and lack of exercise increase in the general population, we are seeing a greater incidence of diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol and higher rates of cancers. All of these chronic health issues can lead to overall decline in fertility," Sekhon tells Romper.
She adds that there's evidence that sperm counts are decreasing over time in Western countries and one of the major hypotheses is that this is due to lifestyle and environmental exposures. Smoking and drinking can also be quite damaging to fertility.
"Certainly our genetics [are a factor in infertility]. We might not have any control over what we’re born with, but how we take care of what we’re born with we do have control over," Le says.
5. Misunderstanding Men's Role In Infertility
A lot of the infertility conversation is focused on women, when in actuality, studies show that "of all infertility cases, approximately 40-50% is due to 'male factor' infertility," per the Journal of Human Reproductive Sciences.
Le adds that she sees "sub-fertility" on both sides which can make it more complicated and time-consuming for the couple to get pregnant. "Men also have to do things to reduce their inflammatory factors. It’s really an opportunity for the couple. I think it’s important to include men [in the infertility conversation] and to educate the population to know that it’s pretty equal."
Dr. Angela Le, DACM, LAc, Doctor of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine, Founder of Fifth Avenue Fertility Wellness
Dr. Lucky Sekhon, reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist, OB/GYN
Kumar N, et al. (2015). Trends of male factor infertility, an important cause of infertility: A review of literature. Journal of Human Reproductive Science. doi: 10.4103/0974-1208.170370
Marks M, et al. (2013). Antisperm antibodies: prevalance, patterns and impact on natural conception following vasectomy reversal. Fertility and Sterility. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fertnstert.2013.07.75