Do Fertility Pills Work? What You Should Know About The Different Brands
Here’s how the most popular doctor-approved fertility pills work.
Fertility pills are a cool concept if you’re trying to conceive, but does this mean you can swing by the local pharmacy and buy a bottle of them? Here’s what doctors want you to know about taking fertility pills to get pregnant, because learning more about the top doctor-approved fertility medication is helpful for many people trying for a baby.
Before Trying Fertility Pills
Both of the physicians interviewed recommend getting more information about your overall fertility before taking any fertility pills to get pregnant, including ones that are available over the counter. “If you are under 35, if you have been trying to conceive for a year or more, do speak with a gyn provider to start figuring out why you aren't conceiving,” Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., Clinical Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Yale University Medical School, tells Romper. “If you are 35 or older, if you have been unsuccessfully trying for 6 months or more, do speak with a gynecologist.” Check out the most important questions to ask your doctor when you’re trying to get pregnant, such as learning more about how to track your ovulation cycle.
“It is important to know that being diagnosed with infertility requires understanding one’s attempts to conceive,” Cindy M. P. Duke, M.D., Ph.D., FACOG, Medical Director, Nevada Fertility Institute, tells Romper. “In fact, to formally diagnose infertility, we have to document that a patient has actually tried and had no success with conceiving (exception will be same sex couples or those desiring to be single parents with use of donor gametes).” Understanding your reproductive health with a doctor’s help is crucial.
Do Fertility Pills Work? How Effective Are They?
“Fertility pills do tend to work for most patients,” says Dr. Minkin. “However, they only work on making you ovulate better. So for example, if the problem is blocked Fallopian tubes as well, they won't help.” In this case, people who have blocked Fallopian tubes may want to consider in-vitro fertilization.
The effectiveness of fertility medication depends on a lot of factors. “The chances for success depend on the age of the patient and of course the quality of their partner’s sperm,” says Dr. Duke. “For example, if we assume decent sperm parameters and at least one open Fallopian tube, chance for success using the oral medications in a 25 year old person with ovaries is around 18 to 20% in any given month that they try. Meanwhile, if we take the same scenario in a 40 year old person with ovaries, their chance of pregnancy is about 6 to 8 percent in any month that they try.” How well certain medications are likely to work can vary a lot based on the individual, so definitely talk it over with your doctor.
What About Over-The-Counter Fertility Medication?
“Unfortunately, none of [the fertility medications] are the over the counter in the United States,” says Dr. Duke. “Fertility medications and anything that can affect human hormones are strictly regulated in the USA.” Instead, work with a physician to determine whether these medications are right for you.
Top Prescription Fertility Medications
Here’s a breakdown of some of the most popular fertility medications.
- Clomid (clomiphene)
The oldest FDA approved and unisex fertility med in the world, Clomid is a tablet that works by temporarily decreasing circulating levels of estrogen (person with ovaries) or testosterone (person with testes), as Dr. Duke explains. This causes the pituitary gland to make FSH & LH, which are hormones that tell ovaries to prepare an egg for ovulation and tell the testicles to make sperm and testosterone. (Here’s an in-depth look at how Clomid works to help your fertility.)
“This medicine is available around the world and is even over the counter in some countries,” says Dr. Duke. “Clomid is used in all types of fertility treatment cycles and is the longest standing and historically most prescribed fertility drug in the world.” It’s a doctor-approved and recommended medication for increasing a person’s fertility.
- Injectable Gonadotropins (primarily FSH)
“This is a laboratory synthesized version of the same hormone, follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), which is made by the pituitary gland to talk to the ovaries or testicles,” says Dr. Duke. “This particular drug is the mainstay of IVF.” Many people who go through fertility treatment will become very familiar with this specific shot.
- HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin)
HCG is “often used as the final maturation step to induce ovulation for fertility treatments including IVF,” says Dr. Duke. “An egg cannot be fertilized if it is not mature.”
“Think of it as pro-gestation-hormone!” says Dr. Duke, who explains that it’s necessary to prepare the uterine lining (endometrium) to receive an embryo for implantation. “If there is no progesterone, implantation will not occur. Additionally, if progesterone drops or remains low, pregnancy may stop,” says Dr. Duke. Basically, this hormone plays a huge role in the road to pregnancy.
Vitamins & Fertility
In addition to the medications, there are also vitamins that can help support your fertility and set the stage for a healthy pregnancy.
- Folic Acid
“When it comes to vitamins, the most important vitamin you need while trying to conceive is folic acid, which significantly reduces the chance of conceiving a baby with a neural tube defect,” says Dr. Minkin. Eating foods with folic acid, including lentils and asparagus, is one way to help supplement your supply. In addition, you can look for prenatal vitamins that contain folic acid.
- Vitamin D
“Vitamin D is very important in pregnancy and low vitamin D levels are associated with higher likelihood for pregnancy loss and complications such as preeclampsia,” says Dr. Duke. “There is also data that supports a key role for vitamin D in sperm tail formation and therefore sperm’s ability to swim (motility).” Foods rich in vitamin D include salmon and eggs, and over the counter supplements are available, too.
Lifestyle Changes To Boost Fertility
Medication isn’t the only route to help increase fertility. For starters, your diet can have an impact. “Eat a diet rich in antioxidants,” says Dr. Duke. The stereotypical food for Millennials, avocados are a great source of antioxidants. “Avoid animal meat products that have been raised/treated with hormones or antibiotics,” says Dr. Duke. “Make sure to get about 30 grams of fiber in your diet daily.” Fiber is from plants, so enjoy burrito bowls, eggplant parm, and more delicious meatless meal recipes. Hydration is also important.
Movement is another factor to keep in mind. Dr. Duke recommends regular daily exercise that includes strength or resistance training about 3 times a week.
Overall, taking fertility pills to get pregnant is an option for people who are trying to conceive. Work with your OB/GYN or fertility specialist to find the right medication for your body.
Cindy M. P. Duke, M.D., Ph.D., FACOG, Medical Director, Nevada Fertility Institute
Mary Jane Minkin, MD, Clinical Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Yale University Medical School