The good, if not great, news is that the latest advances in infertility treatment have made
it possible for more people than ever before to become parents. The bad news is
that growing numbers of couples may be jumping the gun and seeking infertility treatments without giving Mother Nature a
chance. Infertility treatments, such as drugs that stimulate
ovulation, are not without their risks -- namely a risk of multiple
pregnancies, which can be dangerous for moms and babies.
"The classic definition of infertility is the failure to cause a pregnancy within one year," says Edmund Sabanegh Jr., MD,
director of the Center for Male Fertility at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. This
is age-dependent, however. Six months of trying is the cutoff for prospective
parents aged 35 or older.
That said, "there is certainly so much anxiety and stress [about having
children] that we routinely have couples coming in after only a few months of
trying," he tells WebMD. "If we move right to testing and treatment, we do a
disservice because a lot of them would do just fine if we left them alone."
"The first thing we do is to reassure couples that they are still within the
normal range," he says. "Humans are efficient reproducers, but we are not rapid
reproducers compared to the rest of animal kingdom."
A little sex-ed refresher doesn't hurt either, he says.
"If a couple comes in at three months and they are very stressed, we talk to
them about what is the normal fertile time and how to best time intercourse to
get the best results," he says. "We lower their anxiety by talking about the
facts of human reproduction and give them opportunities to talk to other
couples who have gone through similar things so they realize that this is
normal, they are normal, and that [reproduction] takes time," he says.
To help cool anxiety, a quick physical exam and history can be done even
before a year or six months to help rule out any major causes of infertility. This
type of exam may help reassure future parents that there is nothing wrong and
that if they continue to try, they will likely be able to conceive a child
within a year. In fact, 85% of couples will conceive a child within a year of
"If there is an obvious factor in their history that is suggestive of a
fertility problem, such as a history of cancer or certain chemical
exposures, we may do a full evaluation earlier," he says. "In these cases, it
doesn't help to wait a year, and we may lose the window of opportunity for
Other red flags that could indicate a fertility problem earlier in the game
include irregular menstrual cycles.