Struggling to conceive

Struggling to conceive

Improve your chances of conceiving a baby by learning more about male and female fertility – read on for some expert advice.

About one in six couples can have some problems conceiving a baby. However, over eight in 10 couples having regular sex (every two to three days) will conceive within one year if the woman is aged under 40 years. In addition, of those couples who do not conceive in the first year, about half will do so in the second year.

There are various causes of infertility, both in men and in women. However, there will be no reason found for the infertility in about three in 10 cases. In around four out of 10 cases, disorders are found in both the man and the woman.

We ask fertility expert – Senior Clinical Embryologist Declan Keane a few common questions about the issue.

Common infertility questions

How long should women try to get pregnant before calling their doctors?

For females under 35, I would recommend seeking medical advice if you have not achieved a pregnancy by regular intercourse after a year. Attending a fertility specialist to conceive and getting basic fertility checks to reassure you or to identify an issue which could be remedied can seriously increase your chance of pregnancy success.

If you are over 35 and have been trying without success for six months, proceed to your doctor or fertility specialist for advice, guidance and reassurance.

In your experience, what are the most common causes of female infertility?

Infertility in women can be caused by a number of factors. The ovaries are one of the main problem areas. Irregular menstrual cycle, lack of ovulation and poor egg quality are all possible causes of fertility issues.

Endometriosis is also very common. This occurs when the lining of the womb is found outside the uterus. It can be a painful condition, and some cases go undetected until the woman tries to have a baby, but struggles and undergoes testing. Blockages in the fallopian tubes can also cause infertility. The blockage prevents the egg from being released from the tubes, meaning the sperm cannot reach it to fertilise it and create an embryo.

Uterine structural abnormalities are a serious negative influencing factor on the chance of embryo implantation, and/or miscarriage. Surgery may be required if a uterine anomaly is diagnosed by ultrasound or surgical diagnostics.

In your experience, what are the most common causes of male infertility?

There are also many possible causes of infertility in men. Testicular dysfunction is a common cause of infertility and can occur in the form of abnormal sperm production and low sperm count.

Male tubal blockages and genetic problems are also common causes.

Testicular cancer and undescended testicles can also affect a man’s fertility.

How will doctors find out if a woman and her partner have fertility problems?

Patients will come in to us for an initial consultation. This is usually more of a conversation to discover what may be behind the patient(s) fertility issues. The fertility specialist will then use the information gathered to derive either recommendations of a change in lifestyle, or will send the patient(s) for a series of diagnostics to determine if there is a physical issue that needs to be addressed.

Based on these diagnostics, the specialist will then create a tailor-made treatment plan for the patient(s) and will work with them to find a way to help them to conceive.

What are the most successful treatments for infertility?

The use of holistic complementary treatments in Ireland is increasing, however, treatments such as IVF (In Vitro Fertilisation), IUI (Inauterine Insemination) and ICSI (Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection) are the most successful medical options currently available. At ReproMed, we have identified that many fertility issues are lifestyle related.

struggling to conceive

Stress is a cause and getting to the root of it can allow couples and individuals to go on to conceive naturally, with little or no medical intervention. We call this ‘the lucky couch’ affect. Patients will come in, sit on the consultation couch and we can see them immediately begin to relax as they realise we can help. Many we will never see again after the initial consultation as a reassuring conversation was all they needed to relieve their stress, allowing them to become pregnant naturally.

A mum’s story in struggling to conceive

31-year-old Michelle O’Toole had reflexology sessions which she believes helped her to conceive.

My husband and I had been married for about a year when we started trying for a baby. When we got to nine months and we still hadn’t conceived, I started to get concerned even though people had told me that couples normally wait a year before taking any action. After 15 months of trying, I wasn’t keen on going down the medical road, so I decided to research other options. This led to me booking a course reflexology treatments with reflexologist Claire Burrows.

She suggested that I also made a few small changes to my lifestyle. These changes included reducing my caffeine intake, eating organic chicken, taking omega 3 supplement and different vitamins.

I also learned how to manage my stress levels by switching off properly in the evenings. And three months later, I was pregnant! I gave birth to my little girl Lily last February – I would definitely recommend reflexology treatments to anyone else who is struggling to conceive, as it takes your whole lifestyle into account.

expert advice

Struggling to conceive?

Reflexologist Claire Burrows provides some advice.

Reasons why you many be struggling to conceive range from endometriosis, poly cycstic ovaries, under active thyroid to ’unexplained’.

Approximately 70% of the women I see in my clinic who have had blood tests show nothing abnormal and still they are not pregnant.

In almost all cases, improving your lifestyle can improve your fertility. Lifestyle factors affecting fertility include body fat – too much or too little, smoking, alcohol, medication – prescribed or over the counter.

Nutrition is a huge factor. All our hormones are made from vitamins and minerals and the vast majority of us are nutrient deficient. While vitamin supplements are not a substitute for a healthy balanced diet they can help you get pregnant faster. It can be a complex process and is often worth enlisting the help of an expert to guide you.

It takes 3 months for an egg and sperm to mature so everything you do or don’t do during that time will affect your chances of success.

My advice is to view pregnancy as a 12-month process, three months to prepare and nine months to develop your healthy baby. Hormones are crucial to conception, but not just oestrogen and progesterone. Sleep, stress, blood sugars will all have an impact on your capacity to conceive.

My top seven tips to get pregnant faster are:

1. Track your ovulation.

2. Reduce demands on your liver.

3. Increase resources for your liver.

4. Keep blood sugars balanced (especially if you have PCOS).

5. Manage your stress.

6. Get quality sleep.

7. Keep your hormones in balance. Based on your own medical, lifestyle and previous pregnancy history I can provide a personalised fertile friendly programme for you to follow. In addition I use reflexology to promote hormone balance at specific times in your cycle to encourage natural conception or support a medically assisted conception.

More you might like

Infertility and relationships
Fertility to family
Stress and fertility

Ask Sarah

Q I’ve heard a lot about the Paleo diet and as I am very interested in reducing the amount of processed foods and grain based meals my family eats, we are considering following this diet. From what I read it seems to be a back-to-basics type of eating. Is a Paleo diet safe for children? My kids are aged seven and nine.

A The Paleo diet is one of the most fashionable diets around at the moment. It is also known as the ‘caveman diet’ and is based on cutting out processed foods, starchy foods like bread and potatoes and eating more meat, vegetables and fruit.
As fad diets go, it is not the worst but there are some good and bad sides to it. Reducing the amount of processed foods we eat is always a good idea and by doing that you will usually reduce the amount of fat, salt and sugar you eat, which is a good thing! The problem with the Paleo diet is that it also cuts out dairy (on the basis that cavemen didn’t drink milk) and this means that the diet is very low in calcium. For this reason it is really not suitable for children who do need a lot of calcium for growing bones. How did cavemen manage without dairy? They ate a lot more food than we do (up to 10,000 calories per day compared to the 2,000 most of us eat). By eating that amount of food they were able to pick up just enough calcium from green vegetables and seeds. To put it in perspective, you would need to eat 16 servings of broccoli a day to get all the calcium you need. This is easier to do if you eat 10,000 calories per day rather than 2,000.
The other problem with the paleo diet is that it is not entirely based in science. Many of the Paleo diets out there say you should not eat wheat, even though we know that cavemen did in fact eat wheat and other grains. These diets also don’t recommend that you eat blubber and the big lumps of fat that were also a large part of the caveman diet!
A final problem is that many Paleo diets encourage people to cut out beans and lentils and to get their protein from meat and fish instead. Many studies over the last few years are clear that eating too much animal protein is linked with more cancer and heart disease. Eating some vegetarian meals based on beans and lentils is a great way to get your protein without always going for meat.
Is this a diet we should follow? I think there is a lot we can learn from the Paleo diets. We could all do with eating less salt, sugar and processed foods and adding in more nuts and seeds as well as more vegetables. However, I think following a strict Paleo diet could lead to low levels of calcium and vitamin D and so it is not suitable for children or teens and adults would need to think about a calcium supplement.


School holiday camps

Arlene Harris discovers why school holiday camps are great for developing a child’s mental and social skills and more importantly for having fun.

Bacon and balsamic beans

A perfect mid-week meal or weekend brunch – this bacon and balsamic beans recipe is a real crowd pleaser.



Q My son is 18 months old and has just started saying his first words. It is an extremely exciting time in our house and my husband and I are eager to encourage his speaking as much possible. What advice would you give us on how we can foster this without bombarding and confusing him?

AThere is nothing better than hearing your baby begin to talk. All the hard work you have put in over the last two years is coming back tenfold.
Toddlers will vary significantly with ability and speed of which they talk however a guide would be about 50 words by 2 years of age. The most important thing to watch for is that your baby/toddler is cooing and babbling and begins to string sounds together like “Mama/Dada” They should have a wide range of speech sounds and like to imitate you and things they hear.
There are many ways that you can promote Speech and Language development at home:
1. Slowing down your own speech and taking time over conversations with your little one. Every day is a new experience when you are 18 months, nappy changes, bath time, baking a cake brings endless opportunity for you to interact and offer new words for them to hear and repeat. Make eye contact, smile and use exaggerated tones to keep things interesting and fun for your tot.
2. Review the toys that you have on offer to your tot and ensure that they give plenty of open ended play opportunities. Role play is a wonderful way to allow children to take the lead. Kitchens with lots of plates, cups and pots. Fill the pots with dry pasta and allow your child to cook and serve you. Playdoh, painting, gardening and sandpits are also great for allowing your child to take the lead and babble about what they are doing. Read plenty of books together and point and allow them time to answer any questions that you ask.
3. Limit screen time. Overuse of televisions and iPads do not give your child opportunity to interact in a two way manner.
4. Ask your child lots of open ended questions “What’s that?” “Where are we?” Point at things they know the answer to for boosting confidence (Car/ Car, etc.) When they don’t know the answer, explain it to them. Limit baby talk and speak clearly with good pronunciation, remember you are the teacher and they will copy you.
If you are concerned about your child’s speech and language development, be sure to speak with your GP or developmental Health Nurse. They are very skilled at understanding the difference between speech delays and spotting something that may require professional attention.
Enjoy watching their little brains absorb the world around them and listen to what they have to say. It won’t be too long before they won’t stop talking to you, asking “Why Mummy/ Daddy?” every 5 minutes….