Infertility 101


Once you’re with the right guy and feel ready then you will stop birth control and soon be counting down the months to the big day. And for many women this is how it happens. But, an estimated 1 in 9 couples face infertility.

What is infertility?

Infertility refers to an inability to conceive after having regular sexual intercourse without using contraception. According to Dr Sulaiman Heylen, a specialist of reproductive medicine at the Cape Fertility Clinic, infertility can also refer to the biological incapability of an individual to contribute to conception. 

“Infertility is a diminished ability to produce offspring, in either the male or the female, and is not always absolute or irreversible. If the problem is irreversible it is called sterility. Infertility is also a term sometimes used for a woman who cannot carry a pregnancy to full term,” he says.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has defined infertility as a couple that fails to conceive within 24 months. But in most countries infertility refers to a couple that fail to conceive after 12 months of regular unprotected sexual intercourse.

Research by the WHO also estimated that in 2010, 48.5 million couples worldwide were unable to have a child.
They found that 1.9% of women aged 20 to 44 who wanted a child were unable to have their first live birth and 10.5% of women who had previously given birth were unable to have another baby after 5 years of trying.

It is important to note that not all infertility problems are related to women, and around 40% of infertility cases are connected to men. And while in many cases the problems or causes can be identified, in around 20% of cases, the cause of infertility is unknown.

What causes infertility?

Common causes of infertility include: ovulation disorders, endometriosisageing (associated with poor egg quality), blocked fallopian tubes, uterine fibroids (associated with miscarriages) and poor sperm and motility count.

Conception and pregnancy rely on certain factors which include:

  • Production of healthy eggs by a woman,
  • Production of healthy sperm by a man,
  • Non-hostile mucus to allow the sperm and egg to meet,
  • Unblocked fallopian tubes to allow sperm to reach the egg,
  • The sperm’s ability to fertilise the egg when they meet,
  • The ability of the fertilised egg (embryo) to become implanted in the uterus,
  • Sufficient embryo quality.
  • When to seek help

    Many couples try for a few months and wonder if something is wrong. But according to Dr Heylen, most doctors will advise to look for medical advice if no conception occurs within one year. The recommendation for women over 35 however, is to begin testing after trying to conceive unsuccessfully for 6 months.

    It’s recommended that couples go to fertility specialists and clinics as infertility is their specialty, and they are best equipped to handle it from a medical and emotional perspective.

    Read: Visiting a fertility clinic.

    Try: Our ovulation calculator.

    If you have struggled with infertility and would like to share your story, please email

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