secondary infertility

The desire of having another son or daughter gets sometimes frustrated by something called secondary infertility.

This concept is used to describe the circumstance under which a couple who had a child in the past have trouble conceiving again or they just can't anymore. In general, we tend to associate infertility with not being able to procreate at all, so people are not prepared to cope with this situation once they've been able to bring a baby into the world. Most couples assume that conception will happen similarly the second time around and, when it doesn't, they have a bad time dealing with it.

As odd as it may sound, secondary infertility is more common than a 'primary' one, so it shouldn't be taken lightly. That's why we encourage you to learn about it by having a look at this post.

What causes secondary infertility? 

There are many reasons why you may not be able to conceive for a second time. The age is a common one, since fertility starts declining from 30 years old on, especially once you are past 35. Other women struggle when trying to get pregnant again because of lifestyle changes or complications that started when giving birth for the first time, like needing a C-section (though they are mostly safe, they can sometimes entail uterine adhesions and infections that may affect your fertility.

If I have secondary infertility, what could be wrong with me?

Besides the causes explained above, secondary infertility can also be caused by different female conditions, including:

  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS): a hormonal disorder that decreases your odds of getting pregnant, among other side effects
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID): an infection often caused by sexually transmitted diseases (STDS), such as chlamydia
  • Endometriosis: a disease that can affect the ovaries, fallopian tubes and also the tissue around the uterus
  • Fibroids: benign tumours of the uterus that may cause blockage
  • A previous ectopic pregnancy: if the fallopian tubes got damaged
  • Underactive thyroid
  • Diabetes 

Could there be something wrong with my partner? 

Yes, that is another possibility. About 65% of the cases of secondary infertility are linked to female reproductive health, but there are times (25%) when the reason is found in sperm. As men get older, they become less fertile too, due to hormonal changes, low sperm count or the decrease in the sperm quality. Also, take into consideration that 10% of couples can't have a second baby because of unknown reasons.

I want to keep trying. Will I ever get pregnant again? How long will it take?

It's hard to predict how long it will take you to get pregnant again. Some couples never managed to have a second child. Bear in mind that healthy young couples only have a 25% chance of conceiving within a monthly cycle. The average time to get pregnant is five months and two weeks, so you shouldn't seek medical help until after trying for a year without success. If you are 35 years old or more, then you should ask your GP for advice past six months of having regular unprotected sex. He or she will refer you to a fertility specialist.

What else can I do about secondary infertility?

In addition to the possibility that your fertility or your partner's may have declined, you should consider any lifestyle changes from the first time you gave birth. For example, if you haven't been eating the same foods, you've lost or gained too much weight, started smoking or drinking more and so on. If so, try to get back into the old lifestyle or adapt certain aspects to even make it better.

My only option is a treatment for secondary infertility. Will the NHS cover its costs?

Unfortunately, you shouldn't expect so. Secondary infertility treatments are hardly ever covered by the NHS, since couples who don’t have any children yet are prioritised. but first you should make an appointment with your GP and talk about possibilities according to your infertility reasons. Of course, you can also consider looking at private clinics.

What can I expect from a specialist in secondary infertility? 

If you end up having a visit to the fertility specialist, he or she will look for your egg production levels and possible abnormalities in your reproductive system. The doctor will also check your partner's sperm, in order to make sure that it's still healthy for fertilisation.

If you happen to decide on a fertility treatment, like IVF, you should know that you'll be more likely to get pregnant than a woman who has never had a baby before. It's not a 100% success rate, but it is something to hold onto.

Putting up with a secondary infertility is usually both unexpected and tough. When you have your heart set on a future brother or sister for your child, the least thing to expect is not being able to conceive again. Now you know that it's a thing, but thankfully there are treatments that may result in good news, after having faced the initial disappointment. You should also be prepared for no news, which in this case is bad news. This can lead to anxiety and a lot of stress, so it's good to consider getting professional help from fertility support groups. You can reach out to the Infertility Network UK for additional information about it.