Overcoming Secondary Infertility

By Judy Day, BSc MSc DipClinNutr MCMA Fertility Counsellor

To couples that have recently had a healthy bouncing baby, the experience of secondary infertility is frustrating and dismaying. It can arouse just as much grief as the inability to conceive a first baby. Once disbelief turns to action, the question ‘Why?’ is often asked, before proceeding to the ‘How?’ of treatment.

Apart from breast-feeding, the causes of secondary infertility are as many and varied as for primary infertility, and include low thyroid function, ‘irregular periods’ or the diagnosed Polycystic Ovarian syndrome. They can also include insulin resistance and hormone imbalances or even hormone deficiencies as in a sort of pseudo-early menopause. This can occur in young and older women alike. Endometriosis is a rarer cause of secondary fertility. To use an analogy to animal health, fertility is generally associated with ‘good season’ conditions. These, such as less work, more resources and free time(!), can be harder to create in the presence of sleepless nights and business of attending to a toddler’s needs. Never the less, much health improvement is realistically achievable.

Tests such as hair tests, the hemaview blood test and cellular analysis from naturopaths give comprehensive information about aspects of health such as thyroid function, metabolic rate, mineral levels or imbalances, antioxidant levels, folic acid and B12 status. The presence of insulin resistance and the need for fat loss as opposed to weight loss is also measurable. Medically, blood tests of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) can indicate apparent early menopause, while luteinizing hormone (LH) and androgen levels can indicate the presence of PCOS. Blood tests for thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) and T4 and T3 may indicate low thyroid function, even in the presence of high TSH and a low normal T4 and T3. Adequate thyroid function is crucial for fertility, and I have had one case of secondary infertility of 12 months duration in a 25 year-old mother of two resolve within a month of returning iodised salt to her diet. (Iodised salt is a source of iodine needed by the thyroid. Seafoods and sea vegetables are other sources in the diet). Early morning temperatures before rising should always be 36.4 degrees or over to indicate adequate thyroid function.

Once you have an idea of where improvement is possible, the options for change include altering the protein and carbohydrate balance in your diet, usually in favour of
increasing protein, taking food supplements, nutritional supplements or herbal medicines. Choose a practitioner you find nurturing because feeling nurtured and safe is important for many women in becoming pregnant (Part of that ‘good-season’ thing!). This is thought to be the reason that a good support network such as being part of a weight loss group has been shown so effective in overcoming infertility).

Preconception care is specialized health care carried out in the 12 months prior to planning a pregnancy. If you have done this and have not conceived within 2 to 4 months of trying to conceive, it is time to consult a qualified fertility counsellor. Have your health comprehensively assessed and provide nutritional and herbal support in a systematic way to increase your chances of success.

Judy specialises in preconception, fertility, pregnancy and mother and baby care. She is a qualified fertility counsellor, a regular writer for the magazine of the Friends of Queensland Fertility Group, and runs workshops on reproductive health. Her focus is consulting in the area of pregnancy preparation and natural fertility. She also teaches natural contraception techniques and has a strong interest in how our emotional well-being inter-relates with our physical well-being.