Getting a Handle on Women’s Fertility

Editor’s note: Pending an FDA decision, 23andMe no longer offers new customers access to health reports referred to in this post. Customers who purchased prior to November 22, 2013 will still be able to see their health reports, but those who purchased after that time will not. Those customers will have access to ancestry information as well as access to their uninterpreted raw data.

Although the majority of respondents to 23andMe’s Female Fertility survey stated that they weren’t trying to conceive the first time they became pregnant, around 13% said that they had tried or were currently trying to become pregnant, a percentage that’s on par with the national infertility average of 10-15%.

Infertility is defined as not being able to get pregnant after having frequent, unprotected sex for a year (or for six months if the woman is 35 or older). Although an infertility diagnosis can be frustrating, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll never get pregnant — in many cases it just means that medical attention might be needed to secure a bambino!

Difficulties conceiving can stem from female or male problems (or both) and the causes vary, ranging from hormonal to structural, genetic, pharmacological or environmental. Other medical conditions including cancer and its treatment can also contribute to infertility and it’s been suggested that about 12% of cases are simply due to the woman being over or underweight. In about 20% of cases, however, the cause of the infertility is a mystery.

An important factor today is age since the chances of conceiving decrease 3-5% per year after the age of 30. This natural decline in fertility coupled with the fact that roughly one in five US women has her first child after the age of 35 means that one-third of “trying” older couples (with the woman over 35) experience fertility problems. It’s an interesting paradox: many women spend years gaining education and building their careers (and avoiding pregnancy) only to encounter difficulties when they actually want to conceive.

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The Genetics Underlying Infertility

We know a bit about the genetics of male infertility and are starting to identify genetic factors for conditions that contribute to infertility in women, such as endometriosis, uterine fibroids and hypothyroidism. But overall the genetic factors underlying female fertility are not well understood and 23andMe aims to uncover part of that puzzle.

With this goal, 23andMe launched the Female Fertility survey and so far over 10,000 women have responded! With more data we should be able to find some genetic explanations for this complex condition, but for now we’d like to share some of the interesting characteristics of the initial survey responses.

Trying to Conceive Can be Quick or Take a While

  • For their first child, 66% of 23andMe respondents conceived in the first 6 months of trying, 12% in months 7-12, 8% in months 13-24, and 8% after two years of trying. 5% of respondents tried without success and 2% were unsure of the timing.

Increasing the Odds of Conceiving

  • 14% of respondents said that they underwent procedures or treatments the first time they tried to conceive. 52% took oral medicines to stimulate ovulation (like Clomid or letrozole), 8% used donor sperm, 28% underwent intrauterine insemination (IUI), and 19% did in vitro fertilization. (These categories are not mutually exclusive).

Roughly 25% Miscarry at Some Point

  • It’s not always openly discussed, but a significant number of pregnancies end in miscarriage. 28% of respondents said they’d had at least one miscarriage, which is on par with some reports though slightly higher than the national average of about 15-20%. 90% of respondents miscarried in the first trimester, 13% in the second, and 2% in the third (1% were unsure). 52% were not evaluated for the cause of the miscarriage.

(These percentages are as of May, 2012 and will continue to change slightly over time as more women take the Female Fertility survey.)

23andMe thanks you for filling out the Female Fertility survey and contributing to research on this important women’s health topic. Since making a baby “takes two”, we also offer a Male Fertility survey. Already had a baby? Try out our Pregnancy and Birth survey.

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