How common is infertility?

You may not personally know any couples that are having difficulty conceiving. This is probably because even though these couples are experiencing fertility issues, they want to keep their struggle private. But you often hear of celebrity couples struggling with fertility issues. So how common is infertility?

Fertility problems and infertility may be more common than you think. A recent study shows that 11.5% to 15.7% of Canadian couples have infertility. That's almost one in six couples. So you see, chances are that you do personally know someone affected by infertility.

What is infertility?

In general, the definition of infertility is being unable to conceive after a year of regular, unprotected intercourse if a woman is under age 35, or 6 months if a woman is 35 or older.

But there have often been variations in how infertility is defined when researchers look at how many couples are affected. Infertility is generally defined as when a woman of reproductive age is unable to become pregnant while not using any form of birth control. Some studies will look only at lack of birth control while others will also consider whether the couple has regular, unprotected intercourse. Studies will often look at current infertility (i.e., if you are having difficulty conceiving now) versus lifetime infertility (i.e., if you have ever had difficulty conceiving).

How has the infertility rate changed over the years?

No matter how it's defined, though, it seems that the overall number of people facing fertility problems has increased over the years. In 1984, the estimated percentage of couples with fertility problems was 5.4%. In 1992, this number increased to 8.5%. And today, the estimated prevalence (total number of couples with infertility) is up to 15.7%.

Among couples with a female partner aged 40 to 44 years old, the infertility rate is 14.3% to 20.7%. Almost 30 years ago, in 1984, that number was only 4.6%.

And although it is expected that as a woman's age increases the rate of infertility increases, the trend of rising infertility rates is not exclusive to older women. In 1984, the infertility rate of couples with a female partner aged 18 to 29 years was 4.9%. Now, the infertility rate in this age group is 7% to 13.7%.

Why have infertility rates increased? In part, it is related to the trend for women to have children later in life (when they are less fertile). There are many factors that have contributed to this trend including getting married at a later age (which delays when women attempt to have children and a woman's fertility decreases as she gets older, especially her mid-30s), readily available birth control (which allows women to delay pregnancy until they are ready, which often means when they are older), and more women in the work force. However, infertility has also increased in younger age groups. Possible explanations for a general decrease in fertility include the increasing rate of obesity and sexually transmitted infections, both of which can harm fertility. Other fertility risk factors may also contribute to how common infertility is. Read more about some of the common reasons for infertility.

Am I at risk for fertility problems?

A number of factors can affect fertility. Risk factors for infertility can depend on whether you're a man or a woman. And while a risk factor may increase the chance that you will have fertility problems, it does not necessarily mean that you will have fertility problems.

For women, one of the main risk factors is age. Fertility decreases with age, particularly after age 35 for women. You should consider seeking help at a fertility clinic (find a fertility clinic near you) if:

  • you are under 35 and unable to conceive after a year of regular, unprotected intercourse
  • you are 35 to 37 and unable to conceive after 6 months of regular, unprotected intercourse
  • you are over 37 (women over 37 do not need to wait 6 months before seeing a doctor, because waiting too long to seek help could harm their chances of conceiving)

Other risk factors for women include:

  • medical conditions that affect the reproductive system, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis (tissue that is normally found only in the uterus is found outside the uterus on the ovaries or other pelvic organs), blocked fallopian tubes, or fibroids
  • exposure to sexually transmitted infections
  • cancer treatments (e.g., chemotherapy or radiation)

For men, risk factors for fertility problems include:

  • age. Although increasing age does not affect fertility to the same extent as it does for women, age is still an important factor. As a man gets older, the quality of his sperm may decrease and his testosterone levels decrease (which may affect his sex drive).
  • medical conditions that affect the reproductive system and may increase the chances of fertility problems, such as scrotal varicocele (varicose vein around a testicle), retrograde ejaculation, and undescended testis
  • exposure to sexually transmitted infections
  • cancer treatments (e.g., chemotherapy or radiation)

Learn more about common reasons for infertility for women and men.

For both women and women, certain lifestyle factors may affect their fertility. These include:

  • smoking
  • being overweight or obese
  • drinking too much alcohol or caffeine

If you are having trouble conceiving, you're not alone. About 11.5% to 15.7% of Canadian couples have infertility. With proper fertility care, many couples have successfully conceived and had children despite initially facing problems with fertility.

The good news is that you can take steps to improve your chances of conceiving. For example, if your weight is putting you at risk for fertility problems, reaching and maintaining a healthy weight may increase your chances of conceiving. Learn more about living a healthy lifestyle to help improve fertility.

If you are concerned about fertility issues, you should consider seeing your doctor about your fertility. You can find a doctor who specializes in fertility using the fertility clinic locator.

Infertility: You're not alone

Are you coping with fertility problems? You're not alone.

Infertility is more common than you may think. A recent study shows that 11.5% to 15.7% of Canadian couples have infertility. If you look around at the couples you know, that means that almost 1 in 6 of them are having issues with fertility. They may be going through a similar situation as you.

During this time, it's important that you don't become isolated. What you are going through can affect you in many ways and how you cope with it depends on your personality and personal experiences. However, most people can benefit from the support of others. Seek help:

  • Talk to family and friends with whom you feel comfortable with. You'll be surprised at how supportive they can be.
  • Find a fertility support group, such as the online forum or the Infertility Awareness Association of Canada. Online forums give you the opportunity to discuss issues you are going through and to see how others coped with them. You can learn a lot from other couples' experiences. This is a good option if you do not feel comfortable revealing who you are; online forums allow for anonymity.
  • You should consider seeking help at a fertility clinic (find a fertility clinic near you), which has a team of professionals, including nurses and counsellors, whom you can rely on for help and support. Fertility clinics may also offer group support meetings, where you can meet with other couples who have fertility problems. Learn more about finding the right fertility clinic for you.

Remember that you are not alone and there are others out there who are like you, also seeking support and help for infertility.

What can I do about my fertility?

If you think you have a fertility problem, there are several steps you can take.

  1. Talk to your partner. This can be a difficult and stressful time. You're in this together, so it's important to communicate your thoughts and feelings to each other.
  2. Learn about infertility. You can start with the fertility basics or you can get right into common reasons for infertility, or read about why you may have difficulty conceiving.
  3. Make an appointment with your doctor. Be prepared to discuss your concerns and your medical history. You can see your family doctor and ask for a referral to a fertility specialist. At some fertility clinics, you may not need a referral from your family doctor. Use the fertility clinic locator to find a fertility specialist near you. Learn how you can prepare for your appointment with the doctor and fill out our Doctor Discussion Guide. At the fertility clinic, you can learn which fertility treatment options might be appropriate for you.
  4. Make healthy lifestyle changes. There are many lifestyle changes you can make to help improve your fertility, such as quitting smoking and eating healthy and exercising regularly to help you reach a healthy weight. These lifestyle changes will also help with your overall health. Read more about how healthy lifestyles may help your ability to conceive.
  5. Find a fertility support group. Talking to other couples who are going through the same thing as you can help you gain valuable insights and feel better, putting your mind at ease. Remember, you're not alone. About 11.5% to 15.7% of Canadian couples have infertility. Fertility support organizations also exist to help people facing fertility issues.