Typically, when one imagines having a family, they don’t picture needing the help of a fertility specialist. However, if you’ve been trying to conceive for a while, if you or your partner has a known medical condition that may pose a fertility issue or if you’re in a same-sex relationship, seeking the medical assistance of a fertility specialist can be a positive and proactive step!
What is a Fertility Specialist?
This is a very good question, as there are several doctors in the reproductive field, and it might be confusing to know which is the one that is considered a fertility specialist.
If you’re a woman, you may have previously met with an OB/GYN. OB/GYN stands for an obstetrician-gynecologist and these physicians specialize in female reproductive health as well as both pregnancy, and childbirth. They are who you would see for annual check-ups, preventive screening (like pap smears) and for care during pregnancy.
If you’re a man, you might meet with a doctor known as a urologist. While a urologist treats both men and women when it comes to diagnosing or treating diseases related to the urinary tract, they can help diagnose and treat male reproductive issues.
When it comes to trying to conceive, the suggested doctor to consult is a reproductive endocrinologist, which is also known as a fertility specialist. A reproductive endocrinologist is a fertility specialist who has received a board certification by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology in both Obstetrics and Gynecology, and Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility. Reproductive endocrinologists specialize in understanding both male and female reproductive organs, what issues to look out for, how to treat any issues, and the latest fertility technology such as in vitro fertilization (IVF), preimplantation genetic testing for aneuploidy (PGT-A, formerly known as PGS), preimplantation genetic testing for monogenic disease (PGT-M, formerly known as PGD), or reproductive surgery. This is the doctor you would see, should you have concerns about trying to conceive.
When Should I See A Fertility Specialist?
If you’re a woman under the age of 35 years old, have no known medical issues or any known sexually transmitted diseases, have regular periods, are with one partner and have just started trying to get pregnant, there’s no need to see a fertility specialist just yet. You may, however, want to consult with your OB/GYN or Primary Care Physician to make them aware that you’re planning on getting pregnant soon, just to ensure that you’re in good health and up to date on any necessary vaccinations.
Those who may want to consider seeing a fertility specialist sooner rather than later are:
- Women under 35 years old who have a known medical issue that may impact her fertility, have irregular periods, have a male partner who has a fertility concern or have been regularly trying to conceive for more than a year.
- Women over 35 years old who have been regularly trying to conceive for more than six months.
- Couples in a same-sex relationship.
- Couples in which either the male or female has a known medical issue such as a polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, blocked fallopian tubes, diminished ovarian reserve or in the men’s case, a concern with their sperm (low sperm count, etc.)
- Women 40 years old or older. Both egg quantity and quality diminish as a woman gets older, so it can be helpful to seek the help of a fertility specialist if you’re in your late 30’s – early 40’s to get the proper testing to best determine fertility protocol for you to expand your family.
- Women who have a history of pregnancy loss (no matter if the pregnancy was conceived naturally or through fertility treatment).
- Couples who have children or a family history with genetic diseases.
How a Fertility Specialist Can Help?
A fertility specialist will perform some preliminary tests to look at your hormones and reproductive health. In women, they will focus specifically on your ovarian reserve and ovarian function, and typically perform an ultrasound to check your uterus and ovaries for any abnormalities. In men, they will most likely perform a semen analysis, which reviews the sperm count, shape and how well they swim.
If you are a woman who has experienced more than one miscarriage, a fertility specialist can also order certain tests to help try and provide insight into possible explanations for your losses. They can also recommend tests as part of a fertility treatment plan to help decrease the chance of miscarriage, such as undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF) with preimplantation genetic testing for aneuploidy (PGT-A or PGS), which canl help decrease the chance of having a miscarriage.
Once an evaluation is complete, the fertility specialist will review the results with you and advise you on how to proceed. In some cases, if a particular medical diagnosis is found, they may treat it first before trying any reproductive intervention. In other cases, the fertility specialist may recommend treatment such as timed intercourse, intrauterine insemination (IUI) or IVF. They may also recommend the use of new tests like the ERA test , which can help evaluate when a woman’s uterus is ready for embryo implantation.
One of the things to remember is that a fertility specialist is a doctor like any other doctor you would go to when you’re having a medical concern. While it may not be what you imagined when starting a family, it doesn’t mean the outcome will be any less rewarding or special. A reproductive endocrinologist is there to help support you to achieve your goal of being a parent of a healthy baby. Together, you will discuss what options, tests and path will be the right one for you to take to get there!