The 2021 Fertility Journey Survey

This survey was conducted by the Impryl and Inofolic Alpha fertility supplement provider Fertility Family.

Slowly but surely, as a nation we are becoming more open when talking about fertility. It’s a long overdue shift, but attitudes are changing and a spotlight is finally being shone on a problem that affects 1 in 6 couples. 

Celebrities are helping to drive this trend, with the likes of Love Island star Chris Hughes and comedian Rhod Gilbert opening up the conversation around male infertility, and stars like Chrissy Teigen sharing their own struggles on social media. 

Despite the conversation being opened, ongoing misinformation and reluctance to talk about the topic can lead couples not to seek fertility advice when it’s needed. In light of this, Fertility Family surveyed 681 couples struggling to conceive – to get an understanding of their current mindset and encourage further openness. 

How many couples are trying for a baby in the UK?

While data shows the overall number of new babies in the UK is expected to drop in the coming year, many couples are still trying, and the responses they give provide a real insight into the experience.

The highest number of respondents (38%) are aged between 31 and 35. Almost half (47%) said that they have been trying for a baby for over six months and are about to undergo IVF or a similar procedure. Almost three quarters (75%) are trying for their first child.

 

The fertility information gap – over-reliance on Google over healthcare professionals

There’s still a big information gap when it comes to reliable, clear and accessible advice for couples going through fertility problems – the kind of advice that encourages frank and honest discussion and makes it clear what services are available. 

This is evidenced by almost 1 in 4 (23%) respondents who do not feel well educated on how the healthcare system works in the UK with regards to trying for a baby – including when and what kind of help couples can receive. In addition, almost 1 in 10 do not feel well educated on the science and biology behind trying for a baby with many unaware that both men and women are affected equally by fertility problems. 

There’s also a clear tendency to Google information about fertility problems, rather than seek advice from a medical professional:

  • Most couples (67%) will rely on “Doctor Google” to find information on conceiving.
  • Fewer couples will seek consultation with healthcare professionals (59%)
  • Of the 67% who are searching Google, 56% will seek help from the NHS website and 47% will rely on online forums.
  • Worryingly, nearly 1 in 4 couples (23%) will seek fertility advice from social media such as closed Facebook groups
  • This figure is echoed on other social media platforms, with over 1 in 5 couples (22%) seeking fertility advice from Instagram influencer accounts.

Fewer and fewer people are relying on their healthcare professional for advice, which gives rise to both the spread of misinformation and greater delays in seeking medical help. This could be partly because many couples report feeling overwhelmed when looking for advice – 1 in 4 found the UK healthcare system unclear and confusing when it comes to help with fertility issues.

When’s the best time to get medical advice when trying for a baby?

It’s clear that some couples aren’t sure when they should consult their doctor about fertility problems. Another study with 172 couples trying to conceive showed 36% of respondents have been unsuccessfully trying for a baby for over 6 months though have not yet sought GP or healthcare assistance regardless of their age.

People are also increasingly using technology and tracking to keep on top of their attempts to conceive. 12% of respondents have used wearable tech to help monitor ovulation. 

However, for some, both medical advice and technologies are not something they turn to until they have been trying for some time:

  • 24% of respondents will wait for over a year of trying for a baby until tracking ovulation cycles. 
  • 9% wait until after 6 months of trying before tracking ovulation cycles. 

Although a fertility problem is defined as a period of 1 year of unprotected intercourse without becoming pregnant, it is clear that there is a strong trend for couples to delay trying for a baby.  If the female partner is in her mid-thirties, it is strongly suggested that you consult a doctor if you have been trying for 6 months without success. NHS guidance states that: “Some people get pregnant quickly, but for others it can take longer. It’s a good idea to see a GP if you have not conceived after a year of trying. Women aged 36 and over, and anyone who’s already aware they may have fertility problems, should see their GP sooner.”

Clearly, the chances of conception are increased if couples know when (and if) the woman is ovulating.  Ovulation trackers or LH surge detection kits help couples to know when the fertile time of the cycle is.

If the female partner knows she has PCOS, then checking ovulation and/or taking a specific PCOS supplement would be wise.

As our diet and our environment is so important to the quality of our gametes (egg and sperm), taking a balanced fertility supplement designed to optimise sperm and egg quality such as Impryl would be sensible from 3 months before the point at which couples start trying to conceive until conception.

How much can PCOS impact your fertility?

While it is not an impossible problem to overcome, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common obstacle for couples who are trying to conceive – 58% of couples we surveyed have had a diagnosis of PCOS.

This could point to a tendency for ‘silent’ PCOS across the UK – people simply not realising that they have it due to lack of awareness. Primary care physicians often take a dismissive attitude which prevents them from detecting PCOS early – often assuming it is “period pain” or that “the pill will fix it” – meaning that the problem runs deeper than a simple lack of awareness among those with the condition. When untreated, PCOS can lead to other problems such as weight gain, acne and hirsutism.  There are also other longer term health consequences that may be associated with PCOS (See RCOG Green Top Guideline No. 33, Nov 2014) that women should be aware of.

Of those with PCOS, 54% will not seek information from a healthcare professional. Rather than seeking professional support; 30% will use online forums, 20% will use Instagram influencers, and 18% will seek information from Facebook groups. 

This highlights a possible lack of trust due to the need for greater education and training in diagnosing the condition, and the problem needs to be addressed on a primary care level as part of women’s overall health and fertility. More could also be done in schools to boost awareness of PCOS and its symptoms from an earlier age.

Himanshu Borase, Fertility Specialist and Consultant Gynaecologist at Hertsfertility says:

“One-third of the people who I see at fertility clinics suffer from PCOS and we always try our best to educate and empower them. There is a great need for more understanding of the options available and a more open conversation around fertility.”

Places to find reliable, trustworthy information on PCOS include:

How do couples in the UK feel about their fertility journey?

It can be difficult to stay positive on your fertility journey without the right support – but understanding that many other couples are experiencing the same, and that there are many routes to success, is a great starting point. 

33% of respondents have become steadily more negative or distressed over time while just 7% say that they have begun to feel more positive as time has gone on. 

How are men and women impacted differently during the fertility journey?

The survey results show that women tend to experience a greater change in mindset:

  • 51% of women experienced a wide range of positive and negative mindsets
  • This compared to 42% of men reporting the same experience
  • 23% of men and 8% of women have remained in the same mindset throughout

What needs to change? Expert insight into the best way to support fertility

The conversation around fertility has been shrouded in hesitancy and misinformation for too long. Only by changing the way we talk about fertility problems can we begin to remove the stigma associated with them. Because women and their partners don’t know where to turn for honest, straightforward advice, in many cases they end up receiving incorrect information rather than the support they need. 

Clear education from the earliest stages in schools and better training for healthcare professionals, will go a long way to opening up meaningful discussion.

Additional information and advice on PCOS and infertility can be found here:

  • Hertsfertility multidisciplinary team patient education leaflet on the long-term effects of PCOS and management advice
  • Verity is a charity that aims to educate, support and empower women with PCOS through encouraging research and improving access to treatment.
  • Wellbeing of Women is a charity that invests in pioneering women’s health research to develop new tests, treatments and cures.
  • HFEA, the government regulator, provides free, clear and impartial information on UK fertility clinics, IVF and other types of fertility treatment, and donation.
  • Fertility Network UK is the number one charity for anyone experiencing fertility problems in the UK. They run a range of local online support groups.

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