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What is Secondary Infertility?

What is Secondary Infertility?

Some women have difficulty conceiving after their first child. This is called secondary infertility. Paul Gindoff, M.D., shares the causes and treatments of secondary infertility.

Many women, stressed from trying to have another baby, often find themselves asking, “Why am I not getting pregnant again?” There is a very good chance the frustration felt by these women and their partners is caused by secondary infertility. Despite affecting millions, secondary infertility is hardly ever mentioned, even in infertility circles.

What is secondary infertility?

Secondary infertility isn’t a specific disease or condition that causes reproductive concerns. It’s actually a broad term that covers a multitude of issues dealing with the inability to conceive, or maintain a pregnancy, after the birth of one or more children. Many women don’t realize they might be facing secondary infertility. They feel since they got pregnant once, it should be possible again. Because of a lack of awareness, they don’t even consider secondary infertility.

What causes secondary infertility?

A number of factors or conditions can cause secondary infertility:

  • Age: As a woman gets older, the quality of her eggs decreases, and thus her fertility decreases.
  • Damage from the previous pregnancy or birth: C-sections and other pregnancy complications can cause secondary infertility.
  • New or worsened medical conditions: Hormonal conditions, such as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, and certain cancer treatments can impact fertility.
  • Lifestyle: Smoking and drinking can hurt fertility.
  • Weight: Being overweight or underweight can lower your chances of conception.
  • Male Factor Infertility: Sometimes a man’s sperm can be an issue. 

What are the signs of secondary infertility?

There are a number of signs that might suggest secondary infertility, including:

  • If you’re older than 35
  • Not being successful conceiving after six to 12 months of trying
  • Having difficulty with conceiving before the first pregnancy
  • Having had several miscarriages
  • Changes in ovulation or irregular menstrual cycles
  • Surgery in the pelvic section, including C-sections during the prior birth

If you’re asking, “Why can’t I get pregnant again?” it’s likely secondary infertility is the culprit, and you should consider visiting a reproductive specialist. Typically fertility doctors recommend waiting 12 months before making an appointment, and six months if you’re older than 35 or have had trouble conceiving in the past.

RELATED: Find a Fertility Specialist Near You

How is secondary infertility treated?

There are a number of lifestyle changes you can make to your day-to-day life to become fertile again and naturally increase your chances of having a baby.

  • Eat lots of protein-rich foods and foods with plenty of iron, vitamin C and zinc.
  • Cut out caffeine, cigarettes, and alcohol as they can hurt fertility.
  • Exercise.
  • Take advantage of your ovulation cycle for peak fertility.
  • Relax (probably the worst thing you can say to someone with infertility but it helps!). Going to yoga, meditation or a trip to the spa can improve your chances.

Although these healthy lifestyle changes sometimes help get past the hurdle of secondary infertility, you may still need to make an appointment with an infertility specialist. Sometimes fertility medications help.  However, assisted reproductive technology such as IVF or egg donation can be necessary.

Why is it so difficult to deal with secondary infertility?

The bottom line is that secondary infertility causes frustration, sadness, stress, and often a feeling of loss (not to mention the potential costs of fertility treatments). Women and couples, when they realize they can’t get pregnant again, regularly feel blindsided by the situation. This is particularly true for couples where conception was easier the first time.

Support from family and friends can be tough to come by for women with infertility after having had a baby. This stems from most individuals being unaware of secondary infertility. It’s not uncommon for sufferers to hear things like “Just try harder,” “Relax and it will happen,” and worst of all, “At least you already had one.” These attempts to be supportive wind up being the opposite—comments like these can often be emotionally detrimental for individuals with secondary infertility.

It’s also often difficult for women who have had a child already to find support from others dealing with infertility in support groups and online forums. Too often, envy from not having a baby of their own causes some infertile women to show disdain for those dealing with secondary infertility. This absence of support for couples with secondary infertility comes from a lack of understanding.

Raising awareness is the best solution to this problem. By bringing attention to this painful and problematic issue, we can provide channels for help and support to those who need them. Raising awareness will also help educate friends and family on the best ways to offer support and comfort.

RELATED: Find Women's Health Specialists Near You

How can I raise awareness about secondary infertility?

Every connection you make brings awareness and support to those with secondary infertility. Here’s what you can do:

  • Research and learn more about secondary infertility.
  • Share your story and feelings on infertility forums
  • Share this article on social media, or re-blog it on your own site.
  • Write your own post about raising awareness, and share it with the world.
  • Talk to your family and friends about it.
  • Donate to a charity that supports infertility research or helps women afford care.
  • Write to your elected officials about supporting infertility causes and research funding.

Any way you can bring attention will help increase public understanding about the frustration and pain of secondary infertility. We urge anyone involved with the infertility community to share this article to help with efforts to shine a spotlight on secondary infertility.

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Paul Gindoff, M.D.


Dr. Paul R. Gindoff is an infertility specialist and reproductive endocrinologist at Chelsea Fertility NYC, an internationally recognized IVF and fertility center serving the New York City metropolitan area. Dr. Gindoff has written dozens of high impact and valued publications, notably in ovarian reserve, treatment of older women, ICSI, blastocyst transfer and PGD.

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