Providing Information and Resources on Infertility and Related Health Issues to Healthcare Professionals and the Public

Infertility Education

Understanding Infertility

Understanding infertility

To understand if a couple has an infertility problem, four questions need to be answered.  A "no" answer to any one of these questions can result in infertility: 

1. Is the woman ovulating each month?

Ovulation occurs when a woman releases an unfertilized egg from her ovary. Normal ovulation occurs once every 28 days or so, and if fertilization has not occurred a woman has her regular menstrual period. Signs that a woman is not ovulating include irregular or absent menstrual periods. Hormonal imbalances and conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome can also affect a woman's ability to ovulate regularly. There are treatment options for women.

2. Does the man have sufficient, healthy sperm?

Decreased numbers of sperm, abnormally shaped sperm, or sperm with decreased motility can all impact the likelihood of fertilization to occur. A semen analysis is important for all couples experiencing infertility, and thus a discussion with the male partners about the importance of assessing this factor is an important step. There are treatment options for men.

3. Can the sperm and the egg meet?

When a woman ovulates, the egg travels from the ovary to the fallopian tube. The sperm travels through the uterus and into the fallopian tube to meet the egg there, where fertilization occurs. If a problem exists preventing this, such as a blocked fallopian tube, then the egg and sperm cannot meet and the couple will not be able to conceive. There are ways of diagnosing and treating conditions which prevent conception.

4. Can a fertilized egg implant itself successfully?

After the sperm and egg meet in the fallopian tube and conception occurs, the fertilized egg travels down the tube and into the uterus where it should then imbed itself into the uterine wall and start to grow the baby and placenta. This is called implantation. There are some conditions which may prevent successful implantation. For example, if the uterine lining is not the right thickness for the embryo to implant, or if there is tissue blocking successful implantation, such as endometriosis or fibroids, then again the couple will experience infertility. There are treatment options.

Infertility is Not Just a Woman’s Problem