Women need to know the truth. Fertility takes a plunge after age 35

With the general election looming in early 2016, it’s time for those candidates who purport to be invested in long term planning about the future of the country to step up to the plate and make a case for a state-funded, nationwide education campaign on fertility awareness.

Ireland is one of three EU countries that do not fund IVF treatment for couples struggling with subfertility and with current health budget restrictions, this situation is unlikely to change anytime soon.

What politicians can do is commit in their election manifestos to an education programme on reproductive health for third level students. This campaign should be rolled out in all of our universities and third level institutions across the country.

Recent decades have seen huge advances in reproductive technology, which can now overcome previously insurmountable infertility problems. However, complex fertility treatments are expensive and Irish couples often struggle to afford these unsubsidised costs.

It is not unusual for couples to take out bank loans, borrow from parents or even re-mortgage their homes in order to pay for IVF treatment. These financial burdens are worth every cent when treatment is successful and couples achieve their dream of having a baby.

Fertility education

However, fertility treatments do not always succeed  –  the most common cause of repeated failure is poor egg quality caused by increasing age. To put it simply, if women leave it too late in life before starting to try to have a baby, they may find it impossible to do so with or without treatment – women who would probably have been able to become pregnant easily had they only started trying at a younger age, avoiding a huge and unnecessary emotional and financial toll.

The women I treat often express anger that they were not made aware at a younger age of basic realities surrounding fertility, particularly that women’s fertility starts to decline at age 30 with a sharp plunge after age 35. It’s clear that these women would have benefitted from an education and awareness programme about fertility in their early twenties.

I am not in favour of encouraging men and women who have just started their college life to start having babies, but I strongly believe that they should be armed with the knowledge they need to make informed decisions about their future plans for a family.

Men as well as women need to be educated about reproductive responsibility. They need to be aware that, in the future, if they refuse to commit to parenthood soon enough, they may be depriving their partners the opportunity of motherhood.

College students should also be made aware of the negative impact on fertility of cigarette smoking and obesity. Lifestyle choices made now can affect future fertility prospects.

Take the steps now

Women in their early 30s, who intend to have children should be aware of fertility assessment services which can provide information on their reproductive health. The results are usually positive and reassuring, but if a concern is identified steps can be taken to deal with it at an early stage.

In some cases advice should be sought at an earlier stage. Fertility difficulties can be anticipated where women have irregular periods, have thyroid problems or have a family history of fertility problems or early menopause.

Men should seek early assistance where there is a history of undescended testicles or childhood mumps. The problem is that many men and women are unaware of fertility check services. A nationwide education campaign can go a long way towards educating them on the existence and benefits of these checks.

A fertility assessment check involves a blood test to measure the level of AMH (Anti-Mullerian Hormone) which gives a good indication of a woman’s ovarian reserve (the numbers of eggs in her ovaries).

A transvaginal ultrasound scan is also carried out to provide information about a woman’s uterus and ovaries. A semen analysis test is straightforward with immediate results about the male’s fertility prospects.

Our election candidates need to take responsibility for the future health of the population they wish to serve. The first step they can take is to ensure our young people have access to vital knowledge that will empower them to make informed plans for their reproductive futures.