What is Secondary Infertility and Why Does it Happen?

Although infertility is not exactly a common dinner table conversation topic, most people are at least somewhat familiar with it. But how about secondary infertility? If you don’t think you’ve ever even heard the term, well, that’s because you likely haven’t. 

Secondary infertility is essentially difficulty getting pregnant after previously having been pregnant. It isn’t particularly uncommon, but little is known about it and it’s rarely discussed. In fact, many couples don’t even realize it can be a problem. The thought process is that since they already had one child, everything should still be just fine. It can catch couples off-guard and be very difficult to cope with. At Viera Fertility Clinic in Melbourne, we firmly believe that helping people understand secondary infertility goes a long way in making it easier.

Defining Secondary Infertility

According to the Mayo Clinic, secondary infertility is best defined as “the inability to become pregnant or to carry a baby to term after previously giving birth.” Some doctors say women can also experience secondary infertility after having a miscarriage. In other words, a woman doesn’t necessarily have had to deliver a baby to struggle with this type of infertility — it can also happen after achieving pregnancy, even if that pregnancy ended in a loss. 

Experts believe that secondary infertility affects approximately 10% of couples, similar to the 12% who struggle with primary infertility. It’s important to note, however, that this figure may be much higher. Many couples don’t even realize they’re experiencing it, so they do not seek a diagnosis or treatment. 

What Causes Secondary Infertility?

Many of the same factors that cause primary infertility are also believed to be behind secondary infertility. Remember that in many cases, there is more than one cause of infertility and in others, no single cause can be identified at all. Having said that, there are some common causes. 

  • Ovarian conditions or ovulation disorders, such as PCOS, which affect as many as 40% of women struggling with infertility
  • Hormonal imbalances or disorders
  • Impaired sperm motility, function, or production in men
  • Endometriosis and other uterine conditions in women
  • Changing or worsening risk factors for either partner, which may include age, weight, or diet
  • Complications related to the previous pregnancy

Symptoms of Secondary Infertility

Since the causes of primary and secondary infertility are largely the same, it may not come as a surprise that the symptoms are also practically identical. However, secondary infertility symptoms are often much more difficult to recognize in people who have previously had a baby. This is likely because they assume everything is “okay” since they had one successful pregnancy already. 

Another factor making it difficult to identify the symptoms is that many of these infertility traits in general, mimic the signs of early pregnancy. Keep your eyes open for these hormonal changes and conditions, which may indicate infertility is at play. 

  • Sudden, noticeable weight gain or loss
  • Irregular periods, which may mean they are extremely heavy, painful, almost completely absent, or that you have near-constant spotting throughout your cycle
  • Pelvic pain and/or pain with sexual intercourse
  • Hair or skin changes, such as hair falling out in chunks or growing in unusual places, and having acne breakouts

When to Contact Your Doctor 

If you have symptoms that you suspect may be associated with secondary infertility, it may be time to contact your doctor. The general rule of thumb is that you should schedule an appointment if you’re under 35 and have been actively trying to conceive for one year without success. 

At Viera Fertility, our doctors will get to know you and more about your pregnancy journey at your first consultation. From there, we’ll help you and your partner determine the next steps. Infertility, whether it’s primary or secondary, is frustrating and stressful — but you don’t have to go through it alone. Contact Viera Fertility in Melbourne today to schedule an appointment with one of our specialists.