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Currently, infertility challenges affect at least one in every six couples in South Africa – an issue statistics attribute equally to both men and women. Some of these couples turn to in vitro fertilisation (IVF) as a medical solution.

Dr Kasturi Moodley, obstetrician and gynaecologist at Mediclinic Southern Africa, provides some insight into infertility and how IVF can help. She says: “Infertility can be connected to several variables, including social, medical and lifestyle factors. By definition, a couple that has been trying to have a baby for 12 consecutive months with no success naturally is deemed to be infertile.”

Treatments like IVF, in tandem with a few lifestyle changes, can make all the difference in helping couples fulfil their dream of becoming parents.

emotional journey

Infertility is a personal and emotional journey, often stigma-bearing. Couples considering or undergoing treatment should work to raise awareness of and normalise fertility interventions and share their feelings and experiences with each other and their support networks. “Couples need to define and express their expectations and needs and work together to stay positive and focused,” advises Dr Moodley.

Read more on male fertility and the influencing factors.

determining the treatment route

“When infertility is detected, the fertility clinic will perform baseline investigations, including an ovarian reserve/hormonal profile, a fallopian tube test (HSG) and a semen analysis,” explains Dr Moodley. “Once the clinic has these results, the practitioner, in consultation with the couple, will be in the best position to make an informed decision on which fertility intervention would be the most suitable.

A normal/reasonable ovarian reserve, a set of normal, patent fallopian tubes and normal semen analysis will typically result in the patient being presented with two options: IVF or intrauterine insemination (IUI). Alternatively, a problem in these three main diagnostic areas will dictate the fertility treatment on a case-by-case basis.

“It is very important to note that an invasive fertility treatment is not always the only option recommended. Treating infertility is a highly personalised process that depends on several factors that will be unique to each couple. It is therefore vital that couples undergo consultations with the right medical experts who will review their case and assist them in making the decision that works for them.”

IVF is suitable for any couple where the woman is 35 years old and above and/or who has not had success with IUI procedures. IVF is also suitable for same-sex couples where one partner would like to provide the egg and the other partner would like to use her uterus to grow an embryo – doing it in this way ensures that both partners play an integral part in the fertility process.

According to the South African Registry for Assisted Reproductive Techniques, 5 000 IVF cycles are performed in South Africa annually. Despite several turbulent economic trends in recent times, this statistical value has remained relatively stable when compared to previous years.

contributing factors to a positive outcome

Many couples undergoing the process or considering it are interested in what they can do practically to increase their chances of conceiving. For Dr Moodley, who has extensive experience in the field of fertility treatment and helping couples along their pregnancy journey, lifestyle modifications play a vital role in the process.

“Couples need to see fertility treatment not as a quick fix, but as a process that requires a good amount of self-discipline and sound decision-making. Making healthier choices in a holistic way that carries through in every area of your lifestyle can go a long way in promoting a positive outcome,” she says.

Eating a healthy, balanced diet and engaging in regular exercise are highly recommended. Furthermore, it’s important to practice moderation where the consumption of alcohol is concerned and to stop smoking.

As Dr Moodley concludes: “being holistically healthier is the first place to start. And if you can make these changes as a couple, even better. Experiencing infertility and undergoing IVF can be immensely emotionally and mentally trying. For this reason, honest and open communication between partners is important.”