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What is secondary infertility?

Written by:, PhD, Founder and Inventor of the Proov test — the first and only FDA-cleared test to confirm successful ovulation at home.

You’ve had one baby (or several), and you’re ready to try again and grow your family! But for some reason, it isn’t going easily so far, even if getting pregnant was easy in the past. If this sounds familiar, you aren’t alone. 

This scenario is relatively common, and it can often be due to secondary infertility, which is really just a fancy way of saying you’re having difficulty conceiving even though you’ve already had at least one successful pregnancy. 

In fact, secondary infertility is estimated to occur at about the same rate as primary infertility, so up to about 15%. And just like primary infertility, it has a number of causes that are sometimes difficult to identify right away. 

What goes into secondary infertility, and how do you know if it’s happening to you? More importantly, what can you do about it? Tools exist. Read on! 

How do I know if I’m experiencing secondary infertility? 

The diagnosis of secondary infertility is the same as primary infertility, except that you’ve already had at least one child. The criteria are based on how long you’ve been trying, and how old you are: 

  • 12 months of trying with no success if you’re under age 35
  • 6 months of trying with no success if you’re 35 or older

If you fit either of those criteria and you’ve had a child before, you may be diagnosed with secondary infertility. What you might notice, though, is that diagnosis with secondary infertility doesn’t explain why you aren’t conceiving. 

what is secondary infertility?

Some common causes of infertility that you can learn more about include: 

  • Ovulatory dysfunction: The leading cause of female infertility! It means you may not be ovulating at all, or you’re ovulating unsuccessfully
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS): A hormonal condition that often comes with infrequent or absent ovulation, or irregular cycles
  • Male factor infertility: Involved in half of infertility cases, and usually due to low sperm count or sperm quality 
  • Recurrent pregnancy loss or miscarriage
  • Structural issues, including blocked fallopian tubes or conditions affecting the uterus and making implantation challenging

what is secondary infertility

Is there a way to test for secondary infertility? 

Since the causes of secondary infertility are varied, there isn’t a direct test for secondary infertility. If you fit the criteria mentioned above, it may be time to talk to your provider and start investigating particular causes. Treatment for secondary infertility will depend on your situation. 

Fortunately, there are ways to test for some of the most common causes of infertility. There are also a few causes of infertility that are specific to secondary infertility, and you can either start there or rule them out. 

Some causes of secondary infertility in particular include complications of prior deliveries, especially C-sections. If you suspect infertility due to a previous surgery, talk to your doctor or surgeon. 

Another possible cause of reduced fertility is if you’re breastfeeding. Since breastfeeding can suppress ovulation, if you’re trying to get pregnant but still breastfeeding (or your cycles haven’t returned postpartum) you may not be able to get pregnant again just yet. 

what is secondary infertility

You can also easily test for a few of the most common causes of infertility. Ovulatory dysfunction is the leading cause of female infertility, and means that you aren’t ovulating at all or you’re ovulating, but not producing enough progesterone to support implantation

You can test for successful ovulation using Proov Confirm, the first at-home FDA-cleared test for PdG (a metabolite of progesterone). Testing PdG levels will indicate if you’re actually ovulating and if you’re ovulating successfully, and help you determine next steps. 

Especially if you’re in your thirties, it can be beneficial to check your ovarian reserve! Basically, the number of eggs you have available decreases as you age, and since you’re older than the last time you tried to get pregnant, it’s good to know what to expect. Proov Reserve can help you do just that. 

Don’t forget to check sperm quality and quantity, too! Yo Sperm Test can help you test for these important determinants of fertility. 

what is secondary infertility

How can I prevent secondary infertility? 

The bottom line is while you can’t completely prevent secondary infertility, you can take some proactive steps to improve your chances of conceiving before or while you’re trying. 

If you are concerned about infertility, testing for common causes early and talking to your provider about any previous fertility issues or complications from past pregnancies will help treat any challenges as they come up. 

You can also focus on other determinants of fertility, including diet and nutrition, your prenatal supplement routine, healthy exercise habits, and eliminating substances including tobacco. 

Now that you know all about secondary infertility, you can be proactive while trying to grow your family. Proov is happy to help however we can! 

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