The female reproductive system refers to all the female organs that enable a woman to conceive, nurture and deliver a baby. The activity of the female reproductive system is controlled by hormones released by both the brain and the ovaries that cause the development and release of eggs.
Natural ovulation and conception
Every month from puberty to menopause, an egg is released from one or other of your ovaries. This is referred to as ovulation and usually occurs in the middle of your cycle. Your cycle is the days from the start of your period to start of your next period. The egg then survives for around 24 hours during which time it moves into the fallopian tube and awaits fertilisation. In the meantime the lining of the womb has built up ready to accept and nurture the growing embryo. Sperm travel through the neck of the womb, upwards through the uterus and along the fallopian tubes to meet the egg. Once the egg is fertilised by a sperm, an embryo is created and over 4-6 days moves down the fallopian tube to the womb. The embryo then attaches to the lining of the womb and hopefully flourishes.
What affects female fertility?
A naturally conceived pregnancy requires ovulation, normal healthy sperm and normal tubes and uterus. Female fertility can be affected by a woman’s age and common female reproductive conditions such as tubal disease, endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome, fibroids, Salpingitis (or Pelvic inflammatory disease) caused by sexually transmitted disease.
Age is the single most important factor influencing a woman’s fertility. This is because the number of eggs you produce rapidly declines as you get older and there is also an increased risk of miscarriage and chromosomal abnormalities. The single most important factor influencing your chance of conceiving is a woman’s age. Once you turn 36, your chance of conceiving naturally is halved compared to your chance at 20 years of age. At the age of 41, this chance falls to just 4%. That’s the success rate for couples per month of trying when the female is aged 41 to 42.
Ovulation issues and irregular periods
Women who don’t ovulate often have irregular or no periods. Common causes include PCOS, obesity or low body weight, thyroid dysfunction, premature ovarian failure or low ovarian reserves. Treatment will often depend on the cause but may include diet and lifestyle changes or simple fertility drugs to trigger ovulation. Irregular periods or ovulation disorders, meaning that you ovulate infrequently or not at all, are a common reason for having difficulties conceiving.
Endometriosis is a condition where the cells that line the uterus grow in places outside the uterus often distorting the tubes and ovaries or blocking the release of eggs. Symptoms include painful periods, pain during intercourse and premenstrual spotting. Endometriosis can sometimes be treated with Laparoscopic surgery.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
PCOS is a common hormone problem and the leading cause of infertility in women. Symptoms include irregular or no periods, heavy painful periods, increased hair growth, acne and obesity. PCOS can be treated by managing the symptoms through diet and lifestyle changes, ovulation induction drugs or in difficult situations IVF treatment may be necessary.
Fibroids are benign lumps of tissue that can grow around and inside the uterus. Their size and location will determine if they affect your fertility and if they will need to be removed surgically. They don’t usually cause symptoms but depending on where the fibroid is you may experience heavy or prolonged periods, pain or swelling in your pelvic area, passing urine more often than normal or constipation.
BMI for pregnancy
As a woman’s weight can affect fertility across both ends of the spectrum, your body mass index (BMI) is a useful way of identifying if your weight is within a healthy range. A healthy BMI range is between 18.5 to 24.9 for young and middle-aged adults. Under 18.5 is considered underweight and over 25 is overweight. If a woman’s BMI is greater than 35, the risk of problems become more significant. We recommend speaking to your Doctor if you have any concerns.
Having trouble conceiving?
1 in 6 couples experience difficulties conceiving. If you have been trying to conceive for 12 months and you are under 35 (or 6 months if you are over 35), you should seek advice from a fertility specialist in Abuja. They can discuss your situation and investigate if you could have a common female reproductive condition that is affecting your fertility.