Dr Google has 3.4 million searches per month on “how to get pregnant” – so what can you do in the pharmacy to help couples to conceive?
AJP spoke with fertility specialist Dr Raewyn Teirney, who received her medical degree at Auckland University, and trained at Bourn Hall IVF Centre, England – where the world’s first IVF baby was conceived.
She currently works as a Visiting Medical Officer (VMO) fertility sub-specialist at The Royal Hospital for Women in Randwick, Sydney, and in private practice with IVF Australia.
Dr Teirney has just released an holistic fertility kit to be exclusively sold in pharmacies. Here we ask her advice for helping those presenting in the pharmacy who want to get pregnant.
1. Most women don’t need IVF.
“Women can come in after three months of trying, and the first thing they do when they sit down in my office is burst into tears,” says Dr Teirney.
“But what people don’t understand is that it can take 12 months to conceive.
“I would say about 70% of women who come through my door don’t need IVF. Most of them just need advice,” says Dr Teirney.
“About 80% of couples (for example, aged 25-30 years old) will conceive within 12 months of trying.”
But couples that have not conceived within 12 months should visit a fertility specialist, she suggests.
According to an Australian 2006 study, about one in six couples are infertile and may need IVF or other fertility treatment to conceive.
This includes women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis and fibroids, many of which form the bulk of clients for Dr Teirney at IVF Australia.
2. Age matters.
“Age is the most important factor when it comes to fertility. Women only have a finite number of years,” emphasises Dr Teirney.
“It’s easy for men: men are like factories – they’re always making more sperm – but women are warehouses. They’ve born with a finite number of eggs.”
While 3.2% babies in Australia are born using IVF, this number is going up as increasing numbers of couples are deciding to start families later in life.
3. There are ways to improve chances of conception.
“The most common question is: Rae, what can I do to increase my chances of getting pregnant?” says Dr Teirney.
The answer is not always IVF or assisted pregnancy – sometimes just lifestyle changes are needed.
“It’s about increasing the chances of conception. The whole aim is about getting people pregnant at the end of the day.
“We know that people are fatter, drinking more alcohol… this can affect chances of conception.
“There’s good evidence that oxidative stress can damage sperm DNA and affect sperm motility. We know smoking, alcohol, infections, and heat are all associated with increased DNA fragmentation, and there is evidence that antioxidants can help repair this,” says Dr Teirney.
“With antioxidant therapy, studies show a couple is four times more likely to conceive and give birth.”
4. Timing is everything.
Many couples don’t know that there is a short window in which a woman can conceive each cycle.
“When egg has ovulated, you’ve got 24 hours before it starts deteriorating,” says Dr Teirney.
Meanwhile, sperm can live up to five days, so it’s important to time sexual intercourse so that the sperm is in the fallopian tube at the time of ovulation.
5. Couples need support.
“People go to a pharmacy a lot, looking for over-the-counter products, and for help to conceive.
“Women go to the pharmacist all the time and pharmacists are really good at speaking to women about fertility, that’s part of their training too,” says Dr Teirney.
However may need support and appropriate advice if they are struggling to conceive.
“People have this dream, they have all this hope about what their child might be like…. If they can’t conceive then there’s this grief to deal with as well.
“Pharmacy with its increasing role in primary care is ideally positioned to help couples in this often-sensitive area.”
Dr Teirney has created a fertility kit that supports “natural” conception – the first of its kind in Australia.
“According to Dr Google, there are 3,350,000 searches per month for ‘how to get pregnant’,” she says.
“What I found was there was no one-stop solution giving appropriate advice – and there’s a lot of advice out there that is not appropriate. So what I’ve decided to do is put all this together into one kit.
“It’s a preconception pregnancy planning kit, designed to be an over-the-counter product in pharmacies.”
The conceiveplease kit includes pre-conception and pregnancy vitamins, mens-only vitamins for sperm health and male fertility, fertility information, an instructional DVD, a meditation CD, a fertility calendar, a basal body temperature thermometer, ovulation predictor testing sticks and pregnancy testing sticks.
“This kit is not for infertility, it’s to try and simplify conception into steps.”
She adds that the fertility kit should not be used by women with PCOS or with very irregular menstrual cycles.
Dr Teirney will soon be releasing a training module for pharmacy staff to explain what the kit is, what’s in it and why, as well as covering common questions they may receive and how to respond.