Greater awareness of fertility is needed

In the last week there have been several articles in the national press about ‘Fertility MOTs‘ for women at the age of 25. The Times, The Telegraph, The Guardian and Daily Mail have all published stories which I have contributed to and I am really pleased we have been able to raise awareness about the natural decline in fertility with age.

The term ‘Fertility MOT’ needs clarity. The British Fertility Society (BFS) is not calling for a specific ‘MOT’ or fertility test for young females. What we want to do is take the opportunity to talk about their fertility and what it means for them. A good time to do this is when females come for their first smear test, usually at the age of 25.

Facts about infertility

Infertility causes huge emotional distress; something I see every day in my clinic. In the UK 15% of couples experience infertility and 25% take longer than they would like to complete their desired family. 2-3% of all babies born in the UK are as a result of IVF treatments alone, not including the many other infertility treatments available.

We have a duty to inform young people about fertility

There may be many reasons why women delay starting a family, but it is our duty to make people aware of the issues surrounding fertility so they can make an informed choice. We also need to give younger couples the necessary support they require in order to have children at a younger age.

Male fertility also declines with age

Male fertility can also decline with age but to a lesser extent than women. General health measures include avoiding smoking (which kills eggs) and keeping fit with a healthy diet and a normal body weight.

Sex education in schools should include fertility

At school it is really important that all students are taught about safe sex and the importance of preventing both unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. It is also important to educate young people about fertility. They need to know it is not always easy to conceive when they choose and that the optimum time for a woman to start thinking about a family is during her 20’s and 30’s.

Society must support couples to have children in their 20’s and 30’s

This message requires a societal change to help support couples who choose to have children at a younger age. They need to know they can still establish their careers and relationships at the same time as having a family, without being put at a disadvantage financially or otherwise.

Although there are tests that assess a woman’s fertility; including the measure of certain hormones (e.g. anti-Mullerian hormone – AMH) and an ultrasound scan of the ovaries, these only give a snap shot of how fertile a woman is for her age. They don’t see that far into the future and they are not usually available on the NHS, unless there is a defined fertility problem. At the BFS we are not suggesting that such a fertility test should be carried out at 25. We simply want to take the opportunity to educate and inform women about fertility and the issues they could face.

BFS to hold Fertility Health Summit early 2016

This week’s press coverage has been a welcome start to our campaign for greater awareness but there is still a great deal of work to be done. The BFS is planning a fertility health summit early next year to raise the profile and the need for greater fertility awareness in schools, colleges and educators, as well as health care providers and government.

More on this debate in The Guardian

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