Everything You Need to Know About Secondary Infertility

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Let’s say you had an easy time getting pregnant, a pretty uneventful pregnancy and birth and now you have a happy, healthy child. When you and your partner decide to have a second, however, it’s a different story, and you’re having trouble getting pregnant. You could be experiencing secondary infertility, or an inability to conceive after already having a baby. We spoke to Emily Huffstetler, MD, an OB-GYN and Board Member and Advisor to Share the Drop, for more information.

Meet the Expert

Emily Huffstetler, MD is an OB-GYN at Jefferson Obstetrics and Board Member and Advisor to Share the Drop, the first ever free app to connect families who are looking to donate and/or receive breastmilk.

What Is Secondary Infertility? 

Secondary infertility is when someone can't get pregnant after having already having had a baby. According to a 2014 paper published in the Central European Journal of Urology, secondary infertility affects approximately 11 percent of couples in the United States. For reference, primary infertility (inability to get pregnant with a first child), affects about one in five people (19 percent), according to the CDC.

How Is Secondary Infertility Diagnosed?

Much in the same way that primary infertility is diagnosed, diagnosing secondary infertility begins with a physical exam and thorough health history, followed by additional methods that, according to Penn Medicine, can include performing a pelvic ultrasound to determine if the uterus and ovaries are normal in appearance, assessing your ovarian reserve, measuring hormone levels including progesterone to determine whether you are ovulating and performing a semen analysis on your partner.

What Are the Causes of Secondary Infertility?

“They are similar to the causes of primary infertility,” Dr. Huffstetler tells us. “Often, we can't identify a cause. But some causes include ovarian dysfunction, older age, issues with sperm, tubal blockage, complications from a previous pregnancy, medications, smoking, etc.”

What Are the Treatments for Secondary Infertility? 

Per Dr. Huffstetler, the treatments for secondary infertility are similar to those for primary infertility. “We start with trying to figure out what (if anything) is wrong...lab work, semen analysis, possibly an ultrasound and an HSG (hysterosalpingogram).” Depending on the cause of secondary infertility, the treatment varies. “Medications like clomid or letrozole can be used, sometimes surgery is needed and sometimes IVF is needed,” she explains.

Whether it's primary or secondary, infertility can be hugely emotionally and physically taxing. Regardless of what type you're dealing with, leaning on loved ones or even joining a support group—like ones found through RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association—can help in dealing with the immense stress of infertility.

sarah stiefvater

Wellness Director

Sarah Stiefvater is PureWow's Wellness Director. She's been at PureWow for ten years, and in that time has written and edited stories across all categories, but currently focuses...