New data reveals that over half of women aged 35 to 45 without children feel judged for leaving it until later in life to have a child.1
The research involving 500 women aged 35 to 45, supported by Merck Serono in conjunction with Infertility Network UK (I N UK), highlights that over 60% have at some point felt stigmatised for not having had a baby.1 Family and friends are cited as the greatest sources of pressure on women to have children.1 Over a third of women are too embarrassed to talk about fertility, with the majority not feeling comfortable to discuss fertility issues with their family and friends.1
"We need to promote a more open discussion about fertility, which is one of the key aims of our new National Infertility Awareness Week" said Clare Lewis-Jones, Chief Executive of Infertility Network UK (I N UK). "Feelings of embarrassment and being judged are ultimately preventing some women seeking the help they need for their fertility problems. We'll be highlighting this and many more issues during the awareness week from October 28."
Women still consider up to two years a typical waiting period before seeing a GP about infertility, and alarmingly, a greater proportion of older females would wait even longer.1 This is despite updated NICE guidelines now making certain couples eligible for clinical assessment and investigation after trying to conceive for one year.2 With age having a significant impact on a woman's fertility, it is concerning that older women are choosing to wait longer; research has shown that the biggest decrease in fertility begins in women in their mid-thirties.3
"Many couples are leaving it too long before discussing their fertility options with a healthcare professional." Mr Tim Child, Medical Director at the Oxford Fertility Unit at the University of Oxford, said. "With new and ever more successful options for treatment becoming available, it is very important that women and their partners follow guidance on seeking prompt advice from their GP or a fertility specialist if they are concerned about their fertility.
Patients should also be aware of the choice they make when they delay trying to conceive and the impact this can have on the chances of natural conception, as well as the treatment they are entitled to under the NHS," explained Mr Child.
The latest research indicates that, as well as waiting longer than recommended by NICE to seek initial help, women are also having to wait longer than advised by the NHS to eventually receive treatment. Of those women who had already undergone fertility treatment, 46% waited four months or longer before a clinical assessment was undertaken and 29% waited for over a year before receiving any treatment at all,1 far longer than the 18 weeks that patients are entitled to under the NHS Constitution.4
Infertility, defined as "a woman of reproductive age who has not conceived after one year of unprotected vaginal sexual intercourse", affects one in seven heterosexual couples in the UK.2 Over the last nine years, there has been an increase in the prevalence of fertility problems.2
Fertility problems can be caused by a range of issues; however age has one of the most significant impacts on fertility in women,2 with the biggest decrease in fertility beginning in the mid-thirties.3
The availability of improved infertility treatment techniques has led to greater chances of success through IVF.5 Since 1991, the number of IVF cycles performed each year has increased steadily to over 60,000 IVF cycles performed in UK licensed clinics.3 Between 1991 and 2001, 201,881 babies were born as a result of IVF treatment.3
In February 2013, NICE updated the clinical guideline on fertility care. Some key changes included reduction in time couples must wait before becoming eligible for IVF treatment, extension of the upper age limit of women eligible for IVF funding to include women aged 40 to 42 that meet certain criteria and removal of the minimum age of the female for IVF funding, as well as a new emphasis on Single Embryo Transfer.2