Helen O’Callaghan looks at what each section of The Fertility Handbook deals with.

A DOCTOR at the coalface of reproductive and fertility medicine for the last 30 years has written a guidebook to maximise chances of pregnancy.

With one in six Irish couples facing fertility problems, consultant obstetrician/gynaecologist at Dublin’s National Maternity Hospital, Professor Mary Wingfield has written The Fertility Handbook as an “evidence-based antidote” to “misinformation regularly regurgitated” on the subject of fertility.

The book offers straightforward advice and is in five sections:

  • Section 1 is about natural biology and covers issues like ovulation, sperm, male and female reproductive systems and sex. Couples are reassuringly told that if they have an active sex life — sex every two or three days — they don’t need to worry about the ‘fertile window’. They’ll be having sex often enough.
  • Section 2 describes the hugely important influence of lifestyle. Reassuring advice here: stress doesn’t cause infertility and you’re not unusual if infertility affects your sex life. But alcohol may be more of a problem than people realise, e-cigarettes aren’t ideal and fertility apps may not be all they’re made out to be.
  • Section 3 deals with fertility problems, tests and investigations and gives advice on when/how to seek help if you have a problem. Wingfield explores whether all women should check their ovarian reserve — number of eggs left in ovaries. She advises thinking before having the test.

    “If you have not already been trying for a while, only have it done if you think you might do something positive with the result, such as starting to conceive or freezing eggs.”

  • Section 4 covers treatment, including medical and surgical options for women and men. Closure is discussed, as well as dealing with ‘when it doesn’t happen’.
  • Section 5 looks at thorny ethical issues including lack of public funding here for IVF treatment. Ireland is one of just three EU countries that doesn’t provide such funding.

    “Infertility is absolutely a medical disorder with major life and health consequences,” Wingfield says, pointing to a WHO definition of it in 2009 as a ‘disease of the reproductive system’.

    “There is undisputed evidence showing inability to conceive is a significant cause of depression and anxiety... ,” says Wingfield. The book includes significant amounts of comment from fertility patients at various points of their journey.

The Fertility Handbook, Gill Books, Professor Mary Wingfield, €16.99.


* “Don’t postpone pregnancy for things that can wait,” advises Wingfield. “Most things can wait. Focus on your family first and the rest will fall into place.”

* For overweight women with irregular ovulation, reducing weight by 10% leads to pregnancy in over 50% of couples.

* Women who smoke take, on average, a year longer to conceive.

* Drinking more than three daily cups of coffee may be linked with infertility and early miscarriage.


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