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Fertility vs Subfertility: What’s the Difference?

The topic of infertility is generally described in black and white –you’re either fertile or infertile. However, advances in fertility care have been able to determine that fertility is a spectrum with lots of gray area between the two endpoints. If you’ve been trying to conceive and find yourself wondering “Why am I not getting pregnant?” you may fall somewhere within this range known as subfertility.

The terms infertility and subfertility are often used interchangeably, however, there are some notable differences between the two.

What To Know Regarding Subfertility

While infertility is defined as the inability to conceive naturally after one year of trying, subfertility is defined as a delay in natural conception. Although most couples can conceive sporadically within the first year of frequent, unprotected sex, 12% - 15% of couples cannot. A subfertility diagnosis typically indicates that you have the potential to become pregnant naturally, it just might take you longer than average to do so.

Diagnosis, Symptoms, and Causes

Most pregnancies (80%) occur within the first 6 cycles (6 months) of trying to conceive, therefore any length of time outside of that frame is considered subfertility. Subfertility generally describes any form of reduced fertility with prolonged time of unwanted non-conception. Some common reasons women may be experiencing reduced fertility include:

  • Smoking
  • Excessive alcohol and/or caffeine consumption
  • Advanced age
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Being overweight or underweight
  • Medical conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), rheumatoid arthritis, tubal defects, and anovulation  

Common reasons why your male partner may be experiencing reduced fertility include:

  • Poor lifestyle choices –smoking, drinking alcohol, using recreational drugs
  • Overheating the testicles or other trauma to the reproductive organs
  • Hormonal imbalance
  • Lower than normal sperm count
  • Problems with sexual function –for example, reduced sex drive, difficulty getting or maintaining an erection, and reduced volumes of fluid ejaculated

How to Increase the Odds of Conceiving

Many couples experiencing subfertility receive a diagnosis of unexplained infertility, meaning, there are no identifiable causes of infertility in either partner. If basic fertility testing hasn’t diagnosed you with infertility, there are natural ways to increase your chances of becoming pregnant:

  • Making the necessary lifestyle changes- Limiting your alcohol and caffeine consumption, losing or gaining weight as needed, eating foods high in antioxidants –like fruits, vegetables, and nuts– quitting smoking, and adopting an active lifestyle can all increase your fertility.
  • Understanding ovulation- Once you’ve learned your ovulation cycle you can be more deliberate in your unprotected sexual encounters. You’re most fertile in the 3 days leading up to ovulation, the day of ovulation, and 1 day after. Having frequent unprotected sex on these days increases your chances of becoming pregnant. 
  • Taking fertility supplements- Fertility supplements contain essential vitamins and nutrients for increased fertility health. Our Men’s Fertility Support has fertility-enhancing ingredients chosen for their ability to support sperm motility and improve overall male reproductive health. Our Fertility Gummies and Fertility Support capsules increase female fertility by promoting your natural cycle and balancing hormones. 
  • Limiting stress- As stress levels increase, your chances of becoming pregnant decrease. Having high levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in your body can suppress fertility.

Treatment Options

Treatment options for subfertility are similar to those for infertility. In addition to adopting an overall healthier lifestyle (as outlined previously in this article) many doctors will prescribe Clomid or gonadotropins (to promote ovulation) along with intrauterine insemination (IUI) for three to six cycles. If this course of treatment is unsuccessful then many couples choose to give in-vitro fertilization (IVF) a try. 

Coping With a Subfertility Diagnosis

The silver lining to a subfertility diagnosis is that there’s still potential to become pregnant naturally if you choose not to medically intervene. This requires patience, however, and an understanding of the challenges reduced fertility can cause. In the interim of non-conception to conception, it’s important to:

  • Prioritize self-care- Your mental and physical health both play a role in your fertility. Prioritizing your needs during this time can help alleviate feelings of stress or anxiety. 
  • Don’t get hung up on the negatives- When trying to conceive, it’s very easy to get hung up on each negative pregnancy test, or each arrival of your monthly cycle. Try not to let this be your main focus, instead, reframe your thoughts to focus on the opportunity to try again.
  • Join a support group- A sense of community can be very powerful during an emotional time like trying to conceive. There are many opportunities for you to connect with individuals who are also suffering from reduced fertility through online or peer-led support groups. 
  • Lean on relationships- Communicate with your friends and family regarding your feelings. Even though it may be hard for you to talk about it, they’ll never know how to support you if you don’t advocate for yourself. Ask for and accept help as needed.
  • Take a break- There was a point in your life when sex was purely for enjoyment. If you find that it’s more of a chore for you than a release, it might be time to take a step back and give yourself (and your partner) a break. 
  • Reconnect with your partner- There are so many aspects to your relationship outside of the bedroom that need (and deserve) your attention. Go on a date, put your phones away, make a meal together, prioritize the things you’ve always enjoyed doing together, and simply reconnect.

If you’re interested in learning more about your fertility we recommend reading through:

When to See a Fertility Specialist

The Role of Genes and Family History in Fertility

What to Know Before You Consider IVF

What are the Main Ways to Treat Infertility?