It’s a question you can’t always ask your friends. If you’ve been trying for a baby, or if you’re thinking of investigating your own fertility, how do you go about the tests and what do they feel like when you do them? Having been trying for a baby for over two years, I’ve been through all of these tests. From blood work to internal investigations, I’m really sorry to tell you that you will be prodded and poked. But if you want to get to take ownership of what is happening with your fertility, regardless of whether you’ve been having regimented sex for months to no avail or simply thinking what the future holds – there’s no getting around them. But, just know that you’re not alone, and nothing hurts too much – if I can manage it, then so can you. And as many mums will attest: it’s nothing compared to childbirth (apparently)! Here, we’ve put together some of the most commonly asked questions on what it’s like to go through fertility testing so you know what to expect…
How are fertility tests done and what do they consist of?
There are a range of fertility tests you are likely to undergo to find the root cause of what’s going awry as you try. The first will be a set of blood tests. On day 3 of your cycle, you’ll have your follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), luteinizing hormone (LH) and estradiol (E2) tested to find out if your hormones are working as they should. You’ll often have another set later in your cycle to check if you have ovulated. This can also be checked with a transvaginal (internal) ultrasound where a probe is inserted in through your cervix so they can look around your womb and eggs to make sure everything is healthy. Later the doctors might also suggest you have a hysterosalpingogram (HSG) where they insert dye into your tubes to make sure there is a clear path for you to ovulate.
How accurate are fertility tests?
While hospital fertility tests will show if your indicators such as hormones are all within healthy range, and any of the physical exams will show if there is any abnormality in the reproductive organs, often having lots of tests can lead to no explanation of the reason for your infertility. This is called unexplained infertility. This doesn’t mean you are infertile, just that they are not sure what is causing the hold-up.
How do male fertility tests work?
When your partner is called to have fertility tests, this will usually mean them giving a sperm sample. Doctors often jokingly call this a swimmers test. This will mean your partner either manually providing a semen deposit at home or in a designated room at the hospital (so they don’t have to do it in the toilet cubicle!) and then getting it to the lab within an hour. These tests usually have a designated drop-off time slot so that the sample will be fresh, so the lab can examine the sperm’s motility (movement) and count (number of sperm per measure of semen).
When should I have fertility tests?
Doctors recommend having fertility tests when you’ve been trying for a baby without success for more than two years, but this is dependent on age. If you’re over 35, you can go after a year, but if you’re worried about this, see your GP and they will guide you through your options.
Are fertility tests free on the NHS or does insurance cover them?
It is very rare for private health insurance to cover the cost of fertility tests, but the NHS will refer you through the process across a number of months if you are willing to wait. If you decide to go the private route, remember that it might be harder to get back on to the NHS referral process once you’ve opted out.
Are fertility tests painful?
Most fertility tests won’t be painful, but maybe slightly uncomfortable. The transvaginal ultrasound is a bit like having a cervical smear, but takes a little bit longer. The HSG test does sting in the same way that period pain can, but it only lasts momentarily.
Do home fertility tests work?
In the meantime, home ovulation kits are said to be 99% accurate when detecting your LH surge (which is the hormone released when you ovulate). Some products even have a symbol for the high fertility and peak fertility days so you have a bit of warning. That said, with the simpler home kits, you might go from nothing to ovulation day in the space of a day which doesn’t give you much warning.