Fertility and Pregnancy

Fertility is the ability of people or animals to produce healthy offspring in abundance. In the English language, the term was originally applied only to females, but increasingly is applied to males as well, as common understanding of reproductive mechanisms increases and the importance of the male role is better known. The opposite of fertility is infertility.

Human fertility depends on factors of nutrition, sexual behavior, culture, instinct, endocrinology, timing, economics, way of life, and emotions. Animal fertility is no less complex, and may display astounding mechanisms.

The fertility rate is a demographic measure of the number of children per woman. Although it has been until recently considered to be a fairly reliable indicator of population growth, it is no longer so in much of Asia. Due to selective abortion and other factors, the number of women themselves is declining. Therefore, the fertility rate as it has traditionally been defined is no longer an authoritative measure of population growth in China, India, and Myanmar.

Both women and men have hormonal cycles which determine both when a woman can achieve pregnancy and when a man is most fertile. The female cycle is approximately twenty-eight days long, but the male cycle is variable. Women ovulate at about the fourteenth day of their cycle, this obviously being the most fertile time for females. Men can ejaculate and produce sperm at any time of the month, but their libido dips occasionally, which scientists guess is in relation to their internal cycle.

Fertility -- Pregnancy

In the News ...

First 'cell map' of 20,000 cells in mammalian embryo   PhysOrg - January 9, 2018
Scientists at the Wellcome - MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute have used cutting-edge technology to profile over 20,000 individual cells to produce the first 'cell map' describing all the major cell types present at the early stage of mammalian embryo development. The researchers used the map to identify an important new pathway involved in blood cell development and say the map could open up new avenues for medicine and drug development. The patterns of genetic activity in the developing embryo were captured in the new 'cell map' that will help scientists understand how cells grow and acquire all the various specialized functions required for the body to function.

Sperm counts among western men have halved in last 40 years – study   The Guardian - July 26, 2017
Reasons for the ‘shocking’ drop are unclear, say researchers, and represent a huge and neglected area of public health. The latest findings reveal that between 1973 and 2011, the concentration of sperm in the ejaculate of men in western countries has fallen by an average of 1.4% a year, leading to an overall drop of just over 52%.

Ladies, this is why fertility declines with age   Medical Express - April 3, 2017

Researchers found that the microtubules that orchestrate chromosome segregation during cell division behave abnormally in older eggs. Instead of assembling a spindle in a controlled symmetrical fashion, the microtubules go in all directions. The altered movement of the microtubules apparently contributes to errors in chromosome segregation, and so represents a new explanation for age-related infertility.

Three-parent baby born to infertile couple in world first   The Telegraph - January 18, 2017

The baby boy is thought to be the world's second three-parent baby after another child was created using a slightly different technique in Mexico last year.The Kiev team fertilized the mother's egg with her partner's sperm and then transferred the combined genes into an egg taken from a donor. The child has the genetic identity of its parents, combined with small amounts of DNA from a second woman. While this latest three-parent birth was designed to remedy infertility, the method employed last year in Mexico was intended as a way of dodging inherited genetic disease.

Baby's Feet Outside Mom's Uterus: Amazing Image Shows Rare Rupture   Live Science - December 21, 2016

Just looking at this image might give the impression that this woman's baby literally kicked its feet right out of her uterus. But moms-to-be with kicky babies can rest easy - the MRI image showcases an extremely rare condition that was not caused by a baby's kick. The 33-year-old woman had developed a 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) tear in the wall of her uterus, and through the tear, part of the amniotic sac measuring 7.5 by 4.7 by 3.5 inches (19 by 12 by 9 cm) popped out, according to a brief report of her case. The amniotic sac is the fluid-filled membrane found in the uterus that contains the growing and developing fetus. But the woman had no symptoms that any of this was going on. She didn't learn of her condition until she came in for a routine ultrasound when she was 22-weeks pregnant.

Rise of the 'cellfie' - baby photos now begin at fertilization   Telegraph - November 29, 2016

For anyone born before the 1950s their earliest baby pictures are likely to be at a few days old. Fast forward several decades and parents could take home an image of their child just 12 weeks after conception thanks to the advent of ultrasound and cheap printers. But groundbreaking fertility technology is allowing the family album to begin at fertilization with parents increasingly asking for images of their children when they are just a few cells in a petri dish.

Evidence suggests women's ovaries can grow new eggs   The Guardian - October 8, 2016
Discovery challenges notion that women are born with a fixed number of eggs, and raises prospect of treatments which would allow older women to conceive

Boys conceived through IVF technique have lower than average fertility   The Guardian - October 5, 2016
Tests on young men conceived via intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection show that they have lower sperm quantity and quality that those conceived naturally

First 'three person baby' born using new method   BBC - September 27, 2016
The world's first baby has been born using a new "three person" fertility technique, New Scientist reveals. The five-month-old boy has the usual DNA from his mum and dad, plus a tiny bit of genetic code from a donor. US doctors took the unprecedented step to ensure the baby boy would be free of a genetic condition that his Jordanian mother carries in her genes. Experts say the move heralds a new era in medicine and could help other families with rare genetic conditions. But they warn that rigorous checks of this new and controversial technology, called mitochondrial donation, are needed.

Solving the mystery of defective embryos   PhysOrg - January 4, 2016
It's the dream of many infertile couples: to have a baby. Tens of thousands of children are born by in vitro fertilization, or IVF, a technique commonly used when nature doesn't take its course. However, embryos obtained when a sperm fertilizes an egg in a test tube often have defects. In a study published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers at the University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre (CRCHUM) discovered an important element in understanding how these anomalies occur in the developing embryo.

'Modern twist' on fertility technique may offer hope for sterile men   The Guardian - November 3, 2015
Fourteen babies have been born following the injection of very immature sperm cells into eggs – a technique that could help infertile men to become fathers, scientists say. The 14 children were born to 12 men and their partners in Japan after round spermatid injection (Rosi), which has been banned in the UK since the 1990s due to concerns for the health of any children it might create.

Male fertility: Losing weight and cancer drugs 'boost sperm'   BBC - March 6, 2015

Two approaches to boosting obese men's sperm have been presented at the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society. The first suggested that obese men who lost weight were more likely get their partners pregnant. The second found that a cancer drug helped some infertile men have children. Experts said the approaches were interesting alternatives to IVF and were opening up "real possibilities" for men. Weight loss is already widely advised for women struggling to conceive and obesity has long been suspected as a factor in male infertility.

Scientists describe the function of an enzyme critical to male fertility   PhysOrg - March 4, 2015

Researchers are one step closer to unraveling the extraordinarily complex series of processes that leads to an event crucial to human reproduction: the creation of sperm. In a study published in the journal Genes and Development researchers have filled in details of how an enzyme, through interactions with a network of nearly two dozen other genes, protects the integrity of the germ line by giving rise to a class of RNA molecules that are essential to sperm development. The enzyme of interest, the RNA helicase MOV10L1, is likely the source of mutations that cause some cases of male infertility and could one day serve as a target for a form of reversible male contraception.

8 things I wish I'd known before freezing my eggs   NBC - October 25, 2014

When it was revealed that Facebook and Apple are paying for women employees to freeze their eggs, more young women may be wondering, is it right for me? Robyn Ross, a Los Angeles recruitment director, shares the wisdom of her experience with egg freezing.
1. I was able to overcome my fear of needles
2. It took pressure off dating
3. Guys think it's a great idea
4. Even though I had bought time, I wanted to have a baby as soon as possible
5. I didn't realize all the work it would take to put them back in
6. It takes a lot of eggs to make one baby
7. I wish I had frozen more eggs
8. I never forget what a miracle my little girl is

Sugary Drinks May Slow Down Sperm   Live Science - May 30, 2014
Men might want to think twice before grabbing another soda out of the fridge. Scientists have already shown sugary drinks can add unwanted inches to waistlines, but a new study shows sugar-sweetened drinks such as soda may also lower semen quality. The researchers found that high consumption of sugary drinks was associated with low sperm motility, or sperm movement - but surprisingly, this was true only for healthy, lean men. The researchers found no relationship between sugary drink consumption and sperm motility in overweight or obese men.

Stress degrades sperm quality, study shows   Science Daily - May 29, 2014
Psychological stress is harmful to sperm and semen quality, affecting its concentration, appearance, and ability to fertilize an egg, according to a study. It is not fully understood how stress affects semen quality. It may trigger the release of steroid hormones called glucocorticoids, which in turn could blunt levels of testosterone and sperm production. Another possibility is oxidative stress, which has been shown to affect semen quality and fertility.

Female pigs can recognize the sex of sperm and influence the sex of their offspring   PhysOrg - May 21, 2014

Female pigs' reproductive systems recognize whether a sperm will produce a boy or a girl before it reaches and fertilizes the egg, and their oviduct (fallopian tubes) change in response. Scientists think this may be a way females unconsciously influence the sex of their offspring. Although in nature the ratio would normally be 50:50, this suggests females might be able to change the environment of the oviduct to favor one sex over the other, giving that sperm a better chance of winning the race to the egg.

Fertility mystery solved: protein discovered that joins sperm with eggs   The Guardian - April 16, 2014

British scientists' identification of Juno molecule opens door to new developments in fertility treatment and contraception.

IVF success rate 'could be doubled'   BBC - December 19, 2013

Mapping the genetic code of fertilized eggs could double the success rate of IVF, researchers claim. The new screening method to detect healthy embryos could raise the success of IVF to 60% or more, according to a Peking University and Harvard University team. Trials of the procedure in China offer hope to older women, they say.

Edinburgh fruit fly study links 'huddle' gene to infertility   BBC - November 26, 2012
Scientists have identified a gene which they claim could help solve the problem of infertility in humans. Edinburgh University conducted a study with fruit flies, during which they found when the gene SRPK is missing, chromosomes do not "huddle" together. They believe the huddling process is necessary to ensure the egg's healthy development and fertilization. Chromosomes contain DNA and when they divide it can lead to sterility and low fertility, according to the study. Previous research in mice has shown that the huddling process is essential in order for eggs to remain fertile, the scientists said.

Sperm Act Like Bumbling Drunks on Way to Egg   Live Science - May 8, 2012

Making a baby seems to rely on bumbling, crawling sperm, new research suggests, putting the kibosh on the popular notion that sperm are strong swimmers, whipping their tails back and forth to navigate though the uterus toward their ultimate goal of infiltrating the egg. By studying sperm in tiny channels, researchers have discovered their travels can be arduous; instead of swimming merrily through the uterus, sperm cells tend to follow the walls of the reproductive tract, crawling along and inching around corners, frequently colliding with each other and with the walls.

Women Can Make New Eggs After All, Stem-Cell Study Hints   National Geographic - March 1, 2012

Women may make new eggs throughout their reproductive years - challenging a longstanding tenet that females are born with finite supplies, a new study says. The discovery may also lead to new avenues for improving women's health and fertility. A woman has two ovaries, which release eggs during her monthly ovulation. Previous research had suggested that a woman is born with all the egg cells she will ever have in her lifetime.

Research breakthrough on male infertility   PhysOrg - May 13, 2011
Around one in 20 men is infertile, but despite the best efforts of scientists, in many cases the underlying causes of infertility have remained a mystery. New findings by a team of Australian and Swedish researchers, however, will go a long way towards explaining this mystery.

Scientists discover human sperm gene is 600 million years old   PhysOrg - July 16, 2010
Just as styles in sexy clothes or fashion change from year to year and culture to culture, "sexy" genes, or genes specific to sex, also change rapidly. But there is one sex-specific gene so vital, its function has remained unaltered throughout evolution and is found in almost all animals, according to new research from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

Sperm in All Animals Originated 600 Million Years Ago   Live Science - July 16, 2010
A gene responsible for sperm production is so vital that its function has remained unaltered throughout evolution and is found in almost all animals, according to a new study. The results suggest the ability to produce sperm originated 600 million years ago. The gene, called Boule, appears to be the only gene known to be exclusively required for sperm production in animals ranging from an insect to a mammal.

Why do certain diseases go into remission during pregnancy?   PhysOrg - June 17, 2010
During pregnancy, many women experience remission of autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis and uveitis. Now, scientists have described a biological mechanism responsible for changes in the immune system that helps to explain the remission.

More than just the baby blues   PhysOrg - June 16, 2010

Within the first week after giving birth, up to 70 percent of all women experience symptoms of the baby blues. While most women recover quickly, up to 13 percent of all new mothers suffer from symptoms of a clinical-level postpartum depression. Postpartum depression is defined as a major depressive episode starting within 4 weeks after delivery and is a significant public health problem. Postpartum blues represents a major risk factor for developing postpartum depression and severe postpartum blues symptoms can be viewed as a prodromal stage for postpartum depression. Julia Sacher and her colleague Jeffrey H. Meyer now reveal an increase of the enzyme MAO-A throughout the female brain in the immediate postpartum period and propose a novel, neurobiological model for postpartum blues.

Postpartum depression   Wikipedia

New Test Reveals Good vs. Bad Sperm   Live Science - June 1, 2010

A simple laboratory test can separate healthy, functional sperm cells from sperm with damaged DNA with 99-percent accuracy, according to new research. The test uses a chemical found in the membrane of human egg cells to sort functional from non-functional sperm. It has already been approved for use in in-vitro fertilization by the Food and Drug Administration and can raise the chances of a successful pregnancy by 20 to 30 percent, according to lead developer Gabor Huszar, a senior researcher in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences at Yale Medical School.

How a Man Produces 1,500 Sperm a Second   National Geographic - March 19, 2010

For the past 40 years scientists have thought stem cells in the testicles - also called germline stem cells - become sperm only through a simple, two-step process. Not so. Germline stem cells, it seems, can become sperm in several different ways. The research also revealed that sperm develop from a smaller subset of specialized germline stem cells in the testes than previously thought.

New Hormone Treatment Shows Potential to Reverse Infertility   Science Daily - March 16, 2010
Twice weekly injections of the hormone kisspeptin may provide a new treatment to restore fertility in some women. The research is being presented at the Society for Endocrinology BES meeting in Manchester. The findings show that twice-weekly injections of kisspeptin can lead to increases in the levels of sex hormones, which control the menstrual cycle. This is the first study to show this effect can be maintained over the long term and it may lead to new therapies for women whose infertility is due to low sex hormone levels

Sperm Prefer Attractive Females   Live Science - July 9, 2009

I don't make this stuff up, promise. I just find it and pass it along for your perusal: "Males may alter the velocity of sperm they allocate to copulations by strategically firing their left and right ejaculatory ducts, which can operate independently."

  Scientists claim sperm 'first'   BBC - July 8, 2009
Scientists in Newcastle claim to have created human sperm in the laboratory in what they say is a world first. The researchers believe the work could eventually help men with fertility problems to father a child. But other experts say they are not convinced that fully developed sperm have been created.

Secret Birth Control Method: The Welcome Dance of the Uterus   Live Science - March 8, 2009

Female reproductive organs, unlike male reproductive organs, are not usually on the move. The ovaries and fallopian tubes mostly just hang out quietly in the pelvis, minding their own business, and the uterus only expands with pregnancy and is happy to shrink back to normal size after the baby is gone. But as David Elad of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Tel Aviv University, Israel, has recently discovered, the uterus, like everything else on Earth, is subject to the laws of motion. Understanding those movement, Elad points out, can also have a major impact on the success or failure of in vitro fertilization and the possibility of successful pregnancies for infertile couples.

5 Myths of Fertility Treatments   Live Science - March 3, 2009
Myth 1: Designer babies are coming soon
Myth 2: In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) is easy
Myth 3: Egg donation is common
Myth 4: IVF increases fertility
Myth 5: The children will be fine

Moment of ovulation captured on video Telegraph.co.uk - June 12, 2008

These are the clearest pictures ever taken of what is the starting point of every human life: ovulation occurring inside a woman's body.

Key to Male Infertility Found Live Science - July 1, 2007
How much of a certain immune system protein a man's semen contains could determine whether or not he can have children, a new study suggests. The finding, detailed in the latest issue of the journal Molecular Medicine, could lead to fertility tests for males or new types of male contraception, the researchers say.

4-D Ultrasound Gives Video View of Life in the Womb National Geographic - February 2005

Scans uncover secrets of the womb BBC - June 2004

A new type of ultrasound scan has produced the first vivid pictures of a 12 week-old fetus "walking" in the womb.