dr. lauren sundheimer
by Robin mcgraw
Oh BABY, Secret Squad! You asked for it, and here it is! This episode is especially delivered just for you, so listen up and get ready to expect the unexpected, especially if you’re TTC (trying to conceive)!
My incredible guest for this episode of I’ve Got a Secret has extensive experience spanning the entire spectrum of fertility care. Dr. Lauren Sundheimer’s clinical interests range from the diagnosis and management of infertility, to family planning and building, fertility preservation, LGBTQ+ care, and single-parent family-building. She truly understands the emotional investment of individuals and couples undergoing fertility treatment. And so many IGAS listeners have written in to say that this is what they want to hear an episode about, because most women only discover just how fertile they are, once they try to conceive! And shockingly, 1 in 8 couples experience fertility struggles! It’s such a sensitive and emotionally-charged subject, one I hope women will continue talking about more openly, because it’s so common! You may know that a woman’s peak fertility phase is in her 20’s, but even then, she has just a 25% chance of pregnancy per cycle! I remember when Phillip and I were thinking we were ready to get pregnant I would read every book I could get my hands on, and I realized what a true miracle it is for anyone to ever get pregnant! SO many things have to line up just perfectly for it to happen!
Dr. Sundheimer tells us, the general rule of thumb she uses is: If you’re under the age of 35 with no known fertility issues, try for a year, and if you’re still not pregnant, seek help. For women age 35 and older, Dr. Sundheimer suggests to try naturally for about 6 months, and if unsuccessful, then seek help. An important thing to note, she says, is “Even if a woman previously successfully conceived naturally, she can still have difficulty the second time around.” Secondary infertility affects millions of women and often catches them off guard. And it’s not just female fertility that should be considered. While as many as 30% of women experience infertility, the occurrence of male infertility is about 30% as well! Infertility for men just isn’t discussed as much. One reason why is because men produce new sperm all the time. Women, on the other hand, have a much more limited window. All of this can be really isolating, but the important thing to know is you’re not alone!!
What factors affect a woman’s fertility?
Since women are born with all the eggs they’ll ever have, age is the number one element that affects her chances of conceiving a healthy baby. Ovary, uterus, and egg health all contribute to healthy ovulation and ultimately healthy reproduction. Dr. Sundheimer says, if it’s something you know you want for the future, the earlier you can make a plan to either have a child or preserve your fertility is the best thing. More people than ever before are marrying later, as well as delaying family planning in favor of thriving careers, but Dr. Sundheimer tells us, “I’ve never had a patient regret the decision to start thinking of this sooner rather than later.” Like a lot of women, I always knew I wanted to be a mother! And when I first got pregnant with Jay, I was 26, which sounds young now, but back then it was considered a little bit older than usual, to be a first-time mom!
Signs you may benefit from consulting a fertility specialist:
If you’re experiencing irregular cycles, painful periods, or maybe you’ve been diagnosed with endometriosis or certain hormonal conditions, Dr. Sundheimer says you may want to check with your doctor before you begin trying to conceive. Genetics can also play a role in some fertility issues. So, if your mother went through early menopause, it might be something to discuss with your doctor. “More information than less…” Dr. Sundheimer says, “…is always a good thing.” It’s important to note that some women who struggle with fertility issues have no known signs or causes at all.
Does being on birth control affect fertility?
Dr. Sundheimer says, “It shouldn’t, even if you're on it for an extended time. But it could mask an underlying issue.” For example, if you have a history of irregular menstrual cycles, birth control will regulate them and can allow the underlying issue to go unnoticed. One exception, however, is for women who use the birth control shot. Dr. Sundheimer says they should be aware that it can delay ovulation. Which is to say, it can take a little time once she’s off of the shot to begin to ovulate naturally. Dr. Sundheimer says, “It can take up to a year and a half, to two years for things to resume…so it’s a good thing to think about getting off of the shot if you’re considering beginning a family soon.”
To freeze or not to freeze your eggs?
That is a question Dr. Sundheimer says she gets asked a lot! She tells us that the most common age-range for patients who opt for cryopreservation is women in their 30s, but women in their 20s can absolutely freeze theirs too. The younger the eggs are when they’re frozen, the better! The process involves an evaluation of your ovarian reserves, and usually an ultrasound and bloodwork to determine overall ovarian function. Then the patient undergoes 10-12 days of synthetic hormone injections to stimulate the ovaries. Once the eggs are the appropriate size, the patient administers a trigger shot, and then her physician retrieves the eggs one-by-one. Dr. Sundheimer points out, as is the case with all things fertility-related, egg freezing is NOT a guarantee for a future pregnancy. Though, the more eggs a woman freezes, and the younger they are, the better the chances.
Dr. Sundheimer and I had a little informative fun with a game called: Pregnancy Old Wives’ Tales - DEBUNKED! Chances are, you’ve heard a few of the classics! Like, “She’s carrying low, it’s got to be a BOY!” or “You’re craving sugar? It’s a girl!” Or maybe even a few of the more ominous ones such as…“Don’t eat strawberries!” “Get rid of your cat!” “Don’t wear high heels!” There is typically so much information bombarding any new mom-to-be, not to mention opinions and advice swirling at her from every angle! And it’s often really hard to discern fact from fiction! So, we enjoyed clearing up once and for all, several common maternity myths:
OWT #1: “Heartburn means your baby will be born with a lot of hair.”
FALSE! Characteristics like hair at birth are totally up to genetics.
OWT #2: “Morning sickness only happens in the morning.”
FALSE! “Morning” sickness can happen in the morning, at noon, or night, or even sometimes all day long!
OWT #3: “Eating spicy foods induces labor.”
UNDECIDED! There’s no actual data that proves this, but many people swear by it!
OWT #4: You cannot dye your hair during pregnancy.
FALSE! It’s often recommended to avoid it during the first trimester, but it’s not uncommon for pregnant women to color their hair. As always check with your doctor first.
OWT #5: Women need to eat twice as much food as they usually do, when they’re pregnant.
FALSE! You need to eat a little more, but defiantly not double your normal amount.
OWT #6: Cocoa butter and oils will prevent stretchmarks.
FALSE! Stretchmarks tend to be a genetic thing.
OWT #7: Pregnant women shouldn’t drink coffee.
FALSE! Women can enjoy one cup of coffee a day, if they like, but Dr. Sundheimer says, “As always, check with your doctor first.”
Dr. Sundheimer reminds all women, whether they’re just beginning to understand their fertility, or if they are already struggling with fertility issues, that a good goal to focus on is just, “One healthy pregnancy at a time!” She says the best way to take care of yourself as you’re trying to conceive, is to behave as if you’re already pregnant! Take prenatal vitamins, limit caffeine intake, take it easy and take really good care of yourself! Dealing with reproductive difficulties can be a very isolating struggle, and I want to encourage women to focus on their health and their mind-body connection; Try to stay uplifted with positive energy, and above everything else, always be kind to yourselves!