sad young woman holding pregnancy testSecondary infertility occurs when a couple that is trying to conceive cannot become pregnant or cannot carry a pregnancy to term even after the birth of another biological child. For many couples, secondary infertility comes as a surprise, as they assume that if they had a child with no problem the first time, the second time should be the same.

How Do I Know I Have It?

Couples are diagnosed with secondary infertility once they have had unprotected sex for 12 months or more without a pregnancy or if the woman has suffered more than two miscarriages. For couples where either partner is over 35, then it is over a period of six months without success. Like primary infertility, the cause can be either a problem with the man or woman’s reproductive health, a combination or the two or for a reason that is simply “unexplained.”

But unlike primary infertility, the couple does have a child or children. Because of this, many people downplay the emotional shock and distress of secondary infertility. It is not uncommon for these couples to hear, “Keep on trying!” or “At least you have ____” in response to their diagnosis. Furthermore, the stress and grief of not being able to continue building their family can be difficult to manage when they are already parenting another child.

This diagnosis is more common than most people realize. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that 11 percent of couples that are already parents of a biological child will develop secondary infertility. Estimates say that nearly half of all the infertility cases are the result of secondary infertility.

What Are the Causes?

Since the couple already has a biological child, the most common cause for secondary infertility is that the problem developed after the birth of the first child. Something changed in either partner, be it a decrease in sperm count, a depleted ovarian reserve, or an infection that injures or impairs the reproductive system. Some couples may have been undiagnosed before their first pregnancy and just been lucky that time. Significant weight gain by either partner since the last pregnancy could contribute to the problem. Unfortunately, there isn’t always an easy answer to the question that most couples ask, “Why?”

Treatment Options for Secondary Infertility

The treatment for secondary infertility is the same as it is for primary infertility. Assisted reproductive technologies (ART) can help these couples conceive the same as they can for couples with no biological children. Fertility drugs, intrauterine insemination (IUI) and in vitro fertilization (IVF) are among some of the most successful treatments. In the case of blocked fallopian tubes, fibroids or endometrial tissue in the pelvic cavity, laparoscopic surgery to correct these issues may help couples conceive their next child.

Secondary infertility is hard for families that would like to continue to grow. Since they had one or more biological children in the past, the diagnosis is often a shock. The good news is that people with secondary infertility that are trying to conceive have many options to help them realize their dream of having the bigger family they want. With the help of the ART treatments available in reproductive science, they, too, can make their dreams of family a reality.


Gurevich, Rachel. “What Is Secondary Infertility?” 3 December 2013. Web. 5 February 2014. <>

“Secondary Infertility.” Web. 5 February 2014.