'Natural' Approach to Fertility Helps Many Women Who Can't Get Pregnant, U Physician Says

'Natural' Approach to Fertility Helps Many Women Who Can't Get Pregnant, U Physician Says

Aug 11, 2004 6:00 PM

A non-invasive approach to fertility that restores the "natural reproductive function" helped half the women with fertility problems who tried it to have a baby, according to a University of Utah School of Medicine family practitioner.

NaPro (short for Natural Procreative Technology) doesn't involve medical procedures other than an initial physical examination of a couple and a monthly blood draw to check hormone levels, said Joseph B. Stanford, M.D., M.S.P.H., associate professor of family and preventive medicine. After an evaluation to rule out more serious problems, such as tubal blockage or very low sperm count, a couple then tracks the woman's fertility cycle to determine whether it's normal and their best days to try to conceive.

"This is really a patient-empowered approach," said Stanford, who recently contributed three chapters to a textbook on NaPro. "Their part is as important as the physician's."

As they record the woman's menstrual cycle, couples determine the pattern of vaginal bleeding and vaginal discharge of fluids from the cervix, along with other factors such as how many days the pre- and post-ovulation periods last. This identifies whether the woman's menstrual cycle is normal and the best time to try to get pregnant, according to Stanford.

For example, as a response to estrogen, the vagina discharges mucus to transport and protect sperm. The best days to get pregnant occur during vaginal discharge, particularly the peak day of discharge, Stanford said. But two-thirds of women with fertility problems don't produce enough vaginal discharge. Couples have a better chance of getting pregnant if they know how long the woman produces vaginal discharge and the peak day of discharge.

Determining hormone levels, such as progesterone, also plays a key role.

Low progesterone can affect fertility. Progesterone typically is produced at its highest level seven days after ovulation. A monthly blood draw on that day (as determined by the woman's fertility chart) reveals whether a woman produces enough progesterone or may benefit from a supplement.

Men with low sperm count or hormone levels also can receive medication, according to Stanford.

Because NaPro requires few medical procedures, it is less expensive than other methods, such as in vitro fertilization, Stanford said.

That's one reason some couples choose NaPro. Others choose it when in vitro fertilization hasn't worked or because they want to try NaPro before in vitro fertilization. Some couples also prefer NaPro because it is more natural than in vitro fertilization, according to Stanford.

Stanford said that half the women in a yet-to-be-published study of NaPro became pregnant up to two years after starting the method. The average age of participants was 36 and they had tried to get pregnant for five years.

Most couples having trouble conceiving would be candidates for NaPro. But there are rare cases in which it won't work. When a man's sperm count is very low and can't be helped by medication, for example, or when a woman has tubal blockage or other physical problems preventing conception.

"But I've only seen a few cases where it's not worth a try," Stanford said.

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