Among women who are having trouble becoming pregnant, a smaller percentage are now getting medical help for infertility compared with three decades ago, according to a new government report.
The finding may surprise some. Studies have found that the use of assisted reproduction techniques, such as in vitro fertilization, has increased dramatically over the last decade, giving the impression that infertility services in general are on the rise, said study researcher Anjani Chandra, a demographer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But infertility services, as defined in the study, also includes less costly and complex options, such as asking a doctor about the best days to have intercourse, and using drugs to stimulate ovulation.
"Our data come from surveys asking women about their experience with infertility services, and it tells us a somewhat different story," Chandra told LiveScience.
In fact, the use of complex procedures such as in vitro fertilization accounts for only a very small percentage of the services women get, and despite their increase, the overall use of infertility services has decreased, according to the study.
Researchers found that 38 percent of women who had no children yet and were having problems getting pregnant used infertility services between 2006 and 2010, a significant drop from the 56 percent of such women who used infertility services in 1982, according to the report.
The study included interviews with more than 20,000 men and women in the U.S., ages 25 to 44.
This decrease may stem in part from the increase in delayed childbearing, such as more women attempting to have their first child beyond age 44 (and out of the scope of the study), the researchers said.
The finding may also reflect a growing group of women responding to childlessness in ways other than seeking medical help to get pregnant, such as adopting, or deciding against having children, the researchers wrote in their report. [ 5 Myths of Fertility Treatments ]
Between 2006 and 2010, more than 5 million women ages 25 to 44 (13 percent) had used some medical help to get pregnant, according to the study published today (Jan. 22) by the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics.
The most commonly used services among women during the 2006-2010 period were those at the lower end of the range in terms of their cost and complexity, including asking a doctor's advice and undergoing infertility testing.
In line with previous studies, the new results showed disparities in women's access to infertility services, the researchers said.
Infertility rates are the same across people of different races, and people with different social and economic status, Chandra said. "But women with higher levels of education, women who are white, and those with higher income tend to use infertility services more than other women with fertility problems."
However, racial, social, and economical differences, as well as insurance coverage, are not the only factors explaining why all women don't seek medical help for infertility. "Sociodemographic differences we see are not the whole story. People may make other choices, they may pursue adoption, or they might decide to forgo childbearing altogether," Chandra said.
The study also included men, and the researchers found 9.4 percent of men reported using infertility services between 2006 and 2010, similar to levels seen in 2002.