Why your “egg count” isn’t that important

CNN recently ran a weekend special called “Baby Quest” with Kyra Phillips. It’s great that fertility issues are getting more attention, and I know the producers and reporters had the best intentions. But one of the first things mentioned was that women should get a blood test and/or an ultrasound to find out their “egg count” or ovarian reserve, because that will give them an idea of how fertile they are.

Except it doesn’t. Egg count matters a lot if you’re having IVF, but that’s a tiny percentage of women. For natural conception, most of the research finds that low egg count lowers fertility somewhat but doesn’t mean you won’t get pregnant. Why? IVF needs to get out a lot of eggs at once, but for natural conception all you need is one.

So: Don’t waste your money and emotional energy getting your egg count tested (unless you know you’re headed for IVF). Instead, learn the best ways to up your odds for natural conception. For example, inĀ The Impatient Woman’s Guide, I describe three techniques for predicting your ovulation — and how if you’re really impatient you can use all three at once!

Egg count tests are a personal issue for me as well. I had my last two children at ages 38 and 40 — AFTER being told I had a very low egg count of 5. A friend of mine got pregnant with her third child at the age of 40 the same cycle that her FSH was 25 — an indicator of very low egg count. I later found out that these were not isolated cases, because the medical research finds that FSH isn’t a definitive predictor of natural fertility.

I’m a researcher, so I usually love having more information. But this is one case where I wish I hadn’t had the test. I was devastated after I got the news that I had a low egg count. I cried for a long time — it was like grieving, because I was afraid this meant I wouldn’t be able to have the family I wanted. But thankfully that turned out not to be the case.

Did you have your egg count tested — through a urine test (such as the First Response Fertility Test for Women), blood test (of FSH or AMH), or an ultrasound? How did you react to the results? Or did you make a conscious decision to not worry about such things until you had to?

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About impatientwoman

I'm a psychology professor/researcher and mom of three. When I was trying to get pregnant, I read everything I could find -- and was surprised to find how much advice on fertility was wrong, according to the medical research. Or it was weird, like the statistics on over-35 fertility based on birth records from 17th century France (really!) Plus so many fertility books were boring, or written by men, or written by boring men. That's why I wrote The Impatient Woman's Guide to Getting Pregnant.
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9 Responses to Why your “egg count” isn’t that important

  1. Alex says:

    I had a miscarriage in June 12 by October 12 I still hadn’t conceived so I had lots of tests done including AMH. The result was less than 0.01 I was devasted I was told I would need IVF straight away as I was 35. I decided against it and took up meditation and yoga instead and gave my body and mind a rest from trying to conceive then a week ago ( jan 13 ) I found out I was pregnant. We are thrilled to bits but very nervous as going through another miscarriage would be devastating. I am lucky enough to have been blessed with a beautiful three year old daughter and to be blessed again is just amazing. I really don’t think testing for AMH levels is worthwhile unless its for IVF.

    • I hear these stories all the time. It’s so odd that IVF is suggested as the solution for low egg count, when IVF is less successful in women with low egg count. If there are other indications for IVF — blocked tubes, serious sperm issues — then yes, moving straight to IVF makes sense. But it’s not a great solution for low egg count if that’s the main fertility issue. From the research I was able to find, one of the few things that might help low egg count is taking DHEA (I describe this more in the book; also check out the website of the Center for Human Reproduction in New York, run by the doctors who did the first DHEA research). And DHEA is $10 a bottle — a lot cheaper than the tens of thousands for IVF.

  2. c says:

    Thankyou so much for this post. i too have a level of 5 at 39 and told by my GP that IVF is the only way now. I too feel devastated and scared. Thanks so much for this post again. I hope to have the same story to share ( I was a mother too at 38!

  3. Nash says:

    I was just told that I have a low egg count. But my doctor was all over the place when answering questions. I was shocked to find out that at the age of 35 I am probably go into early menapause. She also let me know that it was just the way my body is built and this is why this is happening. I mentioned to her that why would I do IVF if I have a low egg count….wouldn’t it be a waste? She simply answered “What do you consider a waste”. I am getting married in Nov 2013 and really wanted to wait until after the marriage to get pregnant,but she has told me I should not wait. My gut is telling me to go the natural route with herbal medecines, to see what may happen in the next 5 months leading up to the wedding. Do you have any advice for me, and where would I pick up DHEA? and what dossages would I take?

    • I was told that, too, and went on to get pregnant quickly twice in two years after that. Without knowing the details (how was it measured — ultrasound? FSH? AMH? And what were the exact numbers?) it’s hard to give specific advice about whether you should wait until after your wedding. I can say that going straight to IVF without trying naturally first would be a mistake — unless you have blocked tubes or some other issue like that, you should at least try to get pregnant on your own first. Same goes for DHEA and other supplements — try without them first, for at least 3 months with timed sex. Then consider trying them out. I found DHEA at a supplement store (I think GNC). Doses vary, but the research I review in The Impatient Woman’s Guide suggested 25mg three times a day.

  4. Sharon says:

    I was just told that I have low/undetectable egg count through AMH levels. My AMH level is 0.2 (people my age is usually at 1.0). I am 28. This is discouraging, but the doctor said that really, I only need one egg to conceive. I am praying that this will not too adversely affect my chances to conceive.

  5. Lisa says:

    Hi
    I would just like to say to all those hopeful or already mothers with low egg count, YOU CAN FALL PREGNANT NATURALLY!

    I was 41 when I had that “egg timer” test and my count was below 1.1!!!!!

    I was devastated!!! I believed I was never going to have another child and my son would never have the sister or brother he so desparatly wanted. I was even told by the fertality clinic that it was highly unlikely that i would fall pregnant and ivf was the only way but that too did not look promising because of how low my egg count was.

    Well they got it WRONG, at 42 I gave birth to a very healthy baby boy! And he was natural! As long as your ovulating you can fall. I know when I ovulate from tracking, so on days before and after my husband and I did the deed! Lots of sex ladies.

    I wouldn’t recommend that egg test. If your test comes back with low and in my case extremely low count all it does is play on your mind and stress you out. All you focus on is “not falling pregnant” . How many times have you heard ladies say ” I just forgot about it for awhile, went out drinking, went on holiday, etc” And they end up pregnant!

    Women can fall pregnant with a low egg count! You only need one good egg!

  6. Alison says:

    Hi,

    In August I was advised I had diminished ovarian reserve. I can’t remember the exact numbers but it was confirmed through ultrasound and blood testing. Everything else looked good but since I’d been trying to conceive for 15+ months and I had turned 36, I was advised to proceed with IUI. I read this blog-post and decided to wait a while. My period is four days late and I’ve had a positive home pregnancy test every day this week. So now I’m ‘cautiously optimistic’ and thought I’d share my story.
    :)

  7. Newmum2014 says:

    Before my husband and I started trying to conceive, I had a fertility test and was told that I had low AMH levels and that this indicated low fertility. I almost spiralled into depression at the grim prospect of not being able to have any children (having children was something I had always wished for ). Having just turned 35, I got pregnant a month after we started trying! Don’t let any of these tests make you feel that there is no hope of becoming a mother! There is hope and I now have a beautiful 12 week old baby boy – living proof that those tests are inconclusive. I wish everyone trying the gift of hope!

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