As women increasingly prolong their child-free years, those who know they want to become mothers eventually are worrying more and more about their fertility. Should we be trying to get pregnant before we're ready, for fear of missing out on motherhood altogether? Should we be freezing our eggs? Is there a chance we may not even be fertile?
It's no surprise that many of us are turning to fertility tests for answers to our questions. These so-called MOTs, which can cost upwards of £100, measure levels of anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH) and serum follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) to gauge how many eggs a woman has and thereby her chances of getting pregnant. But new research suggests these aren't all they're cracked up to be – in fact, they could be a complete waste of time and money.
According to the paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the tests don't predict a woman's chance of conceiving. They simply provide a snapshot of our hormones on a particular day, rather than an accurate picture of our fertility over the following months – a fact that should be made clearer before women sign up, experts say.
The researchers enlisted 750 women aged 30 to 44, with no history of infertility, who had been trying for a baby for up to three months. The findings suggested women should think twice before they sign up for a fertility test – low AMH or high FSH hormone levels had no impact on a woman's chance of conceiving within a particular month, and didn't mean she was less likely to have a baby after six or 12 months.
Indeed, the scientists pointed out that women with fewer eggs (or a "lower ovarian reserve") can become pregnant with no problems, while others with more eggs may take longer to conceive and need fertility treatment.
However, the findings didn't rubbish the validity of fertility MOTs altogether. The study didn't examine what they could tell us about fertility 12 months (or longer) after taking a test, and the tests could still be beneficial for women experiencing fertility issues, to help doctors decide what to prescribe them.
"Hormone levels change with time, so taking a snapshot today tells us very little about what women's fertility will be like tomorrow," said Dr. Channa Jayasena, a fertility expert at Imperial College London. "This study tells us that measuring these hormones to predict fertility in potentially worried and vulnerable women is wrong, and should be stopped," reported the BBC.
Renowned fertility expert Professor Adam Balen, president of the British Fertility Society, suggested it's worth waiting a while before seeking answers via a fertility test if you're having trouble trying to conceive.
"Fertility does decline as both men and particularly women get older, and so if you start trying for a baby and think there may be problems, or if you've been trying for a year without success, don't delay before seeking advice from a fertility specialist," he said, adding that you'll then be guided towards tests specific to your situation.