Does COVID-19 Affect Fertility?
When you’re trying to conceive, you pay attention to every sign, every symptom, and do your best to take care of your overall health. So, when you end up with COVID-19, it can feel like a nightmare on top of everything else you already have to worry about. With the rumor mill constantly swirling as to the long-term effects of COVID, it’s hard to know what’s true and what’s not. Beyond any pauses or delays to fertility treatment, having COVID-19 can lead to lots of questions about your current and future fertility. So, what does the research actually say? Let’s dive in.
Why would COVID-19 compromise fertility?
Let’s start with the one thing you should know upfront: while we are still in the early stages of medical research on COVID-19, there is no conclusive scientific data that links COVID-19 or the COVID-19 vaccine to a compromised ability to conceive. However, COVID-19 itself does pose a risk during pregnancy, which is why The American Society for Reproductive Medicine recommends the COVID-19 vaccine for anyone who is pregnant or planning to get pregnant soon.
As you probably already know, the internet is rampant with claims about how COVID-19 could have negative implications for fertility, especially when we add in the myths related to the COVID-19 vaccine. From diminished ovarian reserve to changes in menstruation, there is no conclusive evidence that a COVID-19 infection has a negative effect on your ability to conceive, and most symptoms such as irregular bleeding have been shown to be short-term. However, more academic study is needed.
Taraneh Gharib Nazem, MD and double board certified REI of New York City’s Mount Sinai Hospital shares her experience with patients contracting COVID-19 over the last two years:
“In my practice, I see many patients who are trying to conceive and contract COVID along the way. Most of those same patients go on to successfully conceive and have healthy pregnancies.”
Dr. Amy Roskin, OB/GYN based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida echoes this sentiment: “There aren’t particular symptoms of acute COVID that have been specifically linked to compromised fertility in men or women. A recent review of previous studies on people undergoing fertility procedures indicated that in 3 out of 4 of the studies reviewed, the fertilization rate was not significantly changed in participants who had had COVID.”
So, even in the midst of ongoing research, having a case of COVID-19 should not impact your ability to conceive and should not delay necessary fertility treatments.
Does the COVID-19 vaccine affect fertility?
The most common myth out there is not necessarily related to the COVID-19 virus itself, but rather to the COVID-19 vaccine. Still, there is no medical evidence that getting a COVID-19 vaccine will impact your current or future ability to get pregnant or have any negative effects on pregnancy or miscarriage rates. This myth has been disproven. According to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, this myth “claiming the vaccine results in female infertility is not only completely baseless, but also dangerous.”
Can COVID-19 impact pregnancy outcomes?
There is a difference between the effects of COVID-19 or the vaccine on one’s ability to conceive vs. carrying a healthy pregnancy to term.
Evidence remains fairly conclusive that there does seem to be an impact of COVID-19 on pregnancy. Pregnant women get considerably sicker when they get COVID compared to other people their age; and if you become sick with the virus while pregnant, your chances of needing intensive care and a ventilator are higher. This can put your unborn child at higher risk for preterm birth, low birth weight, or even stillbirth.
This is why the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that all pregnant or breastfeeding women be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Does COVID-19 affect male fertility?
In January 2022, a NIH-funded study found that in couples trying to get pregnant, conception decreased in the two months after the male partner (or partner assigned male at birth) was infected with COVID-19. The conclusions of this study suggested that COVID-19 could temporarily reduce male fertility. There are a number of potential causes that are true for other viral infections as well such as:
Fever: fevers can impact sperm formation whether they’re from COVID-19 or any other viral infection
COVID-19 in the testes: the COVID-19 virus is able to enter the testicles and some males have reported testicular discomfort during COVID-19, which may impact their ability to properly function.
Hormonal changes: any disruptions to the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and gonadal glands could alter the hormonal levels needed for sperm production.
Inflammation issues: when a body is fighting off a severe illness it can lead to an “inflammation cascade,” which is capable of temporarily altering or collapsing sperm production.
Within a few months of having COVID-19, male fertility seems to go back to normal, but if you’re concerned about male fertility during COVID, consider getting a vaccine to decrease your chances of infection.
Can COVID-19 indirectly impair fertility?
No one exists in a vacuum, and while COVID-19 may have only a small effect on your chances of conceiving from a purely biological standpoint, how you’re feeling during this incredibly difficult time may also play a role.
Anxiety and depression are especially relevant to the lives of people navigating infertility. With over half of infertility patients experiencing depression and 72% experiencing anxiety, the cascading effects of mental health often impact our ability to both follow our treatment regimens and conceive. Add a COVID-19 infection on top of the very real stressors of infertility and you have a perfect recipe for needing additional mental health support to cope with everything you’re dealing with right now.
Silence is a mood disorder’s greatest weapon, so consider speaking with your healthcare provider about how you’re feeling mentally as well as physically. You’ll most likely receive a referral to a mental health professional who can become a valuable resource on your fertility journey. And, joining a community, like Rescripted, is another step to help you feel less alone while trying to conceive.
Rachel Crowe is a Denver-based comedian, screenwriter, and freelance journalist.