Is the BACTERIA in your vagina stopping you from getting pregnant?

Common, but often invisible, infection ‘linked to infertility’

  • Abnormal vaginal bacteria levels affects a woman’s fertility, experts warn
  • Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a common condition – an imbalance of bacteria
  • Scientists analyzed the bacterial levels of 130 women undergoing IVF 
  • Only 9% of women with abnormal levels became pregnant after IVF
  • Scientists say women trying to get pregnant should be screened for BV

A common infection, that often offers no symptoms, could reduce a woman’s chances of getting pregnant, experts have warned.

Bacterial vaginosis causes an imbalance of the bacteria in a woman’s vagina.

It is already known that expectant mothers suffering BV are six times more likely to suffer a miscarriage, and twice as likely to give birth prematurely.

But, now a new study has found abnormal levels of bacteria in the vagina can affect the chances of becoming pregnant in the first place. Scientists at Aarhus University in Denmark discovered bacterial vaginosis can impact on whether in vitro fertilization (IVF) works.

They suggest it is important for women to be screened for the condition before embarking on the fertility treatment.

Scientists examined 130 women undergoing IVF treatment - and found that only nine per cent of those with abnormal vaginal bacterial levels successfully became pregnant after IVF

Scientists examined 130 women undergoing IVF treatment – and found that only nine per cent of those with abnormal vaginal bacterial levels successfully became pregnant after IVF

Researchers analyzed 130 women undergoing IVF to see whether their bacterial levels affected their likelihood of getting pregnant.

Only nine per cent of women with abnormal bacterial levels became pregnant after the treatment, the findings reveal.

Bacterial vaginosis is the most common vaginal condition affecting women between the ages of 15 and 44, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.The condition occurs when there is a build up of too much of a certain kind of bacteria, which throws off the balance of the normal vaginal microbiota.

Scientists aren’t sure what causes the condition or why some women get it.

However, it is known that having a new sex partner or multiple sex partners, or douching, can upset the balance of bacteria in the vagina and increase a woman’s risk of developing the condition, the CDC noted.

Women with acterial vaginosis do not always experience symptoms – though some women notice a watery, mild discharge and a fishy odor coming from the vagina.

Pregnant women with bacterial vaginosis are more likely to suffer miscarriages and deliver premature and low birth-weight babies.

Furthermore, bacterial vaginosis is known to occur in approximately 19 per cent of the infertile population, the new study revealed.

Yet, few scientists actually looked into the effect that abnormal vaginal bacteria levels have on fertility – until now.

Bacterial vaginosis is a common condition in women – which is marked by an imbalance of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria (such as Gardnerella vaginalis, pictured) that are normally found in the vagina. Scientists recommend that women get screened for bacterial vaginosis before undergoing IVF

The team of Danish scientists took vaginal swabs from IVF patients undergoing treatment from April to December 2013.

They found that up to 28 per cent of the women had bacterial vaginosis, with high build-ups of either Gardnerella vaginalis and/or Atopobium vaginae bacteria.

At the end of the study, a total of 84 of the 130 women completed IVF treatment.

Overall, 35 per cent became pregnant – compared with only nine per cent of the women who had abnormal vaginal bacterial levels.

The researchers concluded: ‘Abnormal vaginal microbiota may negatively affect the clinical pregnancy rate in IVF patients.

‘If a negative correlation between abnormal vaginal microbiota and the clinical pregnancy rate is corroborated, patients could be screened and subsequently treated for abnormal vaginal microbiota prior to fertility treatment.’

The study was published in the journal Human Reproduction.


Few have heard of bacterial vaginosis (BV) although it’s a relatively common condition.

Symptoms include a watery, milky discharge and fishy odour coming from the vagina.

Women with BV are more likely to get sexually transmitted infections (STIs) – such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea and herpes – and to transmit or acquire HIV.

They are more likely to develop pelvic inflammatory disease, a painful condition that can result in infertility.

Pregnant women with BV are more likely to suffer miscarriages and deliver premature and low birth-weight babies.

Studies have shown women’s self-esteem, sexual relationships and quality of life suffer significantly from this infection.

Women have reported BV symptoms make them feel embarrassed, ‘dirty’ and concerned others may be able to detect their odour.

Many women with BV symptoms think they are experiencing thrush, and commonly report being treated for this.

But BV doesn’t cause itching and there is often a noticeable fishy odour. Improper treatment for this condition leads to persistent symptoms, frustration and distress.

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