Think you don’t have to worry about fertility until you’re 35? That only women have fertility problems? That stress is preventing you from conceiving? Find out the truth as we debunk prevalent myths about fertility.
Although women have been conceiving babies since the beginning of time, false presumptions and myths about fertility abound. In a 15-question survey concerning basic fertility facts conducted by the American Fertility Association, only one out of 12,382 respondents answered all of the questions correctly! Just one!
What causes so many misconceptions about conception? Some are old wives’ tales, others just hearsay or distorted science. They’ve either been around so long or they fit well enough into anecdotal experience that they aren’t questioned as they should be. What it comes down to is that a lot of people have the wrong idea about humans’ reproductive systems and how they work.
We’ve compiled some of the most common fertility myths and paired them up with the facts to set the record straight.
Good Health = Good Fertility
One of the most common myths about fertility—that being in good health means conception is more likely—is believed by many women, according to Dr. M. Singh, a reproductive endocrinologist at the William Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak, Michigan. “They feel that as long as they take care of themselves by eating properly and exercising, that fertility will not decline,” says Dr. Singh. Yet this simply is not the case. Fertility declines as we age, regardless of health—and even though not smoking extends fertility, it does not prevent a decline altogether.
Fertility Problems Begin at 35
Facts show that fertility changes throughout a woman’s life and doesn’t suddenly decline when she turns 35. Rather, many women reach their fertile peak in their early twenties, says Dr. Shari Brasner, author of Advice From a Pregnant Obstetrician: An Inside Guide. This is an age when most women aren’t even considering having children yet, says Dr. Brasner. But just because you’re not thinking about children doesn’t mean your biological clock isn’t ticking. Knowing and understanding this from early adulthood can prevent a lot of heartbreak later on and give you realistic expectations about your chances of conceiving.
Infertility Is a Female Problem
For some reason, when a problem with fertility arises with a couple, the party responsible is often assumed to be the woman—yet this couldn’t be further from the truth. According to Dr. Benjamin Rivnay, MD, vice president of research and development at Repromedix, a specialty infertility testing lab in Woburn, Massachusetts, 40 percent of infertility problems are attributed to men. Another 40 percent is attributed to women, and about 20 percent of infertility problems can be attributed to both parties.
Daily Sex Helps Conception
Although it may be fun, having intercourse more frequently than normal will not necessarily increase a woman’s chances of conception. Evidence shows that the potency of a man’s sperm may not be depleted upon frequent intercourse, says Dr. Singh, but having sex every other day at the time of ovulation (most often between days 12 and 16 of a woman’s menstrual cycle) is sufficient as “sperm can survive an average of two days.”
The Pill Reduces Fertility
No evidence shows that the consistent use of birth control pills affects future fertility. Because they remain in a woman’s system for around 24 hours at a time, birth control pills never make much of an impact on the body’s ability to reproduce. If anything, using the pill or one of its hormonal counterparts such as the patch or the ring can actually help fertility in some women. “Birth control pills have been used to treat and reduce symptoms of disorders such as endometriosis, which is a factor in infertility,” says Dr. Brasner.
Conception Occurs Only during Intercourse
“It can take up to several days from the moment of intercourse for conception to occur,” says Dr. Brasner. This is where birth control measures such as the rhythm method go awry. Since sperm can live in a woman’s reproductive tract for days, a woman could have sex a few days before ovulation and still get pregnant. Oh, the mysteries of conception!
Stress Causes Infertility
While stress can delay ovulation by suppressing hormones, it holds no bearing over a couple’s ability to procreate. The actual meeting of sperm and egg isn’t affected by normal stress at all. Of course, if stress is affecting a couple’s ability to have intercourse, then that’s an entirely different story!
Likewise, a distinction must be made between everyday stress and severe stress, says Dr. Singh. If your stress affects the quality of your work or family life, it may also be affecting your fertility. “Acupuncture and other therapies could be beneficial for the severely stressed who want to be pregnant,” suggests Dr. Singh.
Conception Is Easy after Baby Number 1
While it is slightly more likely you will be able to conceive another child after having one, there are no guarantees. A first pregnancy can make the uterus unsuitable for conception, says Dr. Singh, or, “If you are close to the age of 40 … ovarian reserve may have become limited.” Secondary infertility, that is, trouble conceiving a second or subsequent child, is a very common phenomenon. Each pregnancy is unique and equally a blessing.
Ovulation Occurs on Day 14
While the typical menstrual cycle is 28 days, not every woman is typical. In fact, many women have a cycle that lasts from 21 days up to as many as 35 days, says Dr. Singh. To calculate your day of ovulation, count backwards 14 days from the last day of your cycle. It very well could be day 14, or day 12, or day 20.
You can also try more sophisticated methods for predicting your patterns and days of ovulation. Try tracking your basal body temperature, watching for changes in your cervical fluid, or testing your saliva or urine for the presence of chemicals indicating ovulation is near.
You Can’t Get Pregnant during Your Period
Since ovulation time varies in women, it is possible to get pregnant during your period. Although unlikely, says Dr. Singh, some women ovulate as early as the seventh day or have an extended period of menstruation that lasts until ovulation. Likewise, since sperm can live in the cervical mucus for an average of two days, anything is possible.
Got all of that? Good! We hope fertility is no longer such a fog of conflicting data points to you. It can seem complex to understand what with monitoring your temperature, ovulation, and the like, but once you get past the falsehoods, you’ll have a clearer view of the path to conception.