Given that one in six couples experience infertility and that 7.4 million reproductive age women have sought fertility advice, it is no surprise that there are a number of myths circling the biosphere about the process of improving one’s chance to get pregnant.
And believe me, we have heard a lot of them.
So, let’s address some of the more popular myths swirling around and replace some of the fiction with fact– courtesy of Robert Colver, M.D., Midwest Fertility Specialists.
1. “I’m a stud! It can’t be my fault!”
Well, you may be a stud, but your sperm count could be low.
One third of couples have purely male factor infertility and up to 50% of couples have both male and female factor infertility. So, in half of the couples evaluated, there is a problem with the male.
The single, most valuable test for a couple is a semen analysis. If the semen parameters are significantly abnormal, the focus of diagnosis and treatment is entirely different than when the parameters are normal.
This is absolutely one of the first tests you need to do. No kidding. No excuses—even if you are a stud.
2. “Honey, I heard that we need to have sex every day and twice a day on the weekends to increase our chances.”
Although at first blush that may sound like a great idea, it really isn’t true.
In fact, an expectation of that level of “performance” could truly stress a relationship. Unless a man’s sperm count is high, most men’s counts are better with a minimum of 2 days of abstinence. Some men with lower counts need 4-5 days for their counts to recover toward normal after an ejaculation.
Understand, there is nothing wrong with overachieving.
But in this case, it could prove counterproductive
3. “We need to wait to have sex until I ovulate and my temperature goes up.”
Actually, that’s the worst time to do it.
If you are timing intercourse based on temperature charts (which, by the way, we do not routinely recommend), it is important to know that by the time your temperature rises, you have already ovulated. After ovulation, your progesterone level rises, your cervical mucus thickens, and your egg is past its time to be capable to be fertilized. Sperm will survive in the female genital tract for 5-6 days, so you need to be exposed to sperm before ovulation, not after. Thus, having intercourse, every other day, beginning 6 days before ovulation is certainly sufficient.
4. “Our chances go up if I have an orgasm”
Yes, if you are the guy. No, if you are the girl.
My recollection is that the guy thing was explained in middle school: Basic Reproduction 101.
With respect to the female, although there has been thought that orgasm might help propel sperm through the uterus, to the fallopian tube where the egg is waiting, there are no data to support that theory. In fact, a 2013 study from researchers in Australia, showed no correlation between female orgasm and fertility.
So, do not worry about that aspect at all—unless, of course, you are the guy.
5. “Ok, since you brought up the subject, I am the guy who does have a problem with doing “it” at the right time. Is nothing I can do except take Viagra and hope it works?”
OK, this isn’t really a myth, but it is a real problem that deserves discussing.
This is a topic we address all the time, but not one most couples talk about with friends over drinks.
Sex on demand is…well…demanding. It can take all the fun out of it, is often compared to “a job”, and if the man is unable to ejaculate due to the stress, it can potentially cause significant relationship issues at all sorts of levels. While Viagra may help to maintain an erection, it does not always help in achieving ejaculation.
We often perform intrauterine insemination for those couples that recognize “when the time is right”, they may not be. Freezing sperm early or collecting a fresh specimen in a collection room has been the answer for many couples facing this situation and can be a simple solution to a highly stressful situation.
6. “No, no, no Sweetie, we have to do it in the missionary position. No exceptions.”
Not even close. Instead, go for it! Have fun and be as creative as you like.
The majority of the sperm is in the first part of the ejaculate and it reaches the cervix very quickly. Coital positioning is not a factor in conception rates.
If you wish to lie on a pillow to elevate the buttocks for 10 minutes or so after intercourse, it is certainly fine. This may allow the sperm to pool in the vagina and potentially maximize the number of sperm available to the cervix.
It is clear that hanging upside down on a trapeze for any length of time is truly not helpful. Leave that to the circus professionals, please.
7. “So what if I’ve put on a few pounds? No big deal.”
Uh…sorry. Big deal.
The American Society for Reproductive Medicine estimates that up to 20% of infertility is associated with weight issues. Studies show a linear reduction in pregnancy rates from a normal body weight to obesity. The obese having a 60% reduction in pregnancy compared to those in the normal range. Recently, it has been proven that the mitochondria of the eggs are abnormal in obese patients, resulting in poor embryo quality. Further, a large percent of obese women have difficulty ovulating and require medications to induce ovulation that can result in multiple pregnancies.
Obese men frequently have lower sperm counts and more abnormal sperm parameters such as poor shape and movement than men with normal weight.
If you are overweight, do everything you can to reach your optimal weight.
This is one proven thing that you can do to significantly improve your chances to conceive.
8. “All the movie stars are getting pregnant in their 40s. I don’t need to be in any hurry now. I’m only 39.”
Ah yes! But you don’t know their secret, do you?
The secret? They most likely conceived with help from an egg donor.
With the overall pregnancy rate over age 44 of about 1%, although it is possible to become pregnant in the mid 40s with one’s own eggs, it is unlikely.
Age is one of the most significant factors affecting fertility. A woman’s maximal fertility potential is in their mid 20s. From that point, there is a slow, steady decline in fertility rates. The fertility decline accelerates at a moderately rapid pace from 35 to 40 years of age. Beyond age 40, pregnancy rates plummet.
What’s a couple to do? You can’t do anything about your age. It is what it is.
But, when you know that you want to have a baby—sooner, rather than later is always the mantra. Contrary to the Rolling Stones song, “Time, time, time is not on your side.” You should be expeditious. If you are over 35, do not wait any longer than 6 months to seek consultation. If you already know that you have a potential issue, such as irregular periods, see a doctor as soon as you start trying.
Don’t look back and discover that you waited too long because “life just got in the way”.
9. “Don’t worry, I’ll stop smoking when I get pregnant”
Problem is, you may not get pregnant because you are smoking.
There are over 4000 chemicals in cigarette smoke. These chemicals do bad things to eggs and sperm. Egg quality, sperm quality, and as a result, embryo quality decreases significantly in smokers. There is a 50% reduction in pregnancy rates for smokers who undergo in vitro fertilization. Women smokers, on average, have a 60% higher incidence of infertility and earlier menopause than non-smokers.
This one is easy. Stop smoking now.
10. “Barista, hold that triple, venti skinny latte. I’ll just have a water, thank you.”
Attention! Caffeine alert! You don’t really have go cold turkey on your Starbucks fix.
There are several studies that have looked at caffeine intake and its effect on reproduction. The data are somewhat conflicting due to the various methodological shortcomings of different studies. With this in mind, however, there are some general guidelines that we can follow.
It seems clear that the consumption of 100-200mg. of caffeine has no obvious effect on conception rates or on the risk of miscarriage. This amount would be in the range of a short brewed coffee or a venti latte without extra shots.
A caffeine amount greater than 500 mg. does appear to be associated with an increase in infertility and pregnancy loss.
The general recommendation for women who are trying to conceive or are already pregnant is that if they consume just under 2 cups of coffee a day, or stay below the 200mg. threshold, all will be right with the world.
Do I hear an Amen?!