TRYING TO GET PREGNANT: 14 FERTILITY MYTHS DEBUNKED

We live in the era of informatics. Knowledge is easily accessible to us: we can learn virtually anything by just googling it. But paradoxically too much information many times leads to misinformation.

When it comes to fertility issues, there is a lot of disinformation going around. Therefore, it is no surprising what a recent survey showed: knowledge regarding ovulation, fertility, and conception issues is limited among women, and many tend to believe certain myths and misconceptions.

These are 14 fertility myths most people believe, but that science has debunked:

MYTH #1.  Maternity wise, 40s is the new 30s

Our life expectancy is longer, and we tend to postpone maternity due to career or study purposes. From that aspect, the 40s can be easily regarded as the new 30s. Unfortunately, this is not true for our ovaries: by the age of 30, a healthy woman has about a 20% chance of conceiving each month, by the time she reaches 40 her odds drop to about 5%.

This is one of the most commonly believed misconceptions: unaware of the age-related fertility decline, many women start seeking  help to conceive in their 40s, when they may have already missed the opportunity to become parents. 

You should be aware that there is a biological clock, and it’s ticking! If for personal reasons you cannot have a child right now, you may freeze your eggs to use them in the future.

MYTH #2. Certain sex positions increase the chances of getting pregnant

You will find plenty of (mis)information on this topic! In general, it is said that the best positions for getting pregnant are the missionary position (the woman lying on her back, her partner on top) and the “doggy position” (rear vaginal penetration, with the woman on her hands and knees) because they provide the deepest penetration, allowing the man to ejaculate closer to the opening of the cervix. 

In fact, there’s no scientific evidence to prove that. This belief is largely based on a single study that looked at the position of the penis in relation to these two sex positions, but it didn’t address pregnancy chances at all.

Therefore, no position seems to be better when it comes to maximizing your chances of making a baby. Sperm can be found in the cervical canal just a few seconds after ejaculation, and within 5 minutes in the tube, regardless of the coital position.

MYTH #3. Lifting your legs in the air for 20 minutes after having sex will help you get pregnant

You have probably heard this one: “lie in bed with your feet in the air after having sex to increase your chances of getting pregnant”. In fact, this is not (totally) true. You may lay in bed for 10-15 minutes after intercourse, as by this time the sperm have largely reached the cervix, and many may even be inside the tube.

In fact, a new study challenged both beliefs: women having artificial insemination were split into two groups – one that rested on their back with their knees raised for 15 minutes after the procedure and one that got up immediately. It turned out that, after several courses of treatment, 32% of the immobile group fell pregnant, compared with 40% per cent in the active group.

Therefore, there is no need to put pillows under your bottom during intercourse to get an advantageous tilt, or to perform cycling motions with your feet in the air.

MYTH #4. If we have sex every day the sperm becomes too weak, reducing our chances of getting pregnant 

How often should we make love to boost our chances of pregnancy? You will find all sorts of advice on the web: every other day, 3 times a week, every single day! Which one is correct?

One thing is clear: abstinence intervals greater than 5 days impair the sperm number and quality. Nevertheless, there is not much difference whether men ejaculate every day or every other day. Most fertility specialists used to recommend intercourse every other day, as this would increase sperm quality, particularly in men with lower sperm counts (oligozoospermia). However, recent studies show exactly the opposite: oligozoospermic men had better semen quality with daily ejaculation!

Recent scientific evidence suggests that making love every day confers a slight advantage: the highest chances of pregnancy (37% per cycle) were associated with daily intercourse, although sex on alternate days had comparable pregnancy rates (33%). On the other hand, we should keep in mind that the “obligation” to have sex every day may induce unnecessary stress to the couple, resulting in lack of sexual desire, low self esteem, and ultimately reduced frequency of intercourse.

Therefore, reproductive efficiency is highest when you have sex every day or every other day. The optimal frequency, though, is best defined by each couple’s own preference.

MYTH # 5. We only have sex when I ovulate, on day 14 of my cycle

Ovulation (when the egg drops from the ovary into the tubes) occurs once a month, usually between day 11 and day 21 of the cycle (measured from the first day of your period).

Each woman ovulates on her own schedule. While it is usually said that a woman with a 28-day cycle ovulates on cycle day 14, that’s not necessarily true: a study found that fewer than 10 percent of women with regular, 28-day cycles were ovulating on day 14.

We know that sperm cells are able to survive in the reproductive tract of a woman for about 5 days, and that once the egg is released, it will die in about 12-24 hours. Therefore, the fertile period -or “fertile window”- is a 6-day interval ending on the day of ovulation.

To boost your odds to become pregnant, have sex before and during ovulation, every day or every other day. If your cycles are irregular and you cannot figure out your fertile days, you may use an ovulation predictor kit, or otherwise visit a specialist, who can help you find your fertile window.

MYTH # 6. Smoking doesn’t affect our chances of getting pregnant. I will quit smoking as soon as I get pregnant

You are most likely aware that smoking during pregnancy is dangerous, as it can lead to miscarriage, premature birth, low-birthweight babies and -according to recent studies– congenital malformations.

But you should also know that smoking is harmful for your fertility: smoking as few as five cigarettes per day is associated with reduced fertility, both in women and men, and this seems to be true even for secondhand smoking. It has been estimated that smokers may have a 10-40% lower monthly fecundity (fertility) rate, and that up to 13% of infertility is due to smoking.

Smoking can affect ovulation, as well as the ability of the fertilized egg to implant in the uterus. The effect of tobacco is so harmful for the ovaries that menopause occurs, on average, one to four years earlier in smoking women than in nonsmoking ones.

Men are also affected by tobacco: decreases in sperm density, motility, and abnormalities in sperm morphology have been observed in men who smoke, which impact a man’s ability to fertilize an egg. 

Therefore, before trying for a baby, do yourself a favor … and put out the cigarette for good!

MYTH # 7. You don’t need to worry about your age. There’s always IVF

Another common misconception! Many women believe that, if age-related infertility strikes, they can overcome their problem by getting treated with in vitro fertilization (IVF). In fact, just as natural fertility declines with age, success rates with IVF also decline as a woman gets older.

According to the USA Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), women younger than 35 years old have 33% chances of having a baby after IVF; for women ages 38 to 40 the success rate drops to 17%, while those 43 to 44 years old have only 3% chances of giving birth after IVF (using their own eggs).

IVF is not a guarantee to have a baby, and does not extend a woman’s reproductive life. Despite the number of celebrities having babies in their mid-40s and beyond, they may have not necessarily used their own eggs. While every woman has the right to keep her privacy, there is a wrong perception left that fertility treatments can extend a woman’s fertility span. There is a very low probability of improving success of conceiving after age 43 by using assisted reproduction using your own eggs. Nevertheless, you may opt to use oocyte donation (eggs of a younger woman) if age-related infertility stands in the way of parenthood.

MYTH # 8. A woman can’t get pregnant if she doesn’t have an orgasm

For men, things are clear: no orgasm, no pregnancy, as ejaculation occurs during orgasm. Well, that’s not entirely true: semen can be released during intercourse prior to orgasm in the so-called pre-ejaculation fluid, or pre-come (read more here).

For women though, getting pregnant has nothing to do with an orgasm. But could female orgasm improve the chances for conception? The answer is not clear.

Researchers have wondered for years about the purpose of female orgasm, and many theories have been proposed: 

  • Just the pleasure it provokes, so that women want to reproduce and preserve the species!
  • The “poleaxe” hypothesis: orgasms make women feel relaxed and sleepy so that they will lie down after sex and the sperm reach their destination more easily.
  • The “upsuck” theory: the contractions of the uterus “suck up” the sperm released in the vagina and help them travel through the uterus to the tubes.
  • Pair bonding: the hormones produced during orgasm (such as oxytocin and prolactin) contribute to warm feelings towards her partner.

Orgasms are not necessary to get pregnant, but there are plenty of good reasons to have one! Nevertheless, it is not uncommon that women trying to conceive link the desire for an orgasm with their desire to have a baby; this leads to psychological pressure and difficulty achieving orgasm, adding frustration to a process that is supposed to be pleasurable…

Try not to consider the orgasm just as goal to get pregnant. Enjoy the intimate time with your partner, without any pressure. If you have an orgasm, great. If not, that’s fine, too!

MYTH #9. We’ve already had one child, so conceiving again will be easy

Perhaps, but it’s no guarantee. Many individuals experience secondary infertility, or difficulty conceiving a second or subsequent child. 

Secondary infertility may be caused by age-related factors, both for you and your partner. Sometimes, a new underlying medical condition develops. Eventually, a fertility issue that always existed gets worse; while it didn’t prevent pregnancy before, now it has become a problem. A previous pregnancy may actually be the reason you don’t get pregnant again: surgical complications or infection after childbirth may have provoked scarring, which may in turn led to infertility.

Things change with time. Even if you got easily pregnant on your own before, if you’re struggling to have another child talk to your doctor, who can advice you on the next steps to follow.

MYTH #10. Infertility is a woman’s issue

Typically, the causes of infertility break down like this: 

  • Approximately one third of the couples struggle with male infertility;
  • In another third, the problem is female infertility;
  • The remaining third will either face both male and female fertility issues, or a cause will never be found (unexplained infertility).

Common causes of female infertily are: age, PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome), tubal or pelvic issues, endometriosis, and family history. 

Common causes of male infertility tend to be from prior surgery, infection, or a problem present at birth.

As part of the preliminary work-up to determine the cause and treatment of infertility, both women and men will need to undergo clinical and specialized complementary exams.

MYTH #11. Men’s age doesn’t matter

While some men can father children into their 50’s or 60’s, men’s fertility isn’t age-proof: it starts declining in their 40s, although less drastically as compared to women’s fertility.

As a man ages, the concentration of mobile, healthy sperm and semen volume overall will decrease. It is clear now that men over the age of 40 have higher chances of having children with chromosomal abnormalities, causing miscarriages in their female partners. Moreover, researchers have found a direct link between paternal age and an increased risk of autism and schizophrenia. 

A man’s age does matter. While men may not have a complete drop off in fertility like women do, “advanced paternal age” is something couples should be aware of. Men’s biological clock is also ticking!

MYTH #12. If I take good care of my general health, my fertility will be in check too

Whereas a healthy body and mind may boost fertility in certain cases, most infertility situations cannot be resolved by a lifestyle or diet change, particularly those related to age.

It is a common belief that certain diet types can help you get pregnant. There is no evidence that vegetarian diets, low-fat diets, antioxidant- or vitamin-enriched diets will increase your chances of having a child.

A woman’s weight plays a role in fertility: those who are either very thin or obese may find it hard to conceive. If you are trying to get pregnant, learn more about some lifestyle tips to boost your chances of getting pregnant here.

MYTH #13. If a man can ejaculate, his fertility is fine

Many myths surround male fertility and their sexual performance. It is a common (and unfortunate) myth that if a man’s fertility is compromised, this means his sexual performance is the problem. This is not true. Problems with sperm count, shape, and movement are the primary causes of male infertility. 

Another common myth is that you can tell there is a problem with the sperm just by looking at the semen. In fact, even men that have no sperm cells at all (azoospermia) usually have normal-looking semen. 

For the vast majority of men with infertility, there are no visible or obvious signs that anything is wrong. Healthy erectile function and normal ejaculation are not guarantee that the sperm is in good shape.

That said, erectile dysfunction can be a possible symptom of infertility; it may due to low testosterone levels or a physical injury. Difficulty with ejaculation can also be a signal certain medical problems. But these are uncommon signs of male infertility.

If you are struggling to get pregnant, have your partner check in with his doctor. A semen analysis will help clarify whether his sperm are fit for conception.

MYTH #14. The birth control pill will affect your future fertility

All scientific evidence agrees that hormonal contraceptives do not make women sterile. Moreover, they may confer increased likelihood of pregnancy with long-term use, and in certain cases they can also preserve fertility. Read more on the contraceptive pill here.

 

To summarize:

Myths and misconceptions regarding fertility and conception are, unfortunately, widely disseminated. This is a serious problem, as misinformation may lead not only to unnecessary stress, but also to take wrong decisions…

Get yourself well informed! Consult your gynecologist, who can help you with any concerns you have. Your doctor can also give you some tips on lifestyle changes to optimize your fertility, prescribe some exams, and tell you when to come back if you don’t achieve pregnancy on your own.

Last, a good piece of advice: if you want to get pregnant, have lots of sex – as much as you want, whenever you want – and enjoy it! After you have had sex, do whatever you want – just don’t smoke 😉

 

Photo credits

Intro: pixabay.com; 1: rma-fl.com; 2: motherandbaby.co.uk; 3: romper.com; 4: pixabay.com; 5: wsaw.com; 6: babycenter.com; 7: nexter.org; 8: irishtimes.com; 9: health.clevelandclinic.org; 10: thefertilechickonline.com; 11: businessinsider.com; 12: hayatouki.com; 13: livescience.com; 14: pinterest.com

HOME BIRTH: SMART CHOICE OR RISKY BUSINESS? (Part 1)

home-birth-bw-flickr-resized

Home births have been, for a long time now, the subject of endless controversy and polarized discussions among physicians, midwives and strongly opinionated women. Indeed, the idea of giving birth at home sounds attractive. With the growing  interest for an “all natural” lifestyle, natural home birth looks like a logical way to go. What’s more, celebrities are doing itand midwives are becoming a status symbol!

home-birth-gisele-pregnant-resizedEven mass media has embraced the trend: since 2008, when the documentary The business of being born was aired in the USA many women were “converted” to fanatic home birth supporters. This documentary follows a New York midwife who delivers babies at home, while it “uncovers” -what they consider- the major business childbirth has become for doctors and hospitals. In the UK, the series Call the midwife, with its empathetic view of midwives have experts hoping that “it will spark a resurgence in home births…as women see the holistic care that midwives can deliver”.

home-birth-business-of-being-bornAnd all this “campaign” seems to have worked! Home births have seen a considerable increase in many countries, including the USA, Canada, UK and Australia.

So why the fuss about giving birth at home? Why do women want to deliver like in the 1900s? The answer to these questions is not straightforward…

While reviewing the bibliography on home birth, I realized how massive the amount of information on this subject is, both in scientific and lay sites, and how contradictory it becomes sometimes…

If you are considering home birth, check out this article where I analyze the reasons women choose to have their child at home. In order to simplify reading, I divided it in three parts; read all three so that you can make your responsible and educated choice.

1) “A delivery at home is a wonderful experience”

Embed from Getty Images

                          Satisfaction is home birth’s raison d’être

There is no doubt that birth is a unique, life-changing experience for every woman, and no one can deny the importance of the emotional and psychological aspects of a bringing a child to the world. As mentioned earlier, the reasons women choose a home birth are many: some women feel that the privacy of their home will make them feel more comfortable, less stressed out, and with more control of their own labor. Others find that being surrounded by friends, relatives, or their older children is of utmost importance. Finally, many woman choose home birth out of curiosity, as they have heard so many stories about amazing, empowering, ecstatic, or even “orgasmic” home births. Actually, personal satisfaction seems to be the main reason women want to deliver at home.

home-birth-transfer-primiparousBut is home birth always this pleasurable, fantastic experience women expect?  Unfortunately, this is not always the case. According to Birthplace, a recent British study, a high percentage of women will need a hospital transfer: up to 45% of first-time mums (nulliparous) and 13% of second and subsequent time mothers (multiparous) were transferred to a hospital. Similar figures are reported in the Netherlands, a country with a long tradition of home birth: 49% of primiparous and 17% of multiparous women are transported during labor. Most of the times, transfer to a hospital is not a great experience for the couple, as their expectations for a home birth are not fulfilled; this has been uniformly demonstrated by several studies from different countries (such as Sweden, Netherlands and Belgium). Moreover, a Dutch study evaluating women’s views of their birth experience 3 years after the event revealed persistent levels of frustration, including serious psychologic problems, in transported women compared with those who delivered at a hospital.

home-birth-transfer-multiparous

There is another fact we should not ignore: labor is inherently painful. Even though at home women may be more comfortable and this may result in less pain, sometimes it may be impossible to cope with pain and an epidural may be necessary. Pain relief is actually one of the most common reasons for transport to the hospital, since pain can become overwhelming, In fact, a recent study showed that inability to control labor pain may increase the risk of developing postpartum depression.

2) “Home births are safe for the mother”

home-birth-painfulHome births result in less interventions, including pain relief…

Besides personal satisfaction, another common reason women choose home birth is because it’s less invasive. The dreadful “cascade of events“, that is, one intervention leading to another during a hospital birth fills with terror most home birth supporters. Indeed, almost every study shows that home births are associated with less interventions as compared to hospital births. The term “interventions” includes: epidural anesthesia, ventouse or forceps delivery, cesarean section and episiotomy (see also here, here and here).

Another controversial intervention that has gained a bad reputation among home birth supporters is continuous fetal monitoring, as they think that it is not needed, it gets in the way of the natural birthing process and it increases interventions such as cesarean section and forceps delivery. But what is the scientific evidence on this subject? According to a Cochrane review, the use of fetal monitoring increases the cesarean delivery rate, vacuum and forceps operative vaginal delivery; in addition, fetal monitoring does not seem to reduce perinatal mortality, neither cerebral palsy risk; however, it reduces by 50% the risk of neonatal seizures, that is, of brain damage.

home-birth-helpBut while some women may experience fetal monitoring, episiotomy or vacuum delivery as a traumatic experience, others may not get particularly bothered by an episiotomy -and many will feel blessed by the epidural “intervention”. So maybe a more important question is: What about severe maternal complications and maternal deaths? In regard to this matter, there is not much information, and the studies’ conclusions are contradictory. A Dutch study  looked at “severe acute maternal morbidity” (such as admission to intensive care unit, uterine rupture, blood transfusion, etc) and found that women who delivered their first baby at home had the same risk with women delivering at a hospital, but parous women had increased risk of postpartum hemorrhage and blood transfusion when delivering at a hospital; however, another study, also from the Netherlands, did not confirm these findings. Therefore, a hospital birth leads to more interventions, but it does not seem to increase the risk of serious maternal complications. Regarding maternal deaths, they are a rare event; thus it is not possible to draw conclusions from the studies.

There is something that every woman considering home birth should understand: the studies results apply only to very low-risk pregnancies. Higher risk women, such as those with twin pregnancies, previous cesarean sections, prematures, post term pregnancies, were excluded from most studies, although it is no secret that they are also having home births (it’s easy to realize it just by checking the social media…). It is certain that for these women the risks is much higher, not only for them, but also for their babies.

3) Home births are safe for the baby

A healthy baby and a healthy mother are supposed to be a birth’s ultimate goal…

Studies analyzing the baby’s risk yield completely different results according to the country they were done, but they also differ in different areas of the same country, or according to the scientist analyzing the data! In here, I mention the most important studies evaluating neonatal risk by country of origin:

home-birth-canada-babyCanada: A recent study showed that planned home birth was not associated with a difference in serious adverse neonatal outcomes as compared to hospital births (Hutton et al, 2016). This study was limited to the Ontario area, had very strict inclusion criteria and high transport rates (see below).

home-birth-dutch-pregnantThe Netherlands: The Netherlands are usually considered the “gold standard” due to their long tradition in home births. In 2009, de Jonge  showed that home birth does not increase the risk of perinatal mortality and severe perinatal morbidity among low-risk women. However, some aspects of this paper may have underestimated the risk (e.g.,  paediatric data on intensive care admissions was missing for 50% of non-teaching hospitals, among others). In fact, a subsequent Dutch study showed that infants of pregnant woman at low risk under the supervision of a midwife had 2,3 times higher risk of perinatal death than infants of pregnant women at high risk  under the supervision of an obstetrician. Moreover, infants of women who were referred by a midwife to an obstetrician during labor had a 3,66 times higher risk of delivery related perinatal death than women who started labor supervised by an obstetrician (See below for more details on home births in the Netherlands).

home-birth-british-babyEngland: A 2011 large study, the Birthplace study showed that, for low-risk women,  home birth had 60% higher chances of “baby events”. The events included death (13%), neonatal encephalopathy (brain damage due to lack of oxygen, 46%), meconium aspiration syndrome (the baby swallows stools, a sign of suffering, 30%), brachial plexus injury (damage of the nerves of the arm, 8%), fractured humerus or clavicle (4%); if the analysis was restricted only to nulliparous women, this risk was almost 3 times higher. For multiparous women (2 or more children), there were no significant differences in the incidence of adverse outcome by planned place of birth.

home-birth-australian-babyAustralia: in a paper by Kennare et al, although there were no differences in perinatal mortality, home birth was associated with 7-times higher risk of intrapartum death, and 27-times higher risk of death from intrapartum asphyxia (lack of oxygen). Interesting enough, one of the authors (Dr. Keirse) was the chairperson of the working party that developed the Policy for Planned Birth at Home in South Australia.

home-birth-american-babyUSA: The largest American study comparing home and hospital births was published in 2013, including data on more than 13 million births. This study indicated that babies born at home are 10 times more likely to be born dead and have almost 4 times higher risk to have neonatal seizures or serious neurological dysfunction (that is, brain damage) when compared to babies born in hospitals. Moreover, the risk of stillbirth in women delivering their first baby at home was 14 times the risk of hospital births. Dr. Grunebaum, one of the authors, explains that most likely the risks are even higher than that: “… the outcomes for patients whose care began out of the hospital but were then transferred to the hospital due to complications are reported as hospital deliveries. If the data were corrected, the risk of out-of-hospital delivery is likely to be much greater.” Another American study confirmed these findings, which, contrary to the British study, showed that the neonatal outcome was worse both for nulliparous and multiparous delivering at home.

home-birth-international-babyPooled data from USA, Australia, Switzerland, Netherlands, Sweden, Canada & UK: A study by Wax et al. showed that home births are associated with a risk of neonatal death three times higher as compared to hospital births. The results of this study led the reputed medical journal The Lancet to write an editorial stating “Home birth: proceed with caution”. Wax’s study though was highly criticized on methodological grounds.

Why such a disparity in the results of the different studies?

There are many possible explanations:

  • The lack of randomized trials, as it is not possible to force women to deliver at home or at a hospital against their will. It is clear from different studies that women delivering at home are different from those delivering at hospitals (usually home birthers are more educated and come from a more socioeconomically advantaged area); populations may also differ from country to country.
  • Underreport. In many home births studies there are missing data; in others home births that were transferred to hospitals are included in the hospital group.
  • Midwives’ training. In most European countries and Canada, home births are attended only by midwives or physicians; midwives have a university degree and undergo intensive training. In most states of the United States, besides certified nurse midwives (with formation equivalent to European midwives), births are also attended by “direct-entry midwives” with no university degree and diverse training; the only requirement for them to practice is a high school degree.home-birth-all-babies
  • Eligibility criteria for a home birth. Studies with good outcome had very strict inclusion criteria for home birth, that is, they excluded women with twin pregnancies, preterm labor, preeclampsia, etc.
  • Transport rates. Best outcome was associated with a very high transportation rate: about 40-50% for nulliparous, 10-20% for multiparous. On the contrary, the US studies -with more adverse results- report overall transportation rates of about 10%.
  • Efficiency of transport system, midwives’ integration to hospitals. Rapid availability of ambulances -such as the so-called Obstetric flying squad in the UK- and hospitals in tight collaboration with midwives working in the community seem to be essential. But even so, some complications may not be solved, even by the most efficient form of transport.
  • Distance to the hospital. Although shorter distance to hospital seems to be crucial, even this may not prevent certain complications. Hospitals have what is called the “decision to incision” rule, that is, the maximum time that should pass between the decision to make an emergency cesarean section and the time it is actually done. This rule is 20 or 30 minutes, according to different countries. It is clear that this time frame cannot be achieved with home birth, not even with close distance to a hospital.

 

Read the second part here:  Home birth: smart choice or risky business? (Part 2)

Photo Credits:

Intro: Flickr.comPinterest.comWikipedia.org; 1) Gettyimages.comwhich.co.ukwhich.co.uk; 2) booshparrot.com, herb.co; 3) Flickr.commoveoneinc.com, Pinterest.com, sheknows.com, blogqpot.combabynames.allparenting.com,  mercatornet.comlaineygossip.com