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

PREGNANCY DO’S AND DON’T’S (Part 1)

FOOD, DRINKS, ALCOHOL AND TOBACCO

Yes!! the pregnancy test is positive! You go and share the good news with your friends and relatives…And that very same moment, people will start “bombarding” you with advices: do this, don’t do that… So you start wondering: What is safe? What can harm my baby?

This post is about the most common “Is it safe….?” questions. Since the subject is extensive, this will be “Part 1”, dealing with food, drinks, alcohol & tobacco. More do’s and dont’s are coming….

FOOD AND DRINKS

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Eating healthy is one of the best things you can do to your baby, and to yourself! There is not a specific diet for pregnancy; you should just follow a healthy, varied, balanced diet: plenty of fruits, grains and vegetables, but also dairy products and meat, which provide iron, calcium, vitamins and proteins. You don’t need to eat for two! Actually, if you have a normal weight, only a few extra calories a day are needed while pregnant: none during the first trimester, about 300 the second, 450 the last trimester!

Try to eat frequent and small meals, and avoid eating a copious meal before bedtime. Although sweets, fatty or processed food should not be in your every day diet, don’t feel bad if you get occasionally tempted! In any case, pay attention to quality, but also to quantity: excessive weight gain may put you at risk of having gestational diabetes, pregnancy-induced hypertension or delivering a macrosomic (too big) baby…Not to mention that you will suffer to lose those extra kilos after birth!

Herein you will find some things you need to know about eating and drinking during pregnancy:

Meat & Eggs

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Meat is an excellent source of protein, iron, vitamins and minerals. But you should only eat well-cooked meat. Forget about carpaccio, steak tartare or saignant!

Eating undercooked or raw meat can lead to toxoplasmosis, a severe infection that may harm your baby. Uncooked cured meat, such as salami or prosciutto should also be avoided. Liver and liver products (such as pate) contain high levels of vitamin A, which is toxic for the baby. Indeed, a single serving of cow’s liver contains three times the recommended daily amount of vitamin A allowed in pregnancy, so even if liver is considered to be a healthy food, rich in proteins, iron and vitamins, stay away from it, or consume it no more than once a month.

Undercooked meat, especially poultry can carry salmonella, which may cause a very severe form of food poisoning, so pay special attention to cook well your chicken. Since Salmonella is also present in eggs, the consumption of raw or partially cooked egg is discouraged (this includes homemade mayonnaise, tiramisu, etc).

Fish & Seafood 

Had sushi for lunch last Saturday. It was delicious.

Fish is an excellent source of proteins, vitamins and the valuable omega 3 fatty acids, which boost your baby’s brain and eye development. However, you should avoid certain fishes, such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish, and tuna. These fishes are contaminated with large amounts of mercury, which can be toxic for your baby. To see more details about mercury levels in fish and allowed servings, please click here.

Raw fish and seafood may contain harmful bacteria or viruses. Therefore, do not eat raw fish (includes some varieties of sushi and sashimi) or raw oysters. Octopus, calamari, shrimp are fine as long as are properly cooked. With smoked fish (such as salmon and trout) the opinions are divided: while it is considered to be safe by some experts, others advise against it due to the possibility of contamination with listeria, a bacterium potentially harmful for your baby.

Cheese & Milk

Cheese is a great source of calcium and vitamins, so go ahead and eat cheese as long as it is made of pasteurised milk. You should not eat soft cheeses such as brie, camembert, chevre, roquefort, which may grow the rare, but dangerous listeria. Check the packages, where it usually states states if the cheese is made with raw or pasteurised milk, and avoid homemade cheeses. Hard cheeses are fine. For the same reason, the milk you drink should always be pasteurised.

Coffee

There is some (controversial) evidence that having more than 200 mg of caffeine a day may put you at risk of miscarriage or having a baby with low birth weight. This means that you may drink up to two cups of instant coffee or 1 cup of brewed coffee a day. Don’t forget other sources of caffeine, such as tea, cola, energy drinks or chocolate. For caffeine content of different beverages, please click here.

Herbal teas

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Herbal or natural doesn’t necessarily mean “safe”. Most teas are thought to be safe in pregnancy, as long as you don’t drink large amounts. Green tea contains caffeine, so do not exceed the recommended limit of 200 mg of caffeine per day (see above).

There are a couple of teas that you better avoid: Sage tea may be linked to miscarriage and high blood pressure. Parsley tea may increase the risk of miscarriage. Valerian is also best avoided, as well as chamomile in large amounts. Raspberry leaf tea may cause contractions, so do not consume it in early pregnancy, but it may be fine to drink during late pregnancy.

Artificial sweeteners

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In general, artificial sweeteners seem to be safe to have in pregnancy, they are though recommended with moderation. Stevia and sucralose should be preferred. Aspartame seems to be safe with moderate consumption, but it should be avoided by anyone with a rare disease called Phenylketonuria (PKU) or by persons with high levels of phenylalanine in blood. Saccharin and cyclamate have been possibly linked to same types of cancer, so they are best avoided in pregnancy.

ALCOHOL AND TOBACCO

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Alcohol in large amounts is highly toxic for the unborn baby. For light (social) drinking, the data has been contradictory. According to the British organisation NICE, although there is uncertainty regarding a safe level of alcohol consumption in pregnancy, at this low level there is no evidence of harm to the unborn baby: no more than one or twice a week, 250cc beer or 1 shot (25 ml) spirit or 2 small (125 ml) glasses of wine. Nevertheless, NICE recommends to avoid alcohol consumption during the first trimester due to a possible increased risk of miscarriage.

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The dangers of smoking have been widely established. Smoking during pregnancy puts you at higher risk of having a baby with low birth weight, as well as stillborn, sudden infant death syndrome, miscarriage, premature labor and placental abruption. Moreover, later evidence incriminates smoking of causing birth defects. See more information here. The risk includes even secondhand smoke. If you are pregnant and you keep smoking, discuss with your doctor the options you have to quit as soon as possible…

 

References

American Family Physician: Evidence-Based Prenatal Care: Part I. General Prenatal Care and Counseling Issues. April 2005, USA. http://www.aafp.org/afp/2005/0401/p1307.html
American Family Physician: Evidence-Based Prenatal Care: Part II. Third-Trimester Care and Prevention of Infectious Diseases. April 2005, USA. http://www.aafp.org/afp/2005/0415/p1555.html
ACOG: FAQ – Nutrition During Pregnancy. September 2013, USA. http://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Nutrition-During-Pregnancy
NICE: Antenatal Care- Routine Care for the Healthy Pregnant Woman. March 2008, UK
HAS: Comment mieux informer les femmes enceintes? Avril 2005, France

 

Photo credits

1.Getty images; 2.media1.onsugar.com; 3.alachia, Flickr.com; 4.Back East Photography, Flickr.com; 5.Susanne Nilsson, Flickr.com; 6.Steve Nodgrass, Flickr.com; 7.Luz Bratcher, Flickr.com; 8.emdot, Flickr.com; 9.Shrikant Nigam, Flickr.com