5 Common Fertility Myths, Debunked
If you are on a family building journey, you most likely have heard some myths about fertility. The internet can be a fantastic resource for accurate and helpful information about reproductive and prenatal health, but we all know it can spur the spread of misinformation. So, let’s get to the bottom of the truth behind some of these fertility myths.
Why are there myths about fertility?
While the internet has democratized information access quite a bit, misinformation and myths about reproductive health also abound - like these 4 male fertility myths. It can be difficult to distinguish what’s true (and what applies to your particular situation) from what’s outright untrue (and what doesn’t apply to you).
Fertility myths persist, partly because reproductive health hasn’t been an openly discussed topic. While 1 in 6 couples struggle with reproductive health at some point in their lives, not a lot of men and women talk about it. When it is discussed in the media, it often lacks nuance and crucial details, which can mislead people.
All of this makes it possible for myths to persist. Let’s look at common myths about fertility and get to the truth.
Myth 1: Women over 35 aren’t fertile
Have you ever heard that you “can’t” have a baby after 35?
Many women have been told this for years, but it simply isn’t true. Many couples start families well into their 30s and later. So why does this myth still exist? It has to do with generalization and biology.
A woman’s peak reproductive years are from the late teens to late 20s. Your egg numbers decline from birth, but the decline becomes more rapid after 35 years of age. As your egg quantity declines because of age, it’s likely to take longer to get pregnant. However, this does not mean you cannot get pregnant.
Healthy women in their 30s have a 20 percent chance of getting pregnant in a single menstrual cycle, while women in their 20s have a 25 percent chance of getting pregnant in a single menstrual cycle. Not much of a difference, right?
That said, it’s still generally a good idea to plan your pregnancies earlier than later. While women in their 40s are the fastest-growing age group becoming moms in the US, pregnancy rates do decline in your late 30s and into your 40s. The speed of decline is different from woman to woman, but in general, it accelerates as you get older. So, if possible, start earlier than later.
Myth 2: Only women struggle with fertility
This is such a sexist myth that hurts and isolates women. Not only that, this myth can unnecessarily delay a pregnancy when a male issue goes unnoticed.
It’s easy for women to blame themselves when a pregnancy doesn’t happen, but fertility struggles affect both men and women. One-third of couples experiencing reproductive concerns have an issue with male fertility. Likewise, in one-third of couples with these concerns, the problem is with female fertility.
If you and your partner are having trouble getting pregnant, it is best for both of you to seek medical advice from your doctor. A fertility specialist can help you understand why you have not been able to conceive yet. They will likely start with history taking and fertility testing for both you and your partner.
Myth 3: Birth control can affect fertility
It’s a myth that using hormonal birth control can cause fertility issues in the future. Usually, women who stop taking birth control resume regular menstrual cycles within a 30 to 60-day period.
If you stop birth control and your periods do not become regular within a few months, seek medical advice from your healthcare provider.
It’s also important to note that hormonal birth control can deplete your nutritional reserves, especially the B vitamins, which play crucial roles in ovulation. Once you are off birth control, make sure your diet includes plenty of B vitamins to build your reserve back up.
Myth 4: You won’t struggle to get pregnant if you’ve already had a baby
If you have gotten pregnant easily before, it’s natural to expect the same for your next baby. However, a previous pregnancy or two does not guarantee that you will have an easy time conceiving in the future. This is especially true if you are much older than you were in your last pregnancy, have had major lifestyle changes or have experienced some medical conditions. Reproductive health is multifactorial, so anyone can find it hard, even if you’ve already had a baby (or more).
Myth 5: Orgasms can improve fertility
When you have an orgasm, oxytocin is released, and your pelvic floor begins to contract. Some believe that contracting helps support the sperm’s journey to the fallopian tubes. However, this has not been proven, and there is not enough evidence to suggest that orgasms have anything to do with your chances of getting pregnant. That’s not to say an orgasm is great - it is - just enjoy it for what it is, and not as the mythical pregnancy boost.
What factors affect fertility?
So now that we’ve debunked these common myths, let’s talk about the factors, aside from age, that do play a role in your chances of conception.
Ovulation and knowing your fertile window
Ovulation is one of the most important things your body does to make conception possible. When you ovulate, a mature egg is released from one of your ovaries and into the fallopian tube, where, if the timing is right, it meets the sperm and gets fertilized.
Your eggs begin maturing in follicles (little fluid-filled sacs in your ovaries). Each month, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) pushes your eggs to mature. When an egg has matured, later in your cycle, a surge in luteinizing hormone stimulates the mature egg to be released for possible fertilization.
Ovulation happens during your fertile window, or the days in your cycle you can become pregnant. You are most fertile a few days before ovulation and up to 24 hours after ovulation. During this time, you and your partner will want to have sexual intercourse if you want to get pregnant.
Sperm can survive in a woman’s reproductive tract for up to five days, but an egg will only survive for 12 to 24 hours. So, your fertile window lasts about four to six days during your menstrual cycle, and it’s important to time your intercourse with your fertile window.
You can use ovulation trackers to help predict when you will be most fertile during the month. Tracking ovulation may help women who have been experiencing fertility issues. Timing is not everything, but it is an important factor in pregnancy.
Many lifestyle factors can play a role in your reproductive health. Let’s discuss a few of the major factors.
Nutrition: Getting the recommended daily amounts of vitamins and minerals is essential for your health. You can get these nutrients from the foods you eat every day. It is important to maintain a well-balanced diet, especially when planning to have a baby. This takes some focused work - studies have found that most of us are low on at least one key preconception nutrient, if not multiple. This is why doctors recommend taking prenatal supplements starting three months before trying to conceive to support the overall health of the mom and baby.
Maintaining a Healthy Weight: Studies have shown that being overweight or obese can negatively affect male and female reproductive health. For example, obesity has been linked to lower sperm count in men. For women, obesity can negatively impact the function of ovaries and their overall reproductive health. Being underweight, on the other hand, can also adversely affect reproductive processes. Easier said than done, but aim for a healthy weight for you when you start thinking about having children.
Exercising: It is a well-known rule of thumb that moving your body for 30 minutes a day can help you maintain good health overall. Exercise can play a role in reproductive health, too, but moderation is key. Too much exercise can change your hormone balance and lower reproductive potential in both men and women.
Substance Abuse: Smoking, drinking, and using drugs can be harmful to your reproductive health. Smoking has been well known to reduce sperm count in men and pregnancy rates in couples, but (unfortunately for those of us who enjoy a glass of wine to wind down for the day) alcohol has also been implicated in impaired reproductive health in both men and women.
Overall health, physical and emotional
Maintaining your overall physical health and emotional well-being can be a challenge when you are trying for a pregnancy that just doesn’t seem to happen, month after month. However, overall health - both physical and emotional - can impact reproductive health in multiple ways. Try to find ways to stay healthy that work for you and your partner. This webinar on emotional health by fertility psychologist Mandy Rodrigues may be helpful.
There are many misconceptions about reproductive health, so it is important to remember to get medical advice if you have fertility concerns. Fertility specialists can help you get to the bottom of your reproductive health concerns and support your family building journey.
Please reach out with questions - we are with you.
Ovaterra provides reproductive health resources for general, educational purposes only. This content is not intended to replace medical advice from a qualified healthcare professional. Similarly, when making your financial decisions, please consult qualified financial professionals who can make individual recommendations.
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