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Infertility Myths vs. Reality
May 22 2013 10:07AM

Ask Dr. Allison Styne: Infertility Myths vs. Reality

By: Dr. Allison Styne

Nearly every woman worries about the possibility of infertility. It’s scary to imagine that you might never be able to conceive, but before you jump to conclusions, it’s a good idea to read up on the subject and clear up any confusion or misinformation you might have.

First of all, what exactly is infertility? Under the American Society of Reproductive Endocrinology, there’s an actual definition for it, which is the failure to conceive a pregnancy after 12 months or more of unprotected intercourse. This is a guideline for when you should start being concerned that you’re infertile. If you’re over 35, the guideline should be revised to 6 months. That being said, this is only a guideline and any woman concerned about her reproductive potential is encouraged to visit a qualified specialist. In other words, you don’t have to wait 6-12 months if you are anxious, if you don’t get your period, if your husband has had a vasectomy, etc.

There are a lot of questions that women frequently ask about infertility, including concerns about which factors affect their chances of getting pregnant. The biggest mistake is for you to think these factors will “cause” infertility. In most cases, there are factors that can improve your chances of getting pregnant or harm your chances, and an obstetrician or gynecologist can be very helpful in pinpointing anything in your medical history or lifestyle that might be hampering your fertility or the safety of a pregnancy.

With this in mind, here are some common myths that women believe about infertility, as well as the reality and what you can do to help your chances of conceiving.

1) Myth: Age Isn’t a Big Factor

Many women aren’t aware of it, but relative fertility is actually about twice as high for women in their early 20’s compared to women in their late 30’s. Since the technical definition of infertility is several months of unprotected intercourse without conceiving, older women are much more likely to be infertile by definition. Men, on the other hand, have fertility that is roughly constant until about age 50, when it starts to drop off as well. As you probably know, it is a good idea to try conceiving sooner rather than later.

2) Myth: Frequent Intercourse Hurts Fertility

When it comes to intercourse, it’s reasonable to assume that a man’s sperm count might go down with frequent intercourse. Fortunately, that’s not scientifically accurate. There’s evidence to suggest that sperm concentration and motility may actually be highest with daily ejaculation. When it comes to daily intercourse, studies show equivalent sperm fecundity, which is the effective ability to reproduce. On the other hand, there is a decrease in fecundity when intercourse is as infrequent as once per week. Given the facts, you’ll increase the odds of conceiving by having intercourse every 1-2 days.

3) Myth: Certain Sexual Positions Help Fertility

The idea that there are certain sexual positions or coital practices that guarantee fertility is likely just an old wives’ tale. In reality, you aren’t going to change the odds of conception by changing sexual position. It also isn’t going to have much of an impact on the gender of the baby. The takeaway here is that sexual position should be based on your personal preference.

The one exception is if certain sexual positions require lubricants. There are some lubricants that decrease sperm motility, such as Astroglide, KY Jelly, saliva, or olive oil. If you can avoid lubricants by picking different sexual positions, that would be ideal. Otherwise, use canola oil or hydroxyethylcellulose-based lubricants, as these don’t seem to affect sperm motility.

4) Myth: Diet Affects Fertility

It might surprise you to learn that your diet doesn’t have a significant effect on your chances of conceiving. Of course, that applies to the diet itself. If your diet has an adverse effect on your body or health, that might be an issue. Women who are very thin or obese could have complications that hurt their fertility, but in general, diet isn’t really correlated to fertility.

One major exception is fish, and not because of the fish itself, but because of what comes with the fish. In recent decades, fish and seafood have contained increasing levels of mercury, and in high enough doses, mercury has been shown to decrease fertility. It’s also possible to hurt your fertility with excessive caffeine, which you would get with more than one or two beverages per day. If you limit fish and caffeine intake though, your diet shouldn’t interfere with your chances of conceiving.

5) Myth: Methods of Tracking the Fertile Window

There is a fertile window, defined as the 6-day interval ending on the day of ovulation. While this is true, there are some misconceptions about the accuracy of some procedures for discovering when the fertile window will occur, such as tracking cervical mucus, monitoring basal body temperature charts, detecting it with ovulation devices, or looking for periods of libido, pain, or mood changes. While these methods may give us some clues, their accuracy varies, so they are definitely not foolproof when it comes to predicting ovulation

The facts are this: in the 5-6 days leading up to ovulation, followed by the 2-3 days after ovulation, fecundity is at its peak. Ovulation detection devices can help increase conception by validating the mid-cycle LH surge, and cervical mucus does increase during the fertile window, but neither are dependable enough to uncover the best period of fertility. Instead, the best way to take advantage of the fertile window is to have intercourse every 1-2 days. That ensures you will have intercourse multiple times during the fertile window, even though you have no reliable way to predict ovulation.

6) Myth: Recreational Substance Use Doesn’t Affect Fertility

Most people know that both smoking and alcohol can harm a fetus, leading to conditions like fetal alcohol syndrome. However, it’s also true that these substances can affect your fertility. There’s evidence that menopause occurs an average of 1 to 4 years earlier in smoking women than non-smoking women. Even worse, smoking increases the risk of miscarriage. Because it’s illegal, marijuana’s effects on fertility are harder to study, but there is some suggestion that it can decrease fertility as well. If you’re hoping to conceive, the best thing for your fertility is to cease all smoking, drinking, and drug use.

7) Myth: Your Job Is Hurting Your Fertility

There are plenty of reasons to quit your job, but helping your fertility probably isn’t one of them. Generally, a woman who’s healthier will be in a better position to have a baby, but there’s nothing inherent in working a job that should result in infertility. The exception is if you’re working in businesses that use toxins or cleaning agents, which might include industries like agriculture, dry cleaning, and printing. For increased fertility, it’s a good idea to avoid cleaning solvents, pesticides, lead, and industrial microwaves.

These are some of the most common myths women believe might be hurting their chances at conceiving. Now that you know them, you can forget the myths, take what you’ve learned, and maximize the odds of having the family of your dreams.

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