13 myths you need to know about fertility
Dr Minna Geisler separates fact from fiction on the complex issue of fertility
There are so many considerations involved in becoming pregnant, including age, weight, timing and lifestyle. With a myriad of myths surrounding the process, we debunk just a few of the untruths about fertility, and fertility treatment.
1 GETTING PREGNANT IS EASY
Many of us spend our youth avoiding pregnancy but find that when we do want a baby, getting pregnant can take time. In fact, one in six couples will have difficulties conceiving. We recommend women aged 35 and older try no longer than six months before seeking help, and that women younger than 35 try for 12 months, and if they have a condition that makes it difficult to become pregnant, to seek help sooner.
2 INFERTILITY IS A FEMALE PROBLEM
Fertility problems can be complex because there are so many factors involved in getting pregnant. A simple way of looking at it is that for one-third of couples, the issue is related to the female. For another third, the issue is related to the male and for a further third, both partners have a fertility problem. It is also important to say that in some cases there is no obvious cause identified, known as unexplained subfertility. It can be helpful to have some basic tests that may be reassuring.
3 CONCEIVING AFTER THE PILL WILL TAKE A WHILE
A history of taking the pill, or the amount of time you have been on the pill, does not affect your chances of conceiving. Equally, being on the pill does not conserve your eggs. Once you stop the pill, you begin to ovulate again and, if you time it right, you can get pregnant.
4 HAVE SEX WHEN YOU OVULATE
Sperm can survive in fertile cervical mucus for up to five days, so having sex in the days leading up to ovulation boosts your chances of conception. Therefore, having sex before ovulation will ensure there is plenty of sperm available. Ovulation-predictor kits help you identify the surge in the hormone LH that occurs 24-36 hours prior to the egg being released, but they are not always accurate so it helps to understand your own fertile window - five days leading up to ovulation and the 12-24 hours after.
5 LIFTING LEGS IN THE AIR AFTER SEX
Healthy sperm number in the millions and are speedy swimmers, programmed to travel through the cervix and uterus into the fallopian tube when the egg is released. Maintaining certain positions during or after sex does not help nor does it hinder this process.
6 WAIT FOR YOUR TEMPERATURE TO RISE
Using Basal Body Temperature (BBT) can be helpful as a tool to understand your cycle and identify when you normally ovulate by seeing a pattern emerge. The temperature rise only occurs after the egg has been released. If you wait until then to have sex, you have reduced your window of opportunity to mere hours (the egg will only live for 12-24 hours).
7 IVF IS THE ONLY OPTION
This is not true. There are several other fertility treatments available, depending on your particular situation. Your reproductive medicine consultant will select the treatment that is most appropriate to your situation. Some couples simply need advice on lifestyle, timing intercourse, or, simply more time for pregnancy to happen naturally.
8 I ALREADY HAVE A CHILD, SO THERE'S NO PROBLEM
Increasing numbers of women are suffering from secondary infertility. Even if your first pregnancy was natural and happened easily, sometimes, becoming pregnant a second time can prove difficult. As you are older than the first time you got pregnant, egg numbers may be lower and egg quality may be poorer. If you are over 35 and trying for more than six months, we advise an assessment by a fertility specialist.
9 WITH IVF, YOU CAN GET PREGNANT AT ANY AGE
With so many celebrities having babies in their late 40s, there is a belief a woman can have fertility treatment at any age with her own eggs to achieve pregnancy. This unfortunately is not the case. The CDC in the United States has extremely reliable data on success rates of assisted reproductive technology. The chance of one completed cycle producing a live birth is 40-50pc under age 35, 20-25pc at age 38-40, and 4-5pc over age 42.
10 WEIGHT MAKES NO DIFFERENCE
Being underweight or overweight can have a negative impact on fertility, for both men and women. If you are actively trying for a baby, calculate your BMI. Aim for a healthy weight; with a BMI between 20 and 24.9. Optimising your weight will help regulate your menstrual cycle, increase your chances of conceiving, and reduce the risk of pregnancy complications.
11 EXERCISE HAS NO IMPACT
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is very important; however, excessive exercise can be detrimental in some circumstances. For some men with sperm problems, it may be best to avoid vigorous exercise that may overheat the testes (eg. excessive cycling). Excessive exercise can also disturb a woman's reproductive cycle, making it more difficult to get pregnant. Certainly, do not give up exercise entirely as it is important for mental and physical wellbeing, but moderation is key.
12 STRESS MAKES NO IMPACT
Stress and its impact on fertility is difficult to quantify, but managing stress is important. Try going for a swim or a walk or using relaxation methods like yoga or mindfulness. For some women, severe stress may delay ovulation, resulting in irregular cycles and making it more difficult to conceive.
13 ONLY WOMEN NEED FOLIC ACID
Women should take folic acid (400mcg) while trying to conceive, as well as during pregnancy. For men with sperm abnormalities, folic acid is prescribed as there is evidence it can improve sperm health. Vitamin D is also recommended as evidence shows that most Irish people are low in this supplement.
■ Dr Minna Geisler is a consultant in reproductive medicine at Waterstone Clinic. Waterstone Clinic is a leading fertility specialist with clinics nationwide, and has a state-of-the-art national centre of fertility excellence at Lotamore House in Cork. For more information, see waterstoneclinic.ie
Health & Living