Fertility 101: Myths & Misconceptions

Fertility 101: Myths & Misconceptions

An article by Stephanie Curran from VictoriaMom.ca

As a follow up to the Fertility 101: Optimize Your Chances article, I wanted to debunk some myths around fertility and highlight a few common mistakes that I see my patients making.

Although I’m sure most of us think we’ve got the birds and the bees thing down, a study done in New Zealand showed that 74% of women presenting to a fertility clinic had inadequate fertility awareness. So don’t be embarrassed if you learn something new, as you’re not alone.

1. 40 is the new 30

Despite what we see in the media with numerous celebrity moms in their 40s (and even 50s), the overall risk for infertility—defined as more than one year of regular unprotected intercourse without conception—increases with age. The rate jumps from 6% between ages 20 and 24 to a whopping 64% between ages 40 to 44.

There are many social and economic forces that have contributed to why women are increasingly deferring childbearing until their mid-30s and beyond. These same forces have also led many women to believe that fertility typically lasts into their 40s. However, a woman’s reproductive physiology and biology has continued to remain unchanged.

So what about those celebrities in their late 40s or 50s having twins? Almost certainly these are donor-egg IVF (in-vitro fertilization) babies, where the embryo is produced from an egg donated by a younger woman, and is then implanted to grow in the uterus of the older woman. Donor-egg IVF is a wonderful family-building option for many couples, but people need to adjust to the emotional and psychological reality of not contributing their genetics to their baby.

2. There’s no rush

The rule of thumb for women age 34 or younger in otherwise perfect health is to try to conceive naturally for one year before a medical consult is advised.

But anyone older than 35, or anyone with gynecologic or medical problems (irregular or painful periods, diabetes, thyroid problems, etc), should seek evaluation by a fertility specialist or her ob-gyn after six months. If a woman is 40 or older, it is appropriate to receive a consult after trying for 3 months.

There are numerous fertility problems that can be treated easily but make it nearly impossible to conceive without medical assistance (one of many examples are blocked fallopian tubes). Time is precious when it comes to fertility and the key is to be informed.

3. It’s all my fault

Despite knowing that it takes two to make a baby, many women assume that fertility problems almost always arise from the female side. There are numerous historical, cultural, and religious reasons for this belief but the reality is that men can have plenty of trouble too.

In approximately 40 percent of infertile couples, the male partner is either the sole cause or a contributing cause of infertility. Be sure that both of you receive a complete reproductive assessment.

4. We have sex often enough

It is amazing how much our fast-paced lifestyles and schedules interfere with conception. Many of my patients express being too tired/busy to have intercourse and a surprising number of professional couples have work travel commitments that means they are sleeping in different cities throughout the month.

Here are some interesting facts: Even someone very fertile in their 20s and in perfect health and her partner will, at best, have about a 25% chance of conceiving in any given month, even with perfectly timed intercourse. Statistically speaking, this rate of success decreases to about 10% to 15% per month if you're not pregnant within three months, and 5% or less if you're not pregnant after a year.

Your peak fertility time is four to five days prior and during ovulation, and it's suggested you have intercourse every 24 to 48 hours during that period. (read Fertility 101:Optimize Your Chances for a review of how to accurately monitor ovulation and maximize your chance of conception)

5. Just relax and it will happen

This well meaning and common suggestion from friends and family who are trying to ‘help’, can actually be quite hurtful to someone struggling with infertility. It implies that it is their fault. And infertility is not a lifestyle choice or something you have control over, anymore than you can choose whether or not you have kidney disease.

While the exact biology of how stress might come into play is not fully understood, there is no doubt that stress is associated with infertility and that being on a fertility journey is stressful. Studies have shown that people experiencing infertility have stress levels equivalent to patients with a cancer or heart disease.

While it remains controversial as to whether stress directly influences a woman’s ability to conceive, certainly it has an enormous affect on her experience and overall sense of well being while trying to conceive. So do what you can to moderate and limit the extra stressors in your life…without causing yourself more stress by trying to de-stress!

Click here for some helpful suggestions for stress reduction from the Victoria Fertility Centre.

Other Resources Recommended By Stephanie:

Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler – common fertility myths with natural conception
American Society for Reproductive Medicine - fertility facts
Infertility Awareness Association of Canada - find a local support group

Mind-body Resources for Infertility - links and audio recordings

Resolve.ca - Myths About Men's Fertility
Stephanie's own resource pages have a wealth of information: Elements of Health Centre

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