How many of these conception misconceptions have you fallen prey to?
There are too many myths surrounding fertility and falling pregnant. Here, with a little help from the experts, we attempt to bust some of the biggest…
Myth 1: A woman’s fertility drops drastically at 30
Women are led to believe that putting off having a baby until their 30s is risky business. But is it really that much harder to conceive when you’re 28 than when you’re 32? Dr Geetha Venkat, director of Harley Street Fertility Clinic, says:
“Ovarian reserve and egg quality keep declining as a woman gets older, but it’s a gradual process – it doesn’t just happen overnight. Your eggs don’t go rotten at the stroke of midnight on your 30th birthday! However, we do always encourage people to start their families when they are young as younger eggs tend to be healthier.”
Dr Venkat says that while the drop in fertility between the ages of 30 and 35 is on a gentle curve, the decline is sharper when a woman hits 40 – and sharper still after your 42nd birthday.
Myth 2: All women ovulate on day 14
No two cycles are exactly the same: yours could be 28 days long, while your best friend’s is 32. So why would you both ovulate on day 14? It’s simple – you wouldn’t. Dr Ernesto Bosch, from the world-renowned IVI fertility clinic in Spain, says that the highest probability of ovulation is between days 12 and 18:
“Many couples that are trying to conceive pin their hopes on having sex on one day of the month, thinking that’s the best chance of conception. It’s much more effective to have sex every day between days 12 and 18.”
Myth 3: Men can have healthy babies at any age
A quick glance at any newspaper or magazine will reveal an article about modern women leaving motherhood too late, while we all assume men can wait their whole lives to become dads. Not true: a 2014 study showed that children born to fathers over the age of 45 are 13 times more likely to have ADHD, 3.5 times more likely to have autism, and 25 times more likely to have bipolar disorder. Just this year, Dr Kevin Smith from Abertay University in Dundee called for all men to freeze their sperm at 18 to avoid adverse health outcomes in their babies. Children of older fathers are also twice as likely to drop out of school early and have low IQs. Plus, a woman is more likely to miscarry if her partner has sperm with highly fragmented DNA – which occurs in older men. Dr Geetha Venkat, says,
“My message to all men is if you want to have a healthy baby, don’t think you can start at the age of 70.
Myth 4: Taking the Pill affects your future fertility
Mr Mostafa Metwally, a consultant gynaecologist at BMI Thornbury, says
“The Pill doesn’t harm fertility in any way. While you’re taking the Pill, you stop ovulating, but this effect is limited to the time you’re taking the Pill and it doesn’t harm your eggs. Occasionally, it can take a few months for you to start ovulating again after coming off the Pill, so it may take a few months for you to get pregnant.”
Indeed, recent studies show that 80% of woman who want to conceive after coming off the Pill do so within a year – the same proportion as that of the general population. But Mr Metwally does add, “If you have a condition that affects your fertility, such as polycystic ovaries (PCOS), the Pill can mask the symptoms of irregular periods, and you won’t know you have it.” Dr Venkat adds that if you have the symptoms of PCOS and want to go on the Pill to correct your hormone imbalance, you must be counselled on this fact and should be told that it may take longer to conceive when you do come off the Pill.
It’s important that women do not view breastfeeding as a contraceptive
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Myth 5: You can’t conceive while breastfeeding
You don’t have a period, so you can’t get pregnant – right? Nope. Mr Metwally says that when you’re breastfeeding, levels of a hormone called prolactin, which is responsible for milk production, are raised and this stops the ovaries from producing an egg each month. However, when you’ve been breastfeeding for a while – a few months – your levels of prolactin go up and down in spikes, so an egg could escape. This can even happen without you having a period. Then the next thing you know, you’re pregnant! “It’s important that women do not view breastfeeding as a contraceptive,” says Mr Metwally.
Myth 6: We’re all born with the same number of eggs
Although each woman is born with the total number of eggs she’ll have throughout her lifetime, that number is not the same for all women. In 2012, researchers found that if your mother starts menopause early (before age 45), your ovarian reserve – or how many eggs you’ve got left stored up – is depleted quicker than if she had started menopause later. But before you go into panic mode about your diminishing egg stores, Mr Metwally points out that it is the quality of eggs that matter and not quantity.
“Women shouldn’t use an ovarian reserve test to determine when they should have babies, as it doesn’t tell you anything about the quality of your eggs. Someone who’s 40 when they come in for fertility treatment may have a lower success rate than someone of the same age with a lower ovarian reserve, but this is because their eggs may be of a lower quality.”
Myth 7: There are contraceptive pill hormones in our drinking water
Scaremongering in the press has led us to believe that our increased use of the contraceptive Pill has contaminated our drinking water with synthetic hormones. Some news reports have gone as far as comparing the potential effects to those of the thalidomide controversy or mad cow disease.
However, in 2011, Tracey Woodruff and her team at the University of California in San Francisco published a report in Environmental Science and Technology that debunked the synthetic hormone in water myth. They found that the amounts of synthetic hormone – namely oestrogenic compounds – leaked into waterways from the Pill are negligible. In fact, crop fertilisers, hormones form livestock, chemicals, medications, pregnant women and wait for it – men – are just as likely to contribute natural or synthetic oestrogen to our water than the Pill.
Myth 8: Sperm allergy = no pregnancy
Human seminal plasma hypersensitivity – or being allergic to semen – may cause genital itching, burning and swelling after sex (apart from when you use a condom) but it doesn’t mean you have to ignore your dreams of having a family. Desensitisation therapy, which involves treatment with allergy injections containing small amounts of your partner’s sperm and having sex two or three times a week to get your body used to the sperm, can help. Interesting fact: the first successful pregnancy by insemination in a woman with sperm allergy was in 1981 – she had twins.