20 Common Fertility Myths and Misconceptions Debunked

If you're trying to conceive and you're concerned about fertility, you no doubt turn to any source of information you can get on the subject. Google is full of answer, but as we all know, those answers aren't always correct. Plenty of people promote their own agendas rather than the truth, and it makes separating fact from fiction very hard. Add in all the old wives' tales and folklore that comes from your mother's mother's mother, and it's no wonder it's so hard to even see straight.

What we've done here is compiled 20 of the most common fertility myths, along with an explanation of why they're myths and, if possible, a link to further reading about the subject. 

Myth #1: Fertility Drops Off at 35

One pervasive myth is that fertility is at its peak somewhere around the late teens, and once you hit about 35, it drops off a cliff. This puts a "timer" on women looking to conceive, adding pressure to many relationships. 

Age does have an impact on fertility, but there's no "fertility cliff" at 35 or thereabouts. Your fertility does indeed peak around your early 20s, but it's more of a long, slow decline between there and menopause. 35 is often viewed as a cliff because it's where the chanced of becoming pregnant have decreased enough that it's rather unlikely, while the chances of miscarriage and complications increases enough to be more dangerous.

Myth #2: IVF is a Good Backup for a Later Baby

Many people, both men and women, view IVF as a perfect option for having a baby later in life, at or around the so-called fertility cliff. The idea is that using external means to facilitate fertilization bypasses many of the problems with fertility you might experience.

The reality is that age is a roadblock for fertility, with and without IVF. Age makes eggs less available, making conception harder. Meanwhile, sperm viability and motility drops with age, so men over 40 find it harder and harder to conceive as well. Even with IVF, not all of those problems are solved.

Myth #3: Birth Control Hurts Your Fertility

Being on birth control does not inherently harm your fertility. Hormonal birth control works by inhibiting the body's natural cycles and preventing the body from ovulating. They also make cervical mucous different, chemically, which makes it more difficult for sperm to penetrate and reach an egg, while also altering the uterus to make it more difficult for an egg to implant.

All of this leads many women to wonder: will this have long-term consequences? Indeed, it has one: you won't have a baby. However, there's no evidence to suggest that being on the pill, either for a short term or a long term, has a lasting impact on fertility. Once you stop taking the pill and it works its way out of your system – a few weeks or a couple months at most – your fertility will return to normal levels for your age.

Myth #4: Normal Couples Conceive as Soon as They Start Trying

Issues and complications with pregnancy are something of a taboo subject in western culture. As such, discussion of things like how long a couple has been trying to conceive and how many failures they've experienced along the way are generally suppressed. It's not polite conversation, after all.

The reality is that a young couple at the peak of their fertility still only has around a 25% chance of a successful conception each month. Most couples need to try for months before they can get pregnant. It's only after repeated failures for over a year that assistance may be necessary.

Myth #5: Once You're Out of Eggs, It's Over

The fact is, healthy women start their lives with a couple million eggs, and that's all they'll ever have. As time goes on, they lose them, which is why fertility drops over time. Eventually, your eggs will run out.

The flip side to this is that it's not necessarily the absolute end of the road for fertility at this point. Modern technology allows you to extract and freeze eggs now for use later, and it's always an option to use an egg donor instead of your own eggs. There are genetic and even legal implications to doing so, but it's something modern technology can do.

Myth #6: Fertility Issues are a Woman's Problem

Throughout history, there's been a pervasive (and misogynistic) perception that fertility issues are always something to do with the female reproductive system. There are any number of societal pressures that point in this direction, but it's not true at all.

Men can have fertility issues just as much as women. Low quality sperm, low sperm count, and low sperm motility can all contribute to fertility issues. Male fertility issues are also somewhat common, and as many as 30-40% of couples have some fertility issues on both sides.

Myth #7: IVF is Dangerous

IVF, being an advanced medical technique dealing with some of the most intimate and personal moments in a person's life, has a lot of skepticism surrounding it. Many people hear stories about IVF complications and worry that the process is inherently dangerous.

The truth is, pregnancy is dangerous. Whether it's natural conception or IVF conception, growing, nurturing, and birthing a baby is one of the most dangerous things a woman can do. IVF can have some risks associated with it, but they are not that different from the risks of natural conception.

Myth #8: "Just Relax, It'll Happen"

One of the more common pieces of fertility advice is to just relax and let it happen. The idea must be that a woman being tense puts some kind of stress on the microscopic processes that lead to pregnancy? 

The truth is that stress, not tension, is what leads to some fertility issues. Stress can lead to anything from hormonal imbalances to a poor diet to irregular periods. Stress can also lead to miscarriages, to problems with development, and post-partum issues. It's important to identify what causes you stress and, more importantly, what helps you release stress, so you can keep yourself as stress-free as possible.

Myth #9: A Second Child is as Easy as The First

Many couples don't have trouble conceiving their first child, so they assume (quite reasonably) that their fertility is fine and that they won't have issues going for a second child. There's no reason to suspect that the situation would be any different, right?

The reality is that "secondary infertility", as it is called, is a problem that affects millions of couples. After giving birth to a baby, there are any number of reasons why it might be harder to have another. Reasons such as damage to fallopian tubes, complications from the previous pregnancy, and even post-pregnancy weight gain can all have a suppressive effect on having a second child. It's not uncommon and it should not be a source of shame to see a fertility clinic despite not needing assistance the first time around.

Myth #10: The 14th Day of Your Cycle is Peak Fertility

Fertility cycles are exactly that: cyclical. Roughly halfway through a woman's cycle between periods, ovulation occurs, which is when eggs are most receptive to being fertilized. 

The average woman's cycle is around 28 days, which makes the halfway point roughly 14 days in. However, this is just that: an average. Some women have longer or shorter cycles, and some have irregular cycles. This can make it difficult to estimate the specific day of ovulation, so counting to exactly 14 is not likely to be always accurate.

Myth #11: An Egg is Viable for Two Days After Release

In order to get pregnant, a viable egg and viable sperm must be in the same place at the same time. Many people don't quite know just how long the timing windows are, however.

Sperm can be live and active within the uterus for up to five days, though obviously the first few moments are more viable than several days after the act. Meanwhile, an egg released from the ovary can only become fertilized in the first 12-24 hours after release. This makes the timing window surprisingly tight.

Myth #12: You Can't Get Pregnant In Your 40s

Fertility declines, as we've discussed above, from its peak in your 20s until menopause. At this point, the woman's natural ability to become pregnant is more or less ceased. Age is a major contributing factor, but with modern science, it's not the only factor.

While the chances of pregnancy decrease over time, until menopause, it's still possible to become pregnant. Additionally, it's possible to become pregnant after menopause, using IVF with a donor egg, or even the woman's own frozen eggs from years earlier. Just remember that a pregnancy at such a late age can be at risk of more complications than younger pregnancies.

Myth #13: You Can Freeze Eggs in Your 30s Just Fine

Fertility drops over time, but you're not out of eggs until menopause, so there's no reason to worry about it until your mid-30s, right? Until you fall off the cliff – see number 1 – you don't need to worry about it.

That's not quite true, though. In fact, the most viable eggs are the ones dropping early. The most ideal time to recover and freeze eggs is typically in your mid-20s to your early 30s. Unfortunately for many women, by the time they start discussing the idea in their late 30s, it's somewhat less than ideal circumstances. That's not to say it's impossible – it's always possible – but the quality and quantity of healthy eggs drops with each passing year.

Myth #14: Your Mother's Fertility Impacts Your Own

"My mom had no trouble getting pregnant, so I'll be fine!" Many women take comfort in the fertility of their own mothers, or agonize over the lack of fertility in the same. 

The truth is, many of the factors relevant to fertility are not inheritable. Some are genetic, of course, like PCOS, but most are not. Stress, diet, age, weight, hormone balance, other diseases, and many factors from your partner all impact fertility in ways that have nothing to do with your mother.

Myth #15: Fertility Treatments are Expensive

One of the biggest myths surrounding fertility is that fertility treatments, from counseling to medication to surgery, are extremely expensive. There are a few reasons for this, from insurances not covering it to the rising costs of healthcare in the US. 

The truth is, fertility treatments don't necessarily have to be expensive. Some are, sure, just like there are private practices with high costs for treatments that come for much lower costs at hospitals. Plus, there are plenty of at-home remedies you can try to supplement fertility before pulling out the big guns.

Myth #16: You Should Try For a Year Before Seeking Help

Up above, we mentioned that many couples can try for over a year before realizing that they're having fertility issues and seeking treatment.

While that's true, it doesn't mean you have to wait a year before pursuing other options. If you think – or know, from past history – that you have potential fertility issues, there's no reason not to pursue fertility counseling immediately. If nothing else, it can help you get on the right track sooner rather than later.

Myth #17: When Tracking Temperature, Wait Until it Rises

Women who track their ovulation by monitoring their body temperature can spot when they're ovulating by the rise of about .1 degrees Fahrenheit. Many women wait until they see this temperature rise to try, but that's a problem. 

The fact is, the temperature rise indicates an egg has already been released, not that it's about to be. Waiting for that temperature rise means the ideal window for conception is already passing. Pregnancy is still possible, of course, but the chances drop dramatically.

Myth #18: Male Fertility is Static

Many men feel like their reproductive system is relatively static. This manifests most commonly as the perception that having a child once means they're perfectly fertile and will have no troubles on their end having another.

Unfortunately, male fertility is just as variable as female fertility. Anything from weight to thyroid issues can cause male fertility issues to develop in between pregnancies just as much as women can experience the same.

Myth #19: You Need to Try Every Day

Trying for a pregnancy every day can be an enjoyable experience, to be sure, but there's not necessarily a need to do so. Every other day is just as fine, with how motile sperm can linger in the uterus and remain viable for several days. 

Myth #20: Some Positions are Better than Others

Different positions have different rationales, from getting a deeper penetration to letting gravity assist the process, but they're pretty much all myths. Sperm is mobile and will do its best to get where it needs to be regardless of position. At the end of the day, simply do what is most comfortable and enjoyable when you try, and don't worry about specific positions, particularly if they're uncomfortable.

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