Fertility is such a complicated topic (and simultaneously so fraught with emotions) that it’s a breeding ground for myths. Some people want to be pregnant so badly that they’ll do anything to achieve it, whether it’s listening to old wives’ tales about what to eat to ensure a certain sex or Googling their questions for hours on end to get answers from increasingly sketchy blogs. It doesn’t help that actual facts about fertility were pretty hard to find in high school health class.
As you can imagine, fertility experts spend a great deal of time correcting false beliefs. We talked to several to learn the most common fertility myths that they want people to stop believing, ASAP:
1. Myth: Birth control pills can either protect or harm fertility
Bat-Sheva Lerner Maslow, MD, a reproductive endocrinologist at Extend Fertility, says she sees first-hand a lot of misinformation around birth control and its potential impact on fertility. “Some women feel that birth control must protect their fertility by ‘saving’ their eggs from ovulation. Others worry that pills harm their fertility, especially if they’ve been on them for a long time,” she says.
In reality, neither are true. “Once a woman goes off of birth control pills, she is no more or less likely to get pregnant than she would be if she had never been on the pills in the first place,” Dr. Lerner Maslow says.
2. Myth: Irregular cycles are a sign of infertility
This is another common belief Dr. Lerner Maslow sees. “Many women worry they’re infertile if they experience irregular periods,” she says. But the occasional irregular cycle is very common. “Disruptions to sleep, exercise routine, and stress levels can alter the delicate balance of hormones that regulate the menstrual cycle,” she says.
While irregular cycles don’t automatically spell out infertility, they can make trying to conceive a challenge. The peak conception window is ovulation, which is around 14 days before your next period starts; if your cycle is irregular, it can be tricky to properly time sex. “If this is the case, it’s worth bringing up to your gynecologist sooner rather than later, especially if it’s more than three or four months without a period,” Dr. Lerner Maslow says.
3. Myth: The best way to get pregnant is to have sex every day
According to Brian Levine, MD, founding partner and practice director of the fertility clinic CCRM-New York, you don’t need to have sex every day to get pregnant (although if you’re feeling it, go for it!); you just have to do it when it counts. “The fertile window is approximately 14 days after a woman starts her menstrual cycle,” he says, although this varies a bit depending on one’s own cycle. “Therefore, the two days before and two days after that peak day are the days to try,” he says. Outside of that ovulation window, sex will likely not lead to a pregnancy—although if you’re not trying to get pregnant, Dr. Levine says to always use contraception no matter when you’re having sex to be extra safe.
4. Myth: It’s impossible to get pregnant after 40
While the fertility of people with uteruses naturally declines after the age of 35, “fertility clinics would not be in business if they couldn’t get patients pregnant over 40!” Dr. Levine says. “According the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, the recommended age cut-off [of pregnancy] for women of advanced reproductive age is 55. This means that women under 55 [who haven’t gone through menopause] are viable candidates for getting pregnant.” However, Dr. Levine says for many people over 40, the highest success rates are with donor eggs, but turning 40 is by no means the end of a person’s chance to have a baby.
5. Myth: Getting pregnant after 40 is easy
Just as it’s a myth that getting pregnant after 40 is impossible, Dr. Levine says many others believe it’s easy…which isn’t exactly the case either. “Quite often it might take advanced reproductive technologies such as fertility medicines, intrauterine inseminations (IUI), in-vitro fertilization (IVF), or possible oocyte donation,” he says. “With that said, the uterus is an organ that does not age like the ovaries, and as such, can work well into someone’s early to mid-50s.”
6. Myth: Only the age of the person carrying the baby affects fertility
The age of the mother is talked about a lot when it comes to fertility, but Dr. Levine says the age of whoever is providing the sperm matters, too. “As men age, sperm parameters can worsen. Therefore, older sperm can be associated with infertility, and can be associated with diminished IVF outcomes,” he says. Mark Trolice, MD, the director of Fertility CARE and author of The Fertility Doctor’s Guide to Overcoming Infertility (out in December) adds that a man’s age plays a role in miscarriage risk, too. “Men who are above the age of 39 have shown increasing rates of pregnancy loss, as well as birth defects, infertility, autism and schizophrenia,” he says.
7. Myth: It’s better to freeze embryos rather than eggs
“I hear this one a lot from our patients, many of whom do not have a partner or have a partner that they aren’t ready to commit to in that way,” Dr. Maslow says. “In the past, the egg freezing technology was not as good and embryos were considered ‘hardier.’ In a top quality lab, frozen eggs should be just as hardy as frozen embryos.”
Dr. Maslow stresses that freezing embryos is a major commitment, even more so than an egg. “Once you freeze embryos with a partner, you both ‘parent’ those embryos equally,” he says. “If something were to happen to the relationship, the health of one of the parties, or someone just changes their mind, those embryos likely won’t be able to be used.” That’s why he says that preserving embryos can be a riskier commitment.
8. Myth: Egg freezing and IVF are fail-safe insurance policies
On that note, while egg freezing and IVF are incredible developments in reproductive science, Nataki Douglas, MD, PhD, chair of the Modern Fertility Medical Advisory Board, is not convinced that they are “consistent and reliable” backup options for family planning. “IVF cannot guarantee that you will have a baby,” she says, noting the massive amount of variability that comes with fertility like egg count and quality, and health of the uterus. Per the CDC, the success rate of assisted reproductive technologies (ART) like IVF is pretty low—31 percent of ART cycles led to healthy, live births in women under the age of 35, 24 percent in women aged 35 to 37, and just 16 percent in women aged 37 to 40. “Our society has a tendency to highlight the successes, be it within immediate communities or in the media, but we often aren’t highlighting the failures,” says Dr. Douglas. “Many times, women require more than one treatment cycle to conceive, which is costly and is a significant emotional investment.”
9. Myth: Miscarriages run in families
Just because your mom or sister had a miscarriage doesn’t mean you are destined to have one, too. “Genetic causes of miscarriage comprise only 5 percent of contributing factors,” Dr. Trolice says. However, he adds that if you or your parent is a carrier of a chromosomal abnormality called a balanced translocation (where their chromosomes are all present, but are mixed up or in the wrong location), this will increase your risk of pregnancy loss. This can be diagnosed through genetic testing.
10. Myth: All bleeding during the first trimester means miscarriage
According to Dr. Trolice, if you experience bleeding in your first trimester, you join the 15 to 25 percent of other women who experience this, too. “While any bleeding is alarming, it is not always associated with miscarriage. Heavy bleeding results in miscarriage about 25 percent of the time,” he says. However, it’s still essential for people to talk to an OB/GYN if they notice bleeding at any phase in their pregnancy to assess what’s going on.
As you can see, there’s a lot of misinformation out there when it comes to fertility. This is why being tight with your OB and fertility specialist (if necessary) is so key. With their help, you can silence all the noise out there and focus more on your fertility, which let’s be honest here, is a lot to think about already.