One in six couples face difficulties conceiving and treatment for fertility issues is on the rise. With so much information available to those seeking advice sometimes it’s hard to tell fact from fiction.
I hear many fertility myths from patients and here are the ten of the most common:
1. A normal menstrual cycle is 28 days
Every woman is different and therefore every menstrual cycle is different. A ‘normal’ menstrual cycle can vary from 21-35 days. One of the reasons for this myth can be directly related to the cycle of oral contraceptive pills. The Pill is designed to manipulate the women’s cycle to be a perfect 28 days, although this can vary dramatically for those who have never taken the pill or have recently finished using it.
2. Women cannot get pregnant from intercourse during their period
Whether or not a woman can get pregnant during her period depends on a couple of factors. A woman cannot get pregnant during her period because the hormonal levels that trigger ovulation are completely opposite during menstruation. However, a woman can get pregnant from intercourse during her period if she has an early ovulation and has sex on day five or later of her cycle. Another confounding factor is that not all bleeding is a period! Some women can have a few days of bleeding during her cycle, which can be confused with a period.
3. Women are fertile all the time
Not true! Women are only fertile the few days leading up to ovulation. In fact, a human egg can only survive 12-24 hours after being released from the ovary, and thus the only reason women are considered fertile for longer than 24 hours is because sperm can live for up to five days if fertile quality cervical fluid is present. Interestingly it is the opposite as men are the ones who are always fertile!
4. Sperm can only live up to three days
Sperm can survive up to five days or so in the woman's reproductive tract. Even though a woman's egg can only live for 12-24 hours, she is potentially fertile for about one week per cycle including five days for sperm viability.
5. Stress causes infertility
The role that stress plays on fertility is fairly complex. Stress, does not prevent conception, however it can delay ovulation by suppressing the hormones necessary for it to occur.
6. A woman can get pregnant only one day per cycle
It is true that a human egg is only viable for 12 to 24 hours, although a woman can actually get pregnant from an act of intercourse occurring anytime from five days prior to ovulation to even occasionally two days after, for a total of about seven days.
Sperm can survive up to five days inside the woman's reproductive tract, and a woman can release two or more eggs within a 24-hour period. Therefore theoretically, a woman can get pregnant for about one week per cycle.
7. Breastfeeding = birth control
It’s definitely true that breastfeeding can keep women period-free for longer and, therefore, less fertile, but this is not true in all cases. Therefore relying on breastfeeding as your sole form of birth control isn’t really the best route to take (particularly for long-term breast feeders).
If a woman is exclusively breast feeding on demand, she hasn’t had a period, and the baby is less than 6 months old, the chance of conception is around 2% this is called the lactational amenorrhoea method of contraception, and relies on all of these aspects being correct.
8. A woman can spontaneously ovulate at any time in the cycle
Even though the timing of ovulation can vary from cycle to cycle, once a woman ovulates, it is virtually impossible for her to ovulate again until the following cycle. This is because once ovulation occurs the hormone progesterone will suppresses the release of all other eggs until the following cycle.
9. Being on the Pill for too long will delay pregnancy
Absolutely not true. Depending on the kind of birth control you were using before you started trying to conceive, the rate your cycle regulates may vary, but not by much. As for users of the Pill, many cases show that your cycle should get back on track pretty much right away, so you should expect to ovulate within just a few weeks. Studies have shown that within one year after stopping the Pill, 80 percent of women who want to get pregnant do.
10. A woman is more likely to become pregnant if the couple adopts a child
Once again not true! Firstly, stress does not necessarily stop once a couple adopts and a woman is not statistically more likely to conceive after adopting. People tend to hear about those cases and not all the cases where women did not get pregnant following adoption.
These days, there are many options available to women who are struggling to conceive. It is also important for any woman considering having a baby to receive tailored information to their specific situation and to also not read into many of the fertility myths that are passed around.
Dr Andrew Zuschmann is a Fertility Specialist Obstetrician and Gynaecologist at Demeter Fertility.