There was a time when women wishing to get pregnant might try drinking a potion made with powdered wolf's penis. Alternately, she could wear a charm made from a quail's heart. If that didn't work, she could take to the garden and plant a rosemary bush or head to the nearest mall and buy someone a gift of silverware -- and of course, during all of this, it would be a very bad idea to sweep under the bed.
Strawberries would likewise be avoided lest a newborn emerge with a big red splotch on his or her skin; and a pregnant woman would never look at a mouse -- unless, of course, she's angling for a kid with a hairy birthmark.
While much of the lore and legend surrounding fertility and pregnancy can easily be dismissed as ancient superstition, it's surprising to realize that even today, there are multiple myths regarding the conception and carrying of a child. Here we examine (and dispel) 10 of the most common.
Bedroom acrobatics might be just the thing to keep it interesting behind closed doors, but there's at least one gymnastic move that won't help couples conceive: headstands. Despite the fact that turning your world upside down after sex doesn't give sperm an extra boost in its quest to find and fertilize an egg, this myth remains a persistent one.
Instead of flipping over, most experts say that simply lying flat after sex for about five minutes might help conception by allowing a woman to retain more of the man's semen, but anything more than that is unnecessary -- and could become quite a pain in the neck.
It's also mostly a myth that a man and woman's position during sex can have much effect on conception. Although the missionary or "doggie-style" positions can help sperm get deposited closer to the cervix, the small difference in distance really doesn't matter much according to most experts. That is, unless the woman is among the small percentage of those who have a uterus that's titled backward instead of forward, in which case one of these two positions might be helpful [source: Kelly].
A couple might have many reasons for having sex every day of the month, but conceiving a child shouldn't necessarily be one of them.
In fact, when a man ejaculates frequently, his sperm count, sperm concentration and percentage of sperm that remain motile falls. Theoretically, this could reduce the semen's effectiveness.
Much more important than having sex every day (or multiple times a day) when trying to conceive is to have frequent sex during a woman's most fertile period, which, according to a study done by the New England Journal of medicine, is the six days immediately prior to ovulation. An easy way for a woman to predict impending ovulation is to use an at-home luteinizing hormone (LH) predictor kit. By urinating on the sticks provided in the kit, a surge in LH -- which occurs in the body approximately 24 to 36 hours before ovulation -- can be detected.
Couples who are either trying to conceive -- or trying to avoid a pregnancy -- by using the "rhythm method" will often simply abide by this basic rule to increase or decrease their odds of having a child. But, according to a study done by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, only about 30 percent of women are fertile during days 10 to 17 of their menstrual cycles. While 14 days after a period might be good as a general guide, it isn't the most accurate way to predict fertility.
For the most accurate prediction of what is known as the "fertile window," your best bet is to use a luteinizing hormone (LH) predictor kit as previously described.
Couples who are trying to avoid a pregnancy but want to take a break from using contraception might think that having sex during a woman's period gives them a "get out of baby-making free" pass. While this method of avoiding conception may help reduce pregnancy odds, it is by no means foolproof.
In fact, a study conducted by the National Institute of Health Sciences (part of the National Institutes of Health) has shown that there are very few "safe" days in which sex without pregnancy can occur. The research reported that if you count the day on which a woman begins her period as day one, she could be fertile again by day four. It also showed that even among women with regular cycles, 1 to 6 percent could be fertile on the day their next menstrual cycle is due to begin [source: Grigg].
Combine this with the fact that sperm from ejaculation can live inside a woman's body for up to five days, and it soon becomes clear that there are no free passes in the baby-making game [source: Harms].
Although this might be the secret hope of hundreds of young people in the backs of cars or under the bleachers, wishing something doesn't make it so. The fact remains that whenever there is a chance for an egg and sperm to meet, there's a chance of conception. So if a young woman has begun ovulating (as evidenced by monthly menstruation), and a young man is capable of ejaculation, the odds of making a baby are exactly the same -- whether it's the first time or the hundred-and-first time either party is having sex.
And what exactly are those odds?
Most experts place it at between 15 and 25 percent for each ovulatory cycle -- with the higher percentage numbers being more applicable for women in their 20s [source: Moore].
Just as the rhythm method isn't a 100 percent guarantee against conception, the withdrawal method, in which a man removes his penis from a woman's vagina before ejaculation, doesn't guarantee that pregnancy won't occur. In fact, it just might lead to a deposit in the baby-making box.
According to Planned Parenthood, even if the method is followed completely accurately every time and the man manages to interrupt coitus before emitting any ejaculate, 4 out of every 100 women will still become pregnant. And, if the method isn't employed correctly each and every time sexual intercourse takes place, the odds rise: 27 out of every 100 women will conceive.
This is because of something known as pre-ejaculate -- an uncontrollable fluid that can appear at the tip of man's penis during sexual stimulation. Because it's believed this fluid can pick up sperm left in a man's urethra from a previous ejaculation, if the fluid appears during intercourse, the sperm it contains can still find their way to an egg, even if the man doesn't have an orgasm during penetration.
When it comes to the old wives' tales regarding this topic, the myths are clearly false. Trying to have a bouncing baby boy? If so, be sure to warm the man's testicles before intercourse and keep your heads pointing north. It's best to have sex on odd days, too, as everyone knows those are the best days to conceive a male child.
After a little girl? Then it's best to wait for a full moon and have sex in the missionary position. On an even day, of course. And when you're completely relaxed, because stressed sex is boy-making sex.
When it comes to the science of the matter, however, there might be a small chance that you could influence the sex of your child based on what you eat. And we're not talking about the old rumor that red meat will lead to a boy and chocolate to a girl.
Research performed by the Universities of Exeter and Oxford in England determined that if a mother-to-be is consuming more calories at the time of conception, she could shift the 10 in 20 likelihood of having a boy to 11 in 20. The tipping point seemed to be an intake of 2,200 calories a day versus 1,850. Particularly useful foods were those rich in vitamins C, E and B12, as well as potassium and calcium [source: Highfield].
Because couples trying to conceive often have sex on demand when they're trying to maximize intercourse during a woman's fertile period, sexual lubricants can sometimes be helpful. But it's important to realize that the very thing that might be facilitating sex could be hampering the baby-making process.
That's because, according to the World Health Organization, the optimal pH for vaginal mucus to be hospitable to sperm is between 7.0 and 8.5 [source: Ellington]. However, many store-bought lubricants have a pH below 7, which can throw the vaginal chemistry out of whack and lead to impaired sperm motility and even sperm death.
One lubricant that is safe for baby-making sex is called Pre-Seed, and it has the same pH and consistency of vaginal secretions.
In much the same way personal lubricants can make vaginal mucus inhospitable to sperm, if a woman has secretions that are naturally too thick, sperm can likewise have a difficult time making the journey through the substance in order to reach an egg.
The thinking that made cough syrup a much-talked-about fertility aid is that if it thins respiratory mucus, perhaps it could also thin vaginal mucus in women who needed such a remedy. One study conducted in 1982 showed that this effect was, in fact, measureable; but since that day, no further research has been conducted on Robitussin as baby-making juice [source: Taylor].
Perhaps that's because problems with vaginal mucus account for only 2 percent of women who have difficulty conceiving [source: Taylor]. And of those, there's no major research study that proves that Robitussin would improve their odds of conception.
While this myth is certainly not without merit, the female orgasm is biologically unnecessary for conception to occur.
But that's not to say it can't help with the fertilization process.
A study done by British biologists in the 1990s found that women retained more seminal fluid when they had an orgasm anywhere from a minute to 45 minutes after a man's ejaculation during copulation. Their theory is that the muscular contractions that accompany a female orgasm have an "upsuck" action that helps pull sperm from the vagina toward the cervix, which gives the swimmers an increased likelihood of reaching an egg [source: Psychology Today].
So it seems that for women, the big O can definitely help lead to a little bundle of joy.
Is it possible for a woman to get pregnant when she's already pregnant? HowStuffWorks looks at superfetation.
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