For a couple trying to get pregnant, there is an endless list of do's and don'ts provided by doctors, family and friends -- and the people with horror stories who lurk in Internet forums.
Lose weight, but don't be too skinny. Stay away from soy, but up your grapefruit juice intake, and get rid of all your stress or you're never going to get pregnant. Make sure your man wears boxers and not briefs, and yank that computer off his lap. And for whatever you do, don't let him on a bike.
But sifting through that info to determine which pieces of advice have hard science behind them and which should go the way of so many other old wives' tales is exhausting.
Good news -- we've done some of that research for you. Here are five fertility myths, busted.
Women know that fertility wanes after age 35. So while many are psychologically prepared for difficulty getting pregnant in their late 30s, few expect to encounter the same trouble in their 20s.
Aging affects ovulation, but so do other health conditions. Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), the most common cause of infertility in women, interferes with ovulation, as does primary ovarian insufficiency (POI). Endometriosis and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) can block the fallopian tubes, and uterine fibroids can hinder fertility in several ways.
No woman struggling with her fertility in her 20s should feel alone. While it may come as a surprise at that age, infertility is common, and affects more than 6 million women in the United States, and there are plenty of treatment options available [source: CDC].
This is more of a misunderstanding than a myth.
The hormone prolactin, which stimulates lactation, also squashes the release of a chemical necessary for ovulation (GnRH). But -- and this is a big but -- a woman must meet three criteria for breast-feeding to work as a form of contraception, known as the lactational amenorrhea method (LAM) [source: Association of Reproductive Health Professionals]:
- She hasn't begun to menstruate again.
- The baby is younger than 6 months old.
- She is engaging in continuous breast-feeding.
Continuous breast-feeding means feeding the baby exclusively from the breast at least every four hours during the day and every six hours at night. No pumping.
If even one of these criteria isn't met, it's possible to get pregnant while breast-feeding, so if the idea of another baby so soon isn't appealing, break out the birth control.
A woman has to be on her back and underneath to get pregnant? False.
There is no scientific evidence to recommend one sexual position over another for conception. Any recommendations are based on speculation. The body is made to encourage reproduction. The angle of the vagina is designed to take semen where it needs to be, and cervical mucus helps sperm along [source: Santa Monica Fertility]. A woman doesn't have to get into a headstand after sex, either, as some suggest -- sperm are chemically motivated to get to her egg.
Timing is far more important to conception than sexual position. So enjoy your time in bed (or on the floor, or in the car) however you like it.
The Pill hasn't been shown to affect a woman's fertility negatively. Once a woman has stopped taking it, it's likely that her body will return to fertility very quickly. Some doctors recommend waiting until after the first post-Pill period to try to conceive so it's easier to figure out her cycle.
Some women do experience post-Pill amenorrhea and don't have a period for a few months after stopping their birth control regimen. Every woman is different, so her body may just be adjusting to the change in hormones. If three months pass with no period, she should see a doctor [source: Mayo Clinic].
It is true that women on the Pill may discover that they have ovulation problems that affect fertility only when they stop taking it -- the Pill can mask the symptoms of irregular or absent periods. But this method of birth control itself isn't the root of any fertility issues.
When we talk about aging and fertility, we're usually talking about women. There is plenty of research on ovarian reserves. But in recent years, researchers have begun to pay more attention to what happens to semen and sperm as a man's birthdays go by.
While there isn't a wealth of information yet, we do know that the sperm of older men is linked to genetic problems such as Lesch Nyhan Syndrome, polycystic kidney disease and Hemophilia A [source: Herbert]. Advanced age in a father has also been linked to autism, Down syndrome, epilepsy and schizophrenia [source: Donnelly]. Men are still producing sperm in their 70s, but it isn't the same quality.
That isn't to say that older men shouldn't father children. Rather, the more we know about how aging affects both men and women, the better we can work toward the best outcomes for their kids.
HowStuffWorks looks at whether women dealing with fertility issues are more likely to conceive naturally after they adopt or get pregnant with IVF.
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. "Evaluating Infertility." June 2012. (June 24, 2012) http://www.acog.org/~/media/For%20Patients/faq136.pdf?dmc=1&ts=20120623T1249209169
- Association of Reproductive Health Professionals. "Breastfeeding (Lactational Amenorrhea Method." Last reviewed December 2009. (June 24, 2012) http://www.arhp.org/Publications-and-Resources/Patient-Resources/Fact-Sheets/Breastfeeding
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Infertility FAQs." Last reviewed April 19, 2012. (June 24, 2012) http://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/Infertility/index.htm
- Donnelly, Laura. "Scientists reveal dangers of older fathers." The Telegraph. May 31, 2008. (June 24, 2012) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/2059130/Scientists-reveal-dangers-of-older-fathers.html
- Harms, Roger W. "How long do sperm live after ejaculation?" Mayo Clinic. May 5, 2012. (June 24, 2012) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/pregnancy/AN00281
- Herbert, Carl. "Sperm Quality and Age." Healthline. (June 26, 2012) http://www.healthline.com/health-blogs/infertility-insights/sperm-quality-and-age
- Mayo Clinic. "Birth control pill FAQ: Benefits, risks and choices." May 21, 2011. (June 24, 2012) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/birth-control-pill/WO00098
- Pearson, Catherine. "Infertility In Your 20s: Getting Diagnosed When You Should Be In Your 'Fertility Peak.'" Huffington Post. June 18, 2012. (June 24, 2012) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/15/infertility-20s-diagnosis_n_1599966.html
- PubMed Health. "Infertility." U.S. National Library of Medicine. Last reviewed Feb. 26, 2012. (June 24, 2012) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002173/
- Santa Monica Fertility. "Pregnancy Myths." (June 24, 2012) http://www.santamonicafertility.com/getting-pregnant/pregnancy-myths.html