After spending most of your adult life trying not to get pregnant, it can come as quite a shock when conceiving proves challenging. But one in six Canadians will experience infertility problems, and for some hopeful parents, misinformation can be a major stumbling block.
According to a survey by Fertility Matters Canada, a national charitable organization, many Canadians are jeopardizing their chances of getting pregnant because they’ve got the wrong information about everything from timing and odds of conception to when to seek help from a specialist. We asked Dr. Yaakov Bentov, a reproductive endocrinologist and research director of Anova Fertility in Toronto, to debunk five of the biggest myths about fertility.
1. MYTH: A major decline in a woman’s fertility doesn’t happen until after age 40
TRUTH: According to the Fertility Matters Canada survey, over half of Canadians believe this, but it’s untrue. “A woman’s fertility peaks at age 25 and declines from there,” says Bentov. There’s a sharp decline after age 35 and by 43 most women are unable to conceive naturally. As a result of this misinformation, some couples wait too long to start trying and miss their baby-making window, says Bentov.
2. MYTH: There’s a 50 percent chance of getting pregnant each month
TRUTH: There’s actually just a 15 to 20 percent chance of a couple conceiving – and that’s just for the first three months. After that, your chances of getting pregnant drop even further, because it becomes more likely there’s a problem.
3. MYTH: Taking “the pill” can put a chill on a woman’s ability to conceive
TRUTH: Taking oral contraceptives does not delay a woman’s ability to get pregnant after going off the pill, despite what a reported 55 percent of Canadians believe. “Birth control doesn’t affect fertility, it just stops menstrual cycles while you’re taking it,” says Bentov. He does point out that some research shows that taking the pill for more than 10 years can impact one aspect of fertility treatment, which involves getting the endometrial lining (where a fertilized egg implants to begin growing) to become thicker, but this isn’t an issue for most women.
4. MYTH: You should try for a year before consulting a fertility specialist
TRUTH: One in three Canadian believe this, but it’s not quite true. Couples under 35 should seek help after trying for one year. But older couples, over age 35, should consult a specialist after just six months. And, if you know there are problems that could negatively affect fertility, like not having regular menstrual cycles, or if your partner has erectile dysfunction, ask for a referral right away.
5. MYTH: Alcohol can improve your odds of conceiving
TRUTH: Twenty eight percent of respondents thought drinking alcohol could help you conceive, but “alcohol definitely won’t help you get pregnant,” says Bentov. Sure, a glass of wine might get you in the mood, but heavy drinking can actually put the brakes on baby making. “I had a patient who was binge drinking on weekends and had virtually no sperm count when he came to see me,” says Bentov. After three months totally sober the patient’s sperm count began to bounce back; after six months it was almost normal. “The point is that alcohol is toxic in high amounts and it affects cellular function, so my advice is that it is better to have one drink a day than seven drinks over a weekend.” It’s difficult to measure the exact effect of alcohol consumption on a woman’s fertility, but chances are that heavy drinking will harm more than good.