Trying to conceive: Myths vs. facts

Sure, you get the gist of how to make a baby, but there’s still a lot of misconceptions out there about conception. We talked to the pros to separate fact from fiction.
woman lying with legs on wall trying to conceive

Photo: iStock

My mum had me at 39, so I have plenty of time.”

MYTH
“The most dangerous myth is that women think they have until 40,” says Paul Claman, an OB/GYN in Ottawa. “In fact, your fertility starts to fall precipitously at 27 or 28, and by 35 it’s iffy.” According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, by age 40, a woman’s chances of getting pregnant are less than five percent per cycle. There are many factors—including alcohol, caffeine and nicotine consumption, as well as conditions such as endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome—that affect your fertility, so don’t make any decisions on your life map based on when your sisters conceived. If you want to see how your fertility is faring, talk to your doctor, not your mom.

“My period is pretty regular. I’ll be fine!”

MYTH
A regular cycle is 28 days long (give or take a day or two on either side). If it’s wildly different each month, it might mean that you’ll have a tricky time getting pregnant. The state of your periods can indicate what’s going on, too. “If they’re very light, you might be lacking in estrogen,” says Pamela Frank, a naturopathic doctor based in Toronto. “If they’re very heavy, there might not be enough progesterone to balance out the estrogen.” And very painful periods might be a sign of endometriosis, which can make conception more difficult. If your periods aren’t running like clockwork, talk to your doctor before trying to conceive to help track your cycle.

A vitamin D deficiency can affect your fertility.

FACT
“What Canadian isn’t deficient in vitamin D?” asks Claman. “The majority of us are deficient.” While Health Canada recommends that adults get 600 international units (IUs) each day, you can talk to your health care provider about how much you (and your partner) should be taking. (There are simple blood tests to see what your current levels are like.)

Having an orgasm helps suck up the sperm.

MYTH
Sure, an orgasm feels great, but it doesn’t appear to affect your chances of conception. The theory that an orgasm helps pull the sperm up into the contracting uterus has been disproven by studies that show that there’s no correlation between orgasm and conception. The truth is, sperm can live in the reproductive tract for days, orgasm or not.

You should just have sex every day.

MYTH
Treating it like a military mission can lead to undue stress for both parties, says Claman—and no one needs more of that. Ovulation occurs roughly 14 days before the start of your next period. To make the most of this fertile window, Claman suggest that couples have sex every two or three days starting 18 days before your next period.

Only have sex when you ovulate on Day 14.

MYTH
Being early is always good—especially in this scenario. Start having sex a few days before ovulation (Day 11). Sperm are pretty patient and determined, and the winning dude will hang out in your cervix for 72 hours to be ready for the descending egg. If you wait until your basal temperature is elevated, you will have already ovulated and may have missed the window—an egg only survives for 12 to 24 hours after being released. Find out when you’re ovulating using this calculator.

Ovulation kits are an easy way to know when to start trying.

MYTH
Yes, they can help you track your cycle by testing your body’s production of luteinizing hormone, which precedes ovulation, but there’s a caveat: “They can tell when you’re supposed to be ovulating but not if ovulation is actually taking place,” says Frank.

To conceive a boy, have sex right before ovulation. Want a girl? Do it a few days before.

MYTH
“Well, it’s half right,” says Al Yuzpe, an OB/GYN and co-founder of Olive Fertility Centre in Vancouver. “You’ve always got a 50/50 shot, but there is no natural way to determine the sex of your baby.” Nature built in tamperproof odds, he points out, to ensure that we have a population that’s a pretty even split. 

Eat high-fat dairy.

FACT…ISH
High-fat dairy has been touted as a miracle baby maker ever since researchers found a link between a low-fat dairy diet and an increased risk of infertility due to lack of ovulation in 2007. But the reality is, we just need to eat well. “Carbs and sugars can be detrimental to conception because they require higher levels of insulin, which can disrupt hormone balance,” says Frank. “Stick to healthy, whole foods, such as organic fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats, legumes, nuts and seeds. Avoid pesticides, herbicides and chemicals like BPA, which are hormone disrupters.”

Your partner needs to get ready for baby making, too.

FACT
Besides making sure that he’s chock full of vitamin D, your partner should be taking folic acid to help prevent neural tube defects. “Both of you should be taking one milligram of active folic acid a day,” says Frank. “Look for a supplement that says 5-MTHF [5-methyltetrahydrofolate] on the label to ensure that you’re getting the active kind.”

Get your thyroid checked.

FACT
“An underactive thyroid might prevent you from getting pregnant and also increases your risk of miscarriage if you do,” says Frank. “Your thyroid is the master director of your metabolism, so if it’s sluggish, nothing will be working at the proper rate.” She also cautions that the numbers your GP might be happy with (normal TSH levels between four and five) may still be too high. “I would want to get that number down below two,” she says. An overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism, often caused by a condition called Graves’ disease) can cause trouble, too, so make sure to get a full workup.

Stressed women don’t make babies.

FACT…ISH
Frank points out that when we are chronically stressed, our reproductive organs take a back seat. “They just aren’t a priority,” says Frank. Fertility doctors agree that stress is the last ingredient your body needs to make a baby, but note that plenty of pregnancies happen during times of strife. “Look at countries where there is war and famine,” says Yuzpe. “Women still get pregnant.” While stress may play a role, it’s impossible to quantify since what is stressful for one person isn’t stressful for another, explains Yuzpe. Basically, try to reduce stress whatever way you can because it’s better for your body overall (but also don’t stress about the stress).

Stay in bed for 30 minutes after sex with your legs up against the wall after sex.

MYTH
“It makes absolutely no difference,” says Yuzpe. Yes, if you stand up immediately afterwards, you can feel a trickle, but that’s OK. “Sperm immediately head north,” says Yuzpe, “while seminal fluid heads south.”

Take cough syrup to improve your chances.

MYTH
A few years ago, trying-to-conceive forums blew up with the news that guaifenesin, an ingredient found in certain cough syrups, helped to make cervical mucus thinner and less hostile. “It does nothing to increase your chances of conception,” says Yuzpe. “In fact, Clomid, the medication often used to treat infertility, actually thickens the mucus.”

Explore alternative modalities.

FACT
Things like acupuncture and other forms of traditional Chinese medicine can help reduce stress immensely and be very beneficial. “Many of our patients seek out this type of treatment, and it can be helpful to many because they feel better and less stressed,” says Yuzpe. “No one should say ‘This will get you pregnant.’ Instead, say ‘This will get your body in the best shape to get pregnant.’ It’s like nourishing the soil before you plant something.”

    Read more:
    Best sex positions for getting pregnant
    11 things to do before having a baby

    What your cervical mucus is telling you about your fertility

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