These are many preconceived notions passed around about fertility. It's normal to have questions, even if you aren't actively starting to grow your family. Here is a list of some of the most widespread myths about fertility:
1. Most couples can conceive as soon as they start trying.
It is all too common that men and women spend their early adult years preventing pregnancy while finishing school and starting their career. Then, when they are older and ready to start a family, contraception is stopped with the belief that pregnancy will happen right away. As months go by without a baby, the disappointment sets in. The truth is that a young couple at the peak of their fertility has only a 25% chance at best each month of conceiving. After trying for a year, 85% of young couples will conceive. It is only after a year of trying that the chance of pregnancy decreases to 5%; and, these couples will likely need medical assistance to get pregnant.
2. A woman can get pregnant until the time she stops ovulating with menopause.
First, it's important to know that a woman's fertility does declines with age and will eventually run out. The age of 35 is widely publicized as "the age" at which fertility declines. However, what a lot of women don't know is that your fertility slows down throughout your thirties. Women are at the peak of their fertility in their 20s, after which fertility starts to decline and the overall risk of infertility increases with age. Between 31 and 35 years of age, the chance of spontaneously conceiving decreases about 3% per year. After age 35, the rate of decline accelerates and by the age of 40, over half of couples are infertile. By 45, women have less than a 5% chance of becoming pregnant. Why is it so difficult for a woman to conceive nearly 10 years before menopause? Although a woman in her 40s may still be ovulating, the eggs are of poorer quality. As a woman ages, the percentage of her eggs with genetic abnormalities will increase. This leads to a decrease in fertility, an increase in miscarriage and an increase in having a chromosomally abnormal baby (like Down syndrome) if pregnancy does occur. There are exceptions to every rule, and it is scary, but just keep in mind one day you will run out of healthy eggs.
3. There is nothing I can do to stop "the clock."
While it is true that there is nothing one can do to stop the affect of age on our fertility, technology has advanced to allow women to freeze their eggs when they are young and at the peak of fertility. Several years ago vitrification (flash freezing technology as opposed to slow freezing) was introduced and has proven to be a successful and reliable means to preserve an egg. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) showed the success rates using a vitrified egg were equal to those of a vitrified embryo, and subsequently took the experimental label off the process making elective egg freezing accessible to more women. This isn't just amazing for women who wish to delay starting a family while building their career, but also for women diagnosed with cancer and other diseases who wish to preserve their future fertility.
4. A man's fertility does not decline with age.
The trend to delay parenthood until an older age has also been seen in men. The idea that a man's fertility will continue well past a woman's decline is false. The older the man, the more difficult it is to conceive due to a decline in semen quality and an increase in DNA fragmentation seen in the sperm. In addition to problems with sperm, male aging is also associated with decreased sexual activity and erectile dysfunction.
5. If a couple cannot get pregnant, it must be because of the female partner.
Historically, infertility was commonly thought to be due to problems with the female reproductive system. However, a deficiency in sperm quality or quantity is the primary problem in 20% of infertile couples. In another 30-40% of couples, there are both female-related and male-related fertility issues. Male-related fertility problems do not just affect men who are weak, old or sick. Shady Grove Fertility Center was glad to help professional hockey player David Steckel and his wife Diondra start their family when it was discovered he had a low sperm count and low motility. As described by the Washington Post, "Dave Steckel is a 6'6", 215 pound hockey player that previously played for the Washington Capitals and will gladly lay to rest the myth that men who have trouble conceiving are 'weak' or 'not doing it right'." It is important that both partners see a specialist when dealing with infertility.
6. If I undergo IVF, I will end up with twins or triplets.
Over the past four decades, the increased availability and use of infertility treatments has resulted in an increase in multiple births. With the increase in multiple pregnancies, came an increase in the associated complications including preterm delivery and neonatal morbility. Therefore, in 1998 the doctors who practice IVF proposed a set of guidelines to limit the number of embryos transferred during IVF. In addition, improvements in lab procedures and cryopreservation have allowed the number of elective single embryo transfers to increase while maintaining or even improving the pregnancy rate nationally. According to a recent New England Journal of Medicine report this has resulted in a 29% decline in triplet and higher order multiple pregnancies. At Shady Grove Fertility Center, the majority of our patients undergoing IVF have singleton pregnancies, with less than 1% triplets or more and approximately 20% of cycles resulting in twins.
These are just a few of the common myths about fertility. One thing to remember is that the science of fertility is always evolving. Success rates are at an all-time high and so are your options as a patient. It's normal to have questions. If you are experiencing problems with conception, please make an appointment with a fertility specialist to discuss your situation and learn what resources are available to you.