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Having Trouble Getting Pregnant?
Fertility experts bust 5 common myths
By Madison Russ

Fertility issues can be stressful – sometimes devastating – for couples trying to start a family. But when it comes to infertility, widespread myths can make the struggle even worse. Sometimes you’ll find urban legends on the internet or they might come from friends or family. So if you’re thinking about growing your family and have been struggling to get started, here’s what you really need to know about infertility.

 

MYTH: A man’s age doesn’t matter when trying to conceive.
We’ve all heard about celebrities fathering children in their 60s or even 70s, so the idea of a ticking biological clock is usually applied to women.

But a man’s age does play a crucial role in whether he and his partner can have a healthy baby, says Jason Franasiak, MD, of Reproductive Medicine Associates of New Jersey.

“Fertility, on both sides of the coin, is finite,” he says.

Franasiak says that while it’s hard to define what age constitutes “advanced paternal age,” most medical professionals place it above age 40 – and researchers have discovered that as men age, so do their sperm.
Studies from the National Institutes of Health show that men may still produce a similar number of sperm in their 50s as they did in their 30s, but quantity doesn’t equal quality. Sperm shape and movement both deteriorate with age, making it more difficult for them to fertilize an egg. Franasiak says that as men age, they’re also more likely to be exposed to diseases and physiological stressors that may impact a man’s ability to conceive.

“We do know that the chances of spontaneously conceiving or becoming pregnant for a couple does decrease over the course of a man’s lifetime,” says Franasiak. “Time is never our friend when it comes to planning for a family. Time is a tough boss.”

 

MYTH: Being on the pill for a long time makes it difficult to get pregnant.
“The duration of how long you’ve taken the pill should not affect your chance of conceiving. That is a myth,” says Lauren Weissmann, MD, of South Jersey Fertility Center.

About 12 percent of American women struggle to get pregnant or carry to term, according to the Centers for Disease Control. “But that’s not related to the pill itself,” says Weissmann. “None of them will cause infertility. In general with a birth control pill, the Nuva ring or things similar to the pill, you should be able to come off it and resume ovulating and, hopefully, get pregnant pretty quickly.”

“But if you’ve gone more than three months without getting a period after stopping the pill, that would be a time to consider reaching out to a physician to evaluate what’s going on,” she says, noting that there is typically an underlying culprit when it comes to fertility issues.

“If the patient has a history of very heavy periods, which could be a sign of endometriosis or fibroids, both of those gynecologic diseases can impact fertility,” she says. “Other than that, a history of any kind of infection, specifically chlamydia or gonorrhea, can affect how the fallopian tubes work.”

 

MYTH: If you just relax, you’ll get pregnant. It’s all in your head!
“That’s one of the worst things I hear people tell patients or each other, in terms of ‘Just relax,’ or ‘It’s all in your head,’” says Weissmann. “Yes, certainly stress reduction and anxiety reduction are helpful for health in general and methods to reduce that – whether it be yoga, acupuncture, massage or going for a run – can certainly be beneficial, but it’s not the answer to fertility problems.”

Comments such as “just relax,” can be disparaging to patients, Weissmann says, by increasing the stress or frustration a couple is already feeling. There is usually an “organic problem other than stress that needs to be addressed,” she says.

 

MYTH: I already have a child, so I won’t have trouble getting pregnant again.
Women who have had a baby might feel it will be easy to get pregnant again. Unfortunately, that’s not the rule of thumb.

More than 3 million women in the United States are struggling with “secondary infertility,” according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Sometimes it can be caused by complications from a previous delivery or health issues. Age can also play a role, says Franasiak.

“Couples that are coming to me with secondary infertility are the most challenging, in terms of coming to grips with what they are facing,” he says. “Usually, the common factor for these people is time; they conceived in their late 20s or early 30s and are now interested in conceiving in their mid-to-late 30s.”

Even if a woman has had a child before, Franasiak says, it doesn’t “make a woman immune to changes when it comes to the biological clock.”

Simply put: “Having a child in the past confers a good prognosis for future child bearing, but it certainly doesn’t guarantee it,” he says.

 

MYTH: Women don’t need to worry about their fertility declining until their 40s.
“Sometimes, people will associate having regular menstrual periods with fertility, and certainly that’s an absolute necessity,” says Franasiak. “But regular menstrual periods can continue all the way up to late 40s or 50s.”

When it comes to fertility, peak fertility for women is in their 20s and declines through their 30s and into their 40s.

“The maximum amount of eggs in the ovary occurs before birth. After that peak point, the number of eggs in the ovary goes down, and not simply because of ovulation,” explains Franasiak. “Each month one egg is produced, but a number of eggs that are not ‘selected’ for ovulation will regress and die. Thus, the pool of available eggs is always declining, and this decline begins to affect fertility after age 30 and more so after age 35.”

However, if there’s a health history that might make getting pregnant difficult, checking out a fertility specialist – sooner rather than later – can be helpful. Even if you’re a woman or a couple who plans to wait but know you want to have children eventually, anytime is a good time to make an appointment.

“A medical professional can recommend ways of monitoring or treating any underlying issue,” Franasiak says. “Talking with a health care provider is always a helpful thing. There is no right age to do this. Information is powerful in these circumstances.”

November 2017
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