by Jacqueline Renfrow
For couples who are infertile, or more correctly, “sub-fertile,” seeing as they might conceive with some help, the pressure can be overwhelming. They often turn to friends and family for advice, hoping they have the secret to attaining that positive test stick. Women try tricks like lying upside down for hours after sex, and men ditch their tighty-whities for loose-fitting boxers. But are these just myths, or do they actually increase your chances of making a baby? Style spoke with Dr. Michael Murray, OB/GYN and reproductive endocrinologist at the Northern California Fertility Medical Center in Roseville, to get the truth for those struggling to conceive.
Myth #1: Most infertility problems stem from the female.Truth: Infertility issues occur equally in males and females. When someone is having trouble conceiving, there are four main factors that are tested: eggs, sperm, uterus and tubes. “Once we do those four major tests, it breaks down to 40, 40 and 20,” says Dr. Murray. “40 percent is female, 40 percent is male, and 20 percent are attributed to both male and female together.”
Myth #2: A woman is more likely to get pregnant if she has sex when her basal body temperature (BBT) goes up.Truth: Many women trying to get pregnant take their BBT each morning, because it normally increases on the second half of the menstrual cycle when the body produces progesterone. “However, by the time the temperature goes up, a woman has already ovulated and missed the window of fertility,” says Dr. Murray. Instead, he recommends having sperm waiting in the fallopian tubes for ovulation, since sperm can live up to three days after ejaculation into the female body. In other words: sex before ovulation.
Myth #3: A woman lying with her legs elevated for two hours after sex will increase her chances of conceiving.Truth: While gravity can cause sperm to leak from the vagina before passing through the cervical canal, it’s only necessary to implement lie down time for 10 minutes after sex. “In this time, the sperm will have traveled—if it’s ever going to—past the cervix, into the fallopian tubes. If it hasn’t made it by then, sperm in the vagina will start to die because the PH in the vagina is hostile to sperm,” says Dr. Murray.
Myth #4: Too much exercise can be bad for fertility.Truth: For men, the only exercise that could inhibit healthy sperm count would be biking more than 50 miles a week, due to possible trauma to the testicles. For women, fertility can be affected in college athletes or Olympians—in other words, females who partake in very vigorous workouts. “These women burn so many calories that the brain wants to save some and says, ‘Hey, I’ll save some energy by not bleeding,’ so they stop having menstrual cycles,” says Dr. Murray. However, he does encourage moderate exercise for women trying to get pregnant. “A healthy diet and lifestyle is always good for those trying to conceive.”
Myth #5: A man should abstain from ejaculation for several days before having sex.Truth: In actuality, prolonged periods between ejaculations are not good for those trying to conceive. “Guys with normal sperm counts don’t need two or more days to replenish their sperm supply,” says Dr. Murray. “Sperm that’s waiting to be ejaculated and sits around for more than five days start to die off, so abstinence longer than five days will decrease the number of moving sperm.” The old adage of “sex every other day,” when trying to conceive, is good advice. •
Myth: Fertility decreases for men and women as they age.
Truth: This statement is only half false. For males, while fertility may go down ever so slightly, most men will continue producing sufficient amounts of sperm until the day they die. Women, however, are born with a finite number of eggs and will run out when they hit menopause (average age is 51). “Women are born with a couple of million of eggs,” says Dr. Murray. “By the time they reach puberty they’re already down to about 300,000.” If a woman never takes birth control pills, that’s around 500 ovulations in a lifetime (if she starts menstruating around age 12). So what happens to the other 299,500 eggs? “When a woman is in her 20s, her ovaries will present about 40 eggs per month but her brain will only tell one to be released and others are wasted. By age 40, she will be putting forward six eggs, release one and only waste five.” So while it depends on the individual, a woman’s biological clock actually does start ticking around the age of 35. In addition, there tends to be fewer normal eggs after the age of 35. So as a woman ages, she’s dealing with both a decline in the quantity and quality of her eggs.