This is the latest article in a Global News investigation into fertility in Canada, and the emotional and financial impact infertility has on Canadians struggling to conceive.
The birth control pill saves your eggs. If a couple can’t get pregnant, it’s the woman’s fault. Women can smoke right up until they’re pregnant.
While these are common beliefs women have about fertility and baby making, none of them are true. And they’re only a handful of the misconceptions floating around, according to experts.
“All the emphasis is on birth control and STDs but sex education almost completely neglected information around when people want to get pregnant and how that works. So much of it is whispered from friend to friend and mother to daughter, and that often creates a lot of misinformation,” according to Dr. Joshua Klein.
He’s a reproductive endocrinologist who’s been working in the fertility field for almost a decade. He’s the chief clinical officer at Extend Fertility.
Too often, women only learn the truth about these common myths when they’re grappling with fertility problems, according to Dr. Marjorie Dixon, founder of Anova Fertility and Reproductive Health.
“It’s very disarming to be faced with infertility. We talk about how not to get pregnant, so no one ever thinks they’ll have difficulty,” Dixon said.
She’s also a reproductive health professor at the University of Toronto.
The experts listed seven common myths about baby making and reproductive health and the truth behind the misinformation.
Fertility misconception 1: 40 is the new 30
Ninety per cent of a woman’s eggs in her ovaries are depleted by age 30. After age 40, 97 per cent of her eggs are gone and the remaining eggs may not be as healthy, leaving women at risk of miscarriage or genetic abnormalities in their babies.
These are figures most women aren’t aware of. That’s why Dixon suggests that women in the last five years or so of their 20s touch base with their family doctors so they know about their reproductive health and are informed about family planning in the upcoming years.
Fertility misconception 2: It’s easy to get pregnant
Plenty of women put family planning on the backburner because they think it’ll be easy to get pregnant when they’re ready.
“It’s a big shocker for couples who come in for a fertility assessment. They were on contraception and they meet the right person, they’re at the right stage in their careers, and they go to have a baby and it’s hard,” according to Dr. Sony Sierra, a Women’s College Hospital reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist.
There’s a 25 per cent chance of conceiving each month if a couple is under 35 and having sex two to three times a week. Within about 12 months of trying, 85 per cent of couples will go on to conceive, she said.
After 12 months, if it hasn’t happened, the chances of pregnancy start to decrease. By about 18 to 20 months, success rates go from 20 per cent to five per cent.
Fertility misconception 3: It’s always the woman’s fault
The experts agree: they often see women at appointments alone and rarely do their partners join them.
“The traditional notion is the onus is on the woman and it’s still an issue. Men don’t come to initial consultations or they’re reluctant to participate until absolutely necessary,” Klein said.
The reality? Forty to 45 per cent of the time, it’s a male factor that’s contributing to troubles with getting pregnant. They could have a low sperm count, a blockage when they ejaculate, or a history of injuries or surgical procedures that affect their testicles, Dixon said.
Fertility misconception 4: It’s OK to drink caffeine and smoke right up until pregnancy
When should women give up their vices if they’re hoping to have a healthy pregnancy? Turns out, they shouldn’t wait until they’re expectant moms.
The experts tell their clients to give up smoking as soon as they start working with them – the toxins in cigarettes can affect the fluid eggs are basted in. Women who smoke in their 20s, statistically speaking, have lower egg supply in their 30s and 40s compared to their non-smoking peers.
Dixon tells women to limit their caffeine intake to about one small coffee a day – or 40 milligrams. This helps with blood flow to the ovaries and pelvis.
“If you’re going to go through all these measures to conceive, you want to optimize your body for fertility,” she said.
You don’t have to give up alcohol while trying to conceive. Abstaining won’t help or hurt your chances.
WATCH: Holistic nutritionist Joy McCarthy shares her tips for foods you should eat for fertility and pregnancy
Fertility misconception 5: The pill is tampering with my fertility now
The trio of experts hears handfuls of myths when it comes to birth control — the pill doesn’t release eggs so they’re saved, or the pill confuses the body into stopping the release of eggs even after usage stops, for example.
“Women shouldn’t worry about going on the pill,” Klein said. It won’t “mess you up” like people suggest it does.
“Within two to three months of stopping birth control, the medication fully metabolizes and clears out of the system. It should have no affect on women’s reproductive health,” he said.
Eggs aren’t spared when you’re on the pill, either. There’s a natural destruction process for eggs in the ovaries and the programmed cell death accelerates as we get older. It doesn’t matter if you release the egg or not.
Fertility misconception 6: Celebrities used IVF in their 40s and 50s so it’ll work for me, too
Hollywood handed women an excuse to delay pregnancy then rely on IVF and other fertility treatments as their saving grace, the experts say.
“The reality is in a fundamental way, this isn’t true at all. The likelihood of success is bound to a woman’s age,” Klein said.
“IVF is not employed as a worst case scenario — it’s the best tool to conceive when women are younger and have enough eggs because a lot of it is a statistical game,” Dixon said.
Fifty to 60 per cent of women in their 20s and 30s who take on an infertility evaluation respond successfully to treatment, such as insemination, IVF, or timed intercourse.
Less than one per cent of women conceive after age 45. Klein said that by age 43, fertility treatment success rates are about five per cent despite great advances in IVF.
WATCH: Did you know that 1 in 6 Canadian couples can’t conceive? Global News spoke to fertility clinic founders to share some baby-making best practices.
Fertility misconception 7: IVF = twins or triplets
“Octomom” Nadya Suleman’s story scared women into thinking fertility treatments equate to twins, triplets or more babies in a single pregnancy.
Her pregnancy is an anomaly, though. IVF has been refined over the past few decades — while multiple pregnancies may have been a concern before, the risk has been tamed, Dixon said.
“IVF gives us the best control, if any, because we decide how many embryos we use and we’ve contrived how we make our patients pregnant,” she said.
Since the 1990s, embryo transfer guidelines have changed reducing multiple pregnancies by more than 70 per cent, Klein said.