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Common fertility myths and misconceptions

When you are struggling to fall pregnant, it can feel like the whole world is against you. You’ll try anything if it means you’ll fall pregnant faster. Unfortunately, this is when myths and old wives’ tales can be dangerous. While there are certainly ways you can prepare your body for pregnancy and improve your fertility, it’s best to keep to methods backed up by research, rather than hearsay. Below, we explore the theories behind 5 common pregnancy myths and reveal whether they are indeed fact, or fiction.

1. Drinking cough syrup will help you conceive

This idea has been around since the 1980s. The theory is that the common ingredient in cough syrup, guaifenesin, can thin cervical mucus (in the same way that it thins the mucus in your nasal passages when used to provide relief from cough). With thinner cervical mucus, sperm will supposedly find it easier to travel through the female reproductive tract and reach a woman’s eggs.

The source of this theory is a single study from 1982 involving 40 couples with signs of ‘hostile mucus’. While an improvement in mucus quality was documented for 23 of these couples, 15 of whom went on to become pregnant within 6 months of the female starting guaifenesin, no further studies have been done to validate these results. With such little evidence to support its use, it’s not an approach we can recommend. Its benefits remain speculative and are likely to only apply to a very small group of patients for whom cervical quality has been clearly diagnosed as the cause of infertility.

It’s also important to note that cough syrups and other over-the-counter medicines can be harmful when used for reasons other than intended. If you are taking any medications – including natural supplements like vitamins and minerals – it’s best to ask your GP or gynaecologist if these could be helping or hindering your fertility. And always check the label!

2. Eating yams will help you to conceive twins

Yams have earned their reputation as a twin-maker after researchers started investigating why the African village of Igbo-Ora had one of the highest rates of twin births in the world. The researchers speculated that this was probably due to the tribe’s genetics. However, after studying their findings, they concluded that multiple births in the region could, in fact, be due to the villagers’ eating habits. The village diet commonly features cassava and yam tubers, which both contain high levels of phytoestrogens. While research is inconclusive, it’s thought that phytoestrogens may stimulate multiple ovulation. This is when more than one egg is released from the ovaries each month. If this happens, there is the chance that more than one egg will be fertilised by sperm, leading to a twin pregnancy.

While it is certainly true that diet can have an impact on ovulation, loading up on one food group, vitamin or mineral can have unintended consequences. In general, eating a well-balanced, nutrient-dense diet will help you maintain a healthy weight and optimise your hormonal balance – thereby improving your fertility.

3. Keeping your legs in the air for 20 minutes after sex will help you get pregnant

The theory behind this myth is that when you place your legs in this position, you tilt your pelvis, thereby helping any sperm that have been released during sex to travel up your reproductive tract and reach your eggs. The truth is, sperm are programmed to swim through pretty tough conditions in order to get to your eggs, regardless of what position you are in after sex. Leg-raising, handstands and any other gravity-defying positions are only going to make you uncomfortable. So instead of flooding your body with stress hormones after sex, find a comfy position, relax and get some sleep!

4. Drinking alcohol will harm your fertility

Unfortunately, this one is entirely true. Studies have shown that even light drinking can increase the amount of time it takes to get pregnant and reduce your chances of having a healthy baby. If you are planning a pregnancy, the safest option is to avoid drinking altogether, in line with the latest safe drinking guidelines. Along with reducing your alcohol intake, there are other dietary and lifestyle changes you can also make to increase your chances of falling pregnant.

5. Being on the pill for too long will affect your fertility

There are many different types of contraception, most of which are intended to be reversible, meaning that your fertility will be restored once you stop using them. The combined contraceptive pill is one of the most common forms of contraception and it’s not uncommon for women to remain on it for a long time – often years, sometimes decades. This is particularly true for women choosing to delay pregnancy until their mid to late 30s. Even if you are on the pill for a prolonged period, be reassured that once you stop taking the pill, your period and fertility will soon return to what is normal for you. While everyone responds differently, most women will find themselves ovulating again within 1–3 cycles, i.e. 1–3 months. If you are finding it difficult to fall pregnant more than six monthsafter stopping the pill, there may be other factors affecting your fertility that need to be addressed. In this case, it’s best to see a fertility specialist sooner, rather than later.

Planning a pregnancy and want to optimise your fertility?

If you are planning a pregnancy and want personalised advice about how to improve your fertility, you can make an appointment with me by calling (03) 9418 8299 or by booking online.

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