An IVF Clinician Debunks Common Fertility Myths

Sep 2020 Fertility

Contributed by: Dr Lim Min Yu

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The Internet has a wealth of information available for almost any topic, including fertility. But this also means there is a ton of information to sift through. For couples who are trying to conceive by relying on Google for advice, they may come across myths about fertility which may or may not be true.

Dr Lim Min Yu, a fertility specialist and an accredited IVF clinician focuses on helping couples achieve their pregnancy goals. In this article, he debunks common fertility myths you may have heard or read about.

General Myths

Myth 1: Getting pregnant is easy!

What Dr Lim Min Yu Says:
The chances of getting pregnant each month for healthy couples who are below 35 years old is only about 20%. First, the lady needs to ovulate, and then her uterine lining has to be ready for an embryo.

Secondly, the sperm from the man needs to make it through various “barriers” to reach the egg and successfully fertilise the egg. There is no guarantee the egg will always be fertilised or if the fertilised egg will be implanted into the endometrium (uterine lining). Hence for a successful pregnancy to happen, the timing and the conditions need to be optimal.

Suppose you and your spouse are 35 years old or younger but have been trying to conceive for over a year without any success. In that case, Dr Lim advises you to seek an expert’s opinion to check if there are any underlying fertility issues.

If you and your spouse are older than 35, then you can try for pregnancy for about six months before seeking a specialist’s opinion if you have not conceived yet.

Myth 2: Infertility is always a ladies’ problem.

What Dr Lim Min Yu Says:
When it comes to infertility, roughly 30% of the issues may come from the man, 30% may be attributed to the woman, 30% may lie with both parties while the remaining 10% is typically the result of unknown causes.

It is quite common for me to see ladies who come for consultations without their partners as they think their struggles with pregnancy are due to underlying issues with them and not their husbands. However, I always advise couples to come for the initial consultation together to avoid unnecessary delays in diagnosis and for everyone to have a clearer picture of the situation.

Getting a fertility assessment

Myth 3: IVF is the best fertility treatment option out there.

What Dr Lim Min Yu Says:
There are various options to treat infertility and the most suitable option differs for each couple. Your doctor will advise you on which treatment option is the best for you and your spouse based on your unique circumstances following a fertility assessment.  

After you go for a fertility assessment to determine why you are not able to conceive, your fertility doctor may recommend the following:

  1.  Timed intercourse with oral medication such as clomiphene or letrozole.
  2. Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) where healthy sperm is injected into a lady’s uterus. This is a quick procedure with no downtime and ladies can resume regular activities soon after.

Myth 4: Being stressed can cause infertility.

What Dr Lim Min Yu Says:
We all know that infertility is, unfortunately, a source of stress for many couples but what we do not know for sure is whether stress can cause infertility. While there is a possibility that physical and emotional stress can prevent you from becoming pregnant, it is more likely that the infertility is caused by an underlying medical condition.

Myth 5: I do not need to watch my diet when trying to get pregnant.

What Dr Lim Min Yu Says:
There have been many studies showing overweight ladies tend to be more successful in becoming pregnant simply by losing a little bit of weight. Besides, if a woman is overweight, these are some of the health risks she and her baby may face:

  • Gestational diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Risk of miscarriage

Myth 6: Placing your laptop on your thighs and using it for a prolonged period can impact fertility.

Using laptop on thighs does not cause infertility

What Dr Lim Min Yu Says:
If your lap has gotten warm from using your laptop for long periods, it is natural to wonder if this is somehow affecting your reproductive organs. The good news is that there is no real evidence to support this. 

For ladies, the chances of your eggs being affected are unlikely as they are well protected in your ovaries, with the added protection of your pelvis around your uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries. Hence, the quality of your eggs is unlikely to be affected.
As for men, you are constantly producing new sperm so there is no real cause for concern either! While in theory, long term exposure to heat can impair the production of sperm, there are no scientific studies that prove this.

Age-Related Myths

Myth 7: I can wait until I’m 40 or even 45 as it’s common to be able to have kids after age 45 like celebrities, e.g. Janet Jackson.

What Dr Lim Min Yu Says:
By the time a lady turns 35, her chances of a successful pregnancy fall rapidly! A key contributor to a successful pregnancy is a lady’s age. Ladies are born with all the eggs they will ever produce so as they get older, both the quality and quantity of the eggs decrease. Therefore, by the time women are in their mid-40s, the chances of becoming pregnant are minuscule.

It is not impossible for ladies who are more than 45 years old to have children but it will be very challenging as there are not many healthy eggs left. It is not heavily publicised but some celebrities who are parents after turning 45 years old tend to use eggs that come from a much younger egg donor or they use their eggs that have been frozen when they were younger.

Myth 8: Age only affects women’s fertility, not men’s.

What Dr Lim Min Yu Says:
By the time men turn 40 years old, they will experience a decrease in the volume of the semen they can produce and the motility of the sperm also reduces. Although men can continue to produce new sperm well into their 90s (the oldest dad on record so far is close to 96!), male infertility rates increase with age just like female infertility. 

As men get older, they also have a higher risk for some of the following health conditions: 

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease 
  • Diabetes

These conditions not only affect the general health of the man, they can also affect the quality and quantity of semen produced.

Myths for Women

Myth 9: I can’t get pregnant during my period.

What Dr Lim Min Yu Says:
Your chances of conceiving are the highest when you have sexual intercourse before and during ovulation but you can still fall pregnant during your period. This is because sperm can survive in the uterus for up to 5 days. Hence, if you have sex near the end of your period, there is a possibility that the sperm can fertilise an egg after it is released during ovulation. Overall, this is a rare occurrence and it is more likely to occur for ladies who have a shorter menstruation cycle.

Myth 10: Being on the pill harms my ability to conceive later.

Do Oral contraceptives causes infertility?What Dr Lim Min Yu Says:
There is no scientific proof to show that taking oral contraceptives has harmful long-term effects on fertility. If you are having issues falling pregnant, it is most likely due to other causes.

It is important to note that if you stop using birth control to prepare for pregnancy, then you should monitor your menstrual cycle closely. If your cycles do not become regular in 3-4 months after stopping your birth control, you should see your gynae to investigate this further as being on the pill can mask signs of conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

Myth 11: If I undergo IVF treatment and multiple eggs are collected, menopause will happen sooner for me.

What Dr Lim Min Yu Says:
A lady undergoes menopause when she has no more eggs left in her ovaries. During the IVF process, only eggs that are released during that specific month are collected. Therefore, the onset of menopause is not accelerated.

As stated earlier, a lady is born with all the eggs she will ever produce and they are stored in her ovaries. Each month, a small group of eggs are “awakened” or activated. Out of this small group, typically there is only one egg that is released from the ovary. The rest of the eggs in the small group do not fully develop and die within a few weeks. Some ladies tend to have more eggs or follicles while others have less.

When a lady undergoes IVF treatment, the hormone medication she takes is only able to stimulate the group of eggs that have been activated for that month. These are the eggs that are going to be “gone” by the end of the month no matter what happens.

Every month, a lady will lose a certain number of eggs even if they are not collected and the next month, a new group of eggs are “awakened”.

Myth 12: I already have a child so I will not have fertility issues.

What Dr Lim Min Yu Says:
Your fertility will decline with age and often, other factors might also affect it. Therefore, by the time you are ready to conceive again, your fertility might have undergone some changes.

Conceiving history is not correlated to fertility

The medical term for ladies who struggle to become pregnant after having a child is ‘secondary infertility’. These are some common causes of secondary infertility: 

  • Age
  • Complications from the previous pregnancy
  • Weight gain
  • Your partner (and his age) 

For ladies who are younger than 35 years old, I would recommend trying to conceive for one year before seeing a specialist, and for ladies who are 35 years and older, to try for six months before seeking help.  

Myth 13: My mum had an easy time getting pregnant so I will too.

What Dr Lim Min Yu Says: 
Every lady is different! However, there are some medical conditions like endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and premature ovarian insufficiency (POI) which if inherited, can impact fertility. 

Myths for Men

Myth 14: Wearing briefs can hurt my fertility.

What Dr Lim Min Yu Says: 
No research indicates that briefs (or any other underwear) have an impact on fertility. The temperature in the scrotum is usually a bit cooler than normal body temperature. Higher temperatures can affect male fertility. Some research states that briefs cause a higher temperature in the scrotum but no research states that this in turn, affects fertility. 

If you are trying for a baby, it is generally recommended that you avoid high-temperature places like saunas and hot tubs, as they can affect sperm production and fertility­.

Myth 15: Taking steroids to improve physique won’t affect my fertility

What Dr Lim Min Yu Says:
Steroids are illegal and not only do they reduce sperm count, they also reduce the size of your testicles.

There are some men out there who go the gym often and are tempted to take anabolic steroids, as they promote the rapid growth of muscles. However, you should steer clear of these illegal drugs. Some men who take steroids sometimes struggle with getting an erection. In more serious circumstances, these changes may be irreversible.  

Clinic Myths

Myth 16: Fertility treatment is just way too expensive.

Fertility treatments can be expensive

What Dr Lim Min Yu Says:
In Singapore, the government has made grants available and some treatments are even Medisave-claimable which make fertility treatment more affordable for couples after they went through fertility screening in Singapore.

The cost of the various treatments often play an important role when couples decide where they seek treatment. Here at Astra Women’s & Fertility Specialists, we offer comprehensive financial counselling to every couple. If you are eligible, you can also use your Medisave for some of the assisted conception procedures.

Myth 17: Every fertility doctor is pretty much the same.

What Dr Lim Min Yu Says: 
Each fertility doctor is quite different and has their own unique style. For couples who are considering fertility treatment, it is paramount to do some research first. Here are some factors you should consider before deciding which doctor you want to consult:

  • The Doctor

    The doctor’s experience and expertise are important considerations as their consultation styles may vary. Some doctors have a more traditional approach and do not consider the couple’s input.

  • Approach to Care

    At Astra, we believe in a more consultative approach and equip you with the knowledge and recommendations to empower you to make your own informed choice on what kind of fertility treatment you and your spouse would like to undergo. 

  • Treatment Style

    Dr Lim also strongly believes in personalising treatments for each couple. Not all places do this as some tend to opt for treatment options that are status quo without personalisation.

  • Convenience
    This should be on the top of your checklist. While you are undergoing treatment, you will need to come in for regular check-ups to monitor how you are doing. If you have to travel a long distance each time, it might only add to your stress levels.

Sex Myths

Myth 18: Lifting my legs in the air for 20 minutes after having sex will help me get pregnant.

What Dr Lim Min Yu Says:
There is no proof doing this will improve your chances of getting pregnant.
Theoretically, this may seem like a good idea. By lifting your legs, your pelvis is elevated, therefore allowing the sperm to find the egg quicker. But all this will do is make your legs numb. 
There is no harm in slightly raising your pelvis by placing a pillow under your hips, you do not need to lift any other body parts in the air.  Likewise, doing handstands is not necessary.

Myth 19: Having sex in the missionary position is the only way to get pregnant.

Sexual positions will not impact your conceiving chancesWhat Dr Lim Min Yu Says:
Sex can be fun even if you are trying to conceive. If there is penetration (the deeper, the better) and as long as your partner ejaculates in you, the position you have sex in does not matter. Remember to have some fun and try out new positions!

If you do require additional lubrication, it would be good to ensure that the brand is safe for couples trying to conceive. There are even brands of lubricant that are specially formulated for couples trying for a baby.

Myth 20: I need to have sex 2-3 times per day when I am ovulating to get pregnant.

What Dr Lim Min Yu Says:
Having such frequent sex would reduce the sperm count for subsequent ejaculations.

Most couples would find it quite exhausting to have sex so frequently day after day! Furthermore, after you have sex, there is a time where it is impossible to have another orgasm and ejaculate again. This is known as the refractory period. The refractory period varies widely between each guy and can last anywhere from minutes to days. If a man is having such frequent ejaculations, it would lead to a significant reduction in sperm count during subsequent ejaculations. Hence, instead of having sex 2 to 3 times per week (remember it is not per day!) when a couple is trying to conceive is sufficient. 

Conclusion

Couples should seek help early for fertility

We hope this article has shed some light on common fertility myths and encourages couples to seek help sooner than later. 

If you have been trying to conceive for 6 months to a year and still have had no success, see our fertility expert, Dr Lim Min Yu for a fertility assessment.

 

About the Author
This article is written by Dr Lim Min Yu. Dr Lim is an accredited IVF clinician and a fertility specialist with over 10 years of experience in IVF and other assisted reproductive technologies. He is also an O&G specialist and the medical director of Astra Women’s & Fertility Specialists located in Gleneagles Medical Centre. Dr Lim strongly believes in working together with his patients to customise a treatment plan that is aligned with his patients’ needs and to help couples achieve their pregnancy goals.

 

Dr Lim’s Place of Practice

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