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Misconceptions about conception

Catherine McDiarmid-Watt | Tuesday, January 19, 2021 | 0 comments

Image: Mom-to-Be, by Fotografyarte on Pixabay
Infertility affects more than 6 million people in the United States alone, or 1 out of every 6 couples, according to Lafayette-based Conceptions Reproductive Associates of Colorado.

And despite a common fallacy -- it's a woman's problem -- fertility difficulties are equally as likely to be caused by male difficulties. It is a combined issue in about 20 percent of infertility cases, Conceptions says.

For women, it is most commonly a problem with ovulation, according to Robyn Curtis, with the Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine, which has a Louisville office.

For men, it is mostly sperm health or motility, Curtis says.

But there are so many other influencing factors - dealing with a difficult conception can feel like a guessing game, says McGinnis, the new Boulder mom. That's why she recommends getting professional help after one year of trying -- and sticking to research-proven advice such as staying away from cigarettes and minimizing stress.

We've solicited the expertise of a spectrum of experts: a local acupuncturist, nutritionist-dietitians, reproductive endocrinologist-ObGyn, reproductive clinic, physician, Chinese herbal medicine practitioner, and the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, as well as the results from some studies and a nontraditional pharmacy.

Here's their take on some wives' tales -- and some truths.

Enhancing fertility

Drink raspberry leaf tea. FALSE.
-- This tea may promote uterine health after you're pregnant, but does nothing for fertility. (Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacy)

Have sex during a full moon. FALSE.
-- Menstrual cycles can coincide with the phases of the moon, but it doesn't matter if the moon's full if you're not ovulating. (Pharmaca)

Eat organic foods and drink purified water; eat alkaline foods. 
DEPENDS on whom you ask.
-- Acupuncturist Amy Dickinson says pesticides and herbicides in non-organic food can harm a woman's eggs, and food chemicals and additives often have estrogen-like substances that can throw the hormonal balance off.
Dickinson recommends alkaline foods, such as vegetables, non-citrus fruits, sprouts, and wheat grass. Acidic foods, such as sugar, dairy, and grains, can create an acidic cervical pH, which sperm don't like, she says. Plus, she says fruits and vegetables contain bioflavonoids, which help create healthy blood vessels that can help prevent miscarriage and prepare the uterus for implantation.

Physician Robert Gustofson, with the Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine at the Avista Hospital, says no food types have been shown to improve pregnancy probability. He says they won't harm your chances, however.

Be at a healthy body weight. TRUE.
-- Being overweight or underweight can have adverse effects.

Get acupuncture. TRUE.
-- Acupuncture increases the chances of implantation and increases blood circulation to the uterus. (Journal of Fertility and Sterility, 2003)

Adopt. FALSE.
-- Everyone knows someone who had adopted a child and then gotten pregnant, but research has not shown a connection.

Dream you are pregnant. FALSE.
-- Dreams are unrelated to fertility. (Gustofson)

Relax. TRUE.
-- Stress is a fertility killer. You need progesterone for pregnancy. When a body is stressed, it redirects to produce the stress hormone, cortisol, instead of creating progesterone. (Boulder acupuncturist Amy Dickinson)

Have sex 14 days after your period. FALSE.
-- Not every woman has a 28-day menstrual cycle with ovulation in the middle.

Have sex in a certain position. FALSE.
(Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine)

Be well rested. TRUE.
-- This helps combat stress. (Conceptions Reproductive Associates of Colorado)

Diminishing fertility

You may adversely affect conception if:

You have sex in a swimming pool. FALSE. 
-- The chlorine will not kill all sperm. (Julie McGinnis, Boulder nutritionist, dietitian, and herbalist)

You douche after sex. FALSE.
-- There is no evidence douching will prevent pregnancy, even if you use certain essential oils or other liquids. (McGinnis)

You have sex while on your period. MAYBE.
-- The chances of ovulating while on your period are smaller, but you can still get pregnant.

The man was kicked hard in the groin while playing a sport. FALSE.
-- It's very unlikely a single traumatic event will result in sterility. The male system is pretty hardy. (Conceptions)

The woman is older than 35. FALSE.
-- In general, the chance of getting pregnant in one year is about 90 percent until age 34. It drops to 67 percent by age 40, and after age 45, it declines to 15 percent. (American Society of Reproductive Medicine) However, fertility varies with every woman.

The man is older than 35. FALSE.
-- Growing evidence suggests age may be a factor eventually, but the number and quality of sperm doesn't decline until after age 64. (American Society of Reproductive Medicine)

You're stressed. TRUE.
-- Stress can reduce sperm count and stop ovulation. (American Society of Reproductive Medicine and Conceptions)

You took birth control pills. FALSE.
-- A few months after you stop taking the pill, your body should be back to normal. (Conceptions)

Your mom took birth control pills. FALSE.
-- (Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine)

You've already had one child. FALSE.
-- (Conceptions)

You had a C-section. FALSE.
-- Not unless it was complicated by something affecting the Fallopian tubes. (Conceptions)

You are breastfeeding. MAYBE.
-- It can decrease ovulatory function but doesn't stop it. It depends on the woman. (Conceptions)

You haven't re-started your period after childbirth. FALSE.
-- You can ovulate and not have your period first. (Conceptions)

You have diabetes. TRUE.
-- Good glycemic control prior to conception can decrease birth defects. And women with pre-diabetes glucose intolerance can have disrupted ovulation. (Conceptions)

You have had a heart attack or liver or kidney failure. TRUE.
-- Significant, life-threatening medical conditions may decrease the chance of pregnancy until treated or resolved. (Gustofson)

If the man masturbates a lot. TRUE.
-- Masturbation can temporarily lower sperm count. It cannot make you sterile. (McGinnis)

You have anal sex. TRUE.
-- Anal sperm deposition does not fertilize an egg in the uterus. (Gustofson)

The man spends a lot of time in saunas or hot tubs. TRUE.
-- Overheating may temporarily reduce sperm count. (Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine)

The guy wears tight underwear. TRUE.
-- This can increase the temperature of the testes. (Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine)

The man smokes cigarettes or marijuana. TRUE.
-- Smoking can reduce sperm count. (

You drink alcohol. TRUE.
-- Excessive alcohol can damage sperm and eggs. ( More than two drinks a day can suppress hormones. Plus, the byproduct of alcohol is a toxin, and if it goes to the uterus, it doesn't enhance pregnancy rates. (Conceptions)

You drink a lot of caffeine. TRUE.
-- (Conceptions)

The man uses steroids. TRUE.
-- Steroids can severely impair sperm production. (American Society of Reproductive Medicine)

The man consumes too much vitamin C (more than 1,000 mg). FALSE.
-- Vitamin C will be urinated out if not absorbed. It does not necessarily acidify the semen or kill sperm. (Gustofson)

You unnecessarily take over-the-counter drugs, including ibuprofen. TRUE.
-- Ibuprofen can inhibit prostaglandins and inhibit ovulation. (Dickinson)

The woman has an iron deficiency. TRUE
at least for people with chronic anemia.
-- It can affect ovulation. (Conceptions)

Eating soy, which contains plant-based estrogens. FALSE.
-- There is no research showing a high-soy diet creates infertility. (American Society of Reproductive Medicine)

Using a cell phone. MAYBE.
-- One study by The Cleveland Clinic found men who used cell phones the most had poorer sperm quality than men who used them the least, but more research is needed.

You have an eating disorder. TRUE.
-- Too-low body fat levels can stop the reproductive process. (American Society of Reproductive Medicine)

You are a hard-core athlete. TRUE.
-- Low body fat can mean irregular periods. (American Society of Reproductive Medicine)

The man is an avid cyclist. TRUE.
-- For men, pressure from the bicycle seat can damage blood vessels and nerves. Mountain biking shocks the perineum and can injure the scrotum. One study found mountain biker men were more likely to have twisted veins in the scrotum, cysts or calcium deposits. (American Society of Reproductive Medicine)

You have a sexually transmitted infection. DEPENDS.
-- Chlamydia or gonorrhea are associated with male and female infertility. (American Society of Reproductive Medicine) HPV (human papillomavirus) typically is not, unless it is linked to cancer and the woman must have her cervix operated on. Herpes does not affect fertility. (Conceptions)

The woman has endometriosis. TRUE.
-- (American Society of Reproductive Medicine)

The woman has thyroid problems. MAYBE
-- Too much or too little thyroid hormone can interrupt ovulation. (Conceptions)

The man has retrograde orgasms (sperm deposition in the bladder). TRUE AND FALSE.
-- It will be more difficult to conceive, but it not impossible. (Gustofson)

You were exposed to harmful chemicals. TRUE.
-- Some chemicals can hurt sperm or eggs or cause birth defects. (McGinnis)

You go under an anesthetic at the dentist's office. FALSE.
-- (Conceptions)

You've had radiation treatment. TRUE.
-- Cells exposed to significant levels of radiation may take up to two years to resume normal sperm production or, in severe cases, may never recover. (American Society of Reproductive Medicine)

You're exposed to some kinds of plastics and rubber or pesticides. 
DEPENDS on whom you ask.
-- McGinnis says some plastics contain materials can disrupt hormones. (McGinnis)
Gustofson says large amounts of pesticide ingestion may cause infertility, but minimal exposure will not cause harm. He says plastics and rubber do not cause infertility.

You use petroleum-based lubricants, including spermicides, oils or Vaseline. TRUE.
-- Astroglide, Replens, mineral oil or all-natural lubricants may not be as harmful to sperm. (American Society of Reproductive Medicine)

Read more: Misconceptions about conception


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About Catherine: I am mom to three grown sons, two grandchildren and two rescue dogs. After years of raising my boys as a single mom, I remarried a wonderful man who had never had a child of his own. Unexpectedly, I found myself pregnant at 49!
Sadly we lost that precious baby at 8 weeks, and decided to try again. Five more losses, turned down for donor egg, foster care and adoption due to my age and losses - we have accepted that there will be no more babies in our house.

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