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Dr. Nataki Douglas debunks 7 fertility myths with fertility facts

Dr. Nataki Douglas debunks 7 fertility myths with fertility facts

6 min read

This article was last updated on June 3, 2021.

Let's be real: Misinformation about fertility is everywhere. Even if you feel like you're at the top of your reproductive health game, there are still probably one or two "facts" in your arsenal that, it turns out, aren't exactly correct. To help you get the right information about getting pregnant so you can take charge of your path to parenthood, we asked Dr. Nataki Douglas, MD, PhD, the Chair of the Modern Fertility Medical Advisory Board, to bust some stubborn myths around fertility.

Fertility myth #1: Getting your period every month means good fertility.

Fertility truth: “Unfortunately, this is not true,” Dr. Douglas says. “Getting your period at the same time every month, give or take one to two days, is a great indication that you are ovulating each month.” But, although ovulation is required for conception, Dr. Douglas explains, there are many other factors involved in getting pregnant (like "male factor" infertility, as well as uterine abnormalities or blockages in the fallopian tubes).

Also, just because you experience vaginal bleeding doesn't mean you definitely ovulate. Cycles can be “anovulatory,” which means ovulation doesn’t occur — even when there’s vaginal bleeding. This can happen if you:

  • Are taking oral contraceptives (bleeding could be "withdrawal bleeding" during your placebo week)
  • Have a very thick uterine lining (a common symptom of polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS)
  • Have polyps, fibroids, or cervical lesions
  • Are spotting in the early stages of pregnancy

Fertility myth #2: Birth control harms your ability to conceive later.

Fertility truth: “Birth control has not been proven to have any harmful long-term effects on a woman’s ability to conceive,” Dr. Douglas says. “However, once you stop your birth control method and are ready to get pregnant, you want to pay close attention to the regularity of your menstrual cycles. Being on birth control can mask signs of a common reproductive disorder, called polycystic ovary syndrome.” PCOS can affect your chances of getting pregnant, but that’s unrelated to birth control use.

83.1% of people with ovaries will get pregnant within 12 months of stopping oral contraceptives, but other hormonal methods of birth control can delay your fertility for longer amounts of time after stopping (but none will make you infertile). For example, studies show that Depo-Provera (aka “the shot”) can delay ovulation for up to 18-22 months.

“If your cycles do not become regular in three to four months after stopping your birth control, you may want to check in with your doctor,” Dr Douglas says. And “if you are over age 35, it is not a bad idea to discuss your plans to stop your birth control with your provider at your next annual visit." Since the chances of conceiving per cycle decrease over time, your healthcare provider can give you a recommendation for when to quit birth control before trying to get pregnant.

Fertility myth #3: If you have one successful pregnancy, you'll have no problem getting pregnant again.

Fertility truth: “Having a successful pregnancy does not guarantee another successful pregnancy,” Dr. Douglas says. Many people and couples have what is called secondary infertility — or difficulty conceiving after a healthy pregnancy.

Secondary infertility has many potential causes, including changes in age, weight, and medication, damage to your fallopian tubes, and other complications with the reproductive system that could stem from a prior pregnancy. Like other cases of infertility, infertility treatments like in-vitro fertilization (IVF) or intrauterine insemination (IUI) can improve your chances of conceiving.

Fertility myth #4: Using Plan B makes you infertile.

Fertility truth: “Using Plan B does not affect your fertility,” Dr. Douglas says. “Plan B is a huge dose of hormones used in many birth control pills that prevents fertilization of an egg or prevents the fertilized egg from attaching to the uterus.” But once you get your period after taking Plan B, she explains, “the Plan B hormones are out of your system.”

Perhaps the greatest proof that Plan B won’t cause infertility? If you have unprotected sex one day after using Plan B, you can get pregnant.

Fertility myth #5: If your birthing parent had an easy time getting pregnant, you will too.

Fertility truth: “The ability to get pregnant and/or how easy it will be to get pregnant is not completely inherited,” Dr. Douglas says. "However, research has shown that some conditions that may make it more difficult to get pregnant, like PCOS, endometriosis, and POI (premature ovarian insufficiency), have heritable genetic components.”

The bottom line here? Known family medical history could play a role in fertility by way of inherited conditions, but conditions are only one piece of the puzzle. So, one family member's experience won't necessarily dictate yours.

Fertility myth #6: Being able to have kids at age 45 like XYZ celeb is common.

Fertility truth: “Having kids at age 45 is possible but challenging,” Dr. Douglas says. The main challenge is that at age 45, you've likely had an expected, age-related decline in the number of healthy eggs left in your ovarian reserve.

Once you reach age 35, your chances of conceiving during your most fertile days decrease more rapidly over time. For people in their 40s, the American Society of Reproductive Medicine says the average chance of pregnancy is around 5% each cycle. But since your uterus doesn’t age the way your eggs do, fertility treatments (using your own eggs or donor eggs) can improve the chances of getting pregnant.

(If you're wondering how your age may fit into your plans for kids, create your free, personalized fertility tracker. It pulls in the info you provide, from your age to any diagnosed health conditions, to bring you clinically sound recs and need-to-know stats regarding your fertility.)

Fertility myth #7: Orgasms and sex positions improve your chances of conceiving.

Fertility truth: “What happens is once sperm is in the vagina, the sperm starts swimming through cervical mucus to get into the woman's reproductive tract," explains Dr. Douglas. Because of how fast sperm moves (by some estimates, 200 inches per second!), “you're not losing sperm by [getting into] any particular position after having sex" — and you're not holding on to more sperm with a particular position either.

While some studies have shown that lying down for 15 minutes after IUI increases pregnancy rates, a 2017 meta-analysis on all published studies of this topic found that lying down post-IUI didn’t make much of a difference. But it's important to know that studies performed in the context of IUI can’t necessarily be used to inform our understanding of the chances of pregnancy without treatment — and there haven’t been any systematic studies on whether position after sex in those contexts affects conception.

There's a lot more myth busting where that came from

Here at Modern Fertility, we’re always working to debunk the biggest fertility myths to ensure everyone has the knowledge they need to make the best choices for themselves and their goals. For the truth about more rumors, check out these articles:

Whenever you need reliable fertility info, these resources can help

With the help of our medical advisors, we regularly tackle the biggest questions people have about their fertility on the Modern Fertility blog. Poke around to find the answers you're looking for, but know that these other resources also have your back:

Before we go, here's one more thing that's definitely not a myth: Whether you want kids right now, sometime down the line, or you're not sure what your plans are quite yet, understanding what's going on with your body can help you better prepare for the future you want. Modern Fertility's here to put that knowledge right in your hands — from at-home fertility hormone testing to ovulation tracking to pregnancy testing to physician recs for taking steps toward your reproductive goals.

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Rachel Sanoff

Rachel Sanoff is a writer and editor in Los Angeles. She was previously an essays editor at O.school, a digital sex education platform, and the features editor at HelloGiggles.

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