Americans today are waiting longer than previous generations to start a family, pushing off parenthood to seek graduate degrees, achieve career milestones, reach better financial stability, or simply because they do not have a partner. As a result of this cultural trend, one in eight married couples struggle to conceive a child. Last year, the nation’s birth rate sunk to one of the lowest in its history.
Unfortunately, a wave of misinformation is only making matters worse, discouraging people from seeking help when they need it most. To dispel these misconceptions, the Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine (better known as CCRM Fertility) surveyed Coloradans aged 25-44 about their knowledge and understanding of their fertility health. The findings revealed that they know very little. The most surprising finding? Three out of every four respondents say they feel uninformed – and even clueless – about their chances of getting pregnant.
According to Dr. Lauren Ehrhart, a board-certified reproductive endocrinologist with CCRM Fertility, this lack of knowledge comes with devastating consequences.
“Myths about fertility, which spread through well-meaning friends and family, online forums, and social media, oftentimes lead to delays in treatment when timing is of the utmost importance,” she said.
Since the sensitive topic of infertility is painful for most women, many wait to openly discuss their experiences in hushed tones until they’ve successfully given birth. However, this silence helps misinformation flourish.
Myth #1: Stress Causes Infertility
Infertility can be a traumatic journey filled with loss, grief and heartache. By the time couples enter a fertility clinic, they’ve probably already tried to conceive for months, if not years. This isolating journey not only takes a mental health toll, but it can also strain relationships. The vast majority of people surveyed (91%) think this type of stress can negatively impact their chances of conceiving. Contrary to this belief, stress does not cause infertility.
A person’s stress must reach uncommonly high levels to prevent women from ovulating. For example, anorexia is a stressor that can wreak havoc by shutting down ovulation. Extreme exercise can also dysregulate the body and prevent eggs from leaving the ovary. Unfortunately, the stress myth is not referring to these rare circumstances.
“When people tell you to relax or take a vacation, they’re suggesting that the anxiety of getting pregnant is the problem,” says Dr. Ehrhart. “If you’re having regular cycles, then stress is not preventing you from conceiving.”
Myth #2: The Pill Will Hurt Your Chances of Getting Pregnant
Birth control is another common scapegoat. More than half of respondents believe that taking birth control pills for extended periods of time can cause infertility. Despite research to the contrary, this misconception still circulates.
“Birth control does a great job of preventing pregnancy while you are taking it,” says Dr. Ehrhart. “The pill absolutely does not hurt a women’s future fertility.”
Females in their teens and early 20s frequently take the pill to regulate or lighten their menstrual cycles. By the time they’re considering children, they have forgotten the reason they started the pill in the first place. They may no longer associate their regular periods with the medication. While it can take a few cycles to return to normal ovulation, birth control should leave the system quickly.
“If it’s been six months and they still haven’t had their period, there is probably something else going on,” says Dr. Ehrhart.
Myth #3: Fertility Is Hereditary
Many women are surprised to learn that their mother’s fertility has little bearing on their chances of getting pregnant. While infertility is caused by a variety of factors, the main culprit is age. As women grow older, the number and quality of their eggs decline exponentially. Older eggs break down, leaving open the opportunity for chromosomal mistakes.
Age also impacts men, who experience changes in sperm count and quality.
“People don’t understand how age affects the reproductive system,” says Dr. Ehrhart. “After spending time to not get pregnant, people assume they won’t have problems. They only become concerned when conception doesn’t happen easily.”
Myth #4: Infertility Is Just a Woman’s Issue
While primarily considered a women’s issue, 35% of infertile couples fail to get pregnant because of a contributing male abnormality. From sexually transmitted infections (STIs) to hormone-disrupting chemicals, lifestyle and environmental factors increasingly play a role in sperm production. Men continue to produce sperm throughout their lives, but where and how they live can influence the number and health of viable sperm. Like females, men are also delaying childbearing – and producing lower sperm counts as a result.
Myth #5: COVID Vaccines Endanger Pregnant Women or Their Babies
The American Society for Reproductive Medicine, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine all recommend COVID-19 vaccinations for pregnant women and/or those trying to conceive.
“No current data suggests that vaccinations negatively impact fertility or pregnancy,” says Dr. Ehrhart. “Physicians are seeing higher death and miscarriage rates in unvaccinated, pregnant women who are infected with COVID-19.”
When It’s Time for Help
For most couples, it’s hard to recognize, admit or discuss infertility. If people under 35 have been trying to conceive for a year, or if they’re 35+ and have been trying for six months, it’s time to consult a fertility specialist. You can learn more about your fertility by visiting www.ccrmivf.com.