If you’ve been trying to conceive for some time, then you’ll be more than familiar with hearing ‘advice’ from well-meaning friends and relatives.

During an undoubtedly stressful time, it can often be tricky to identify fact from fiction; especially in an age where we have so much information at our fingertips.

We have identified five of the most common myths surrounding fertility:

1. Younger women don’t have fertility problems

We already understand that female fertility decreases after the age of 35; women under this age are generally advised to wait for one year before investigating causes of possible infertility. So while many are psychologically prepared for difficulty in conceiving in their late 30s, few expect to encounter the same trouble in their 20s.

Three of the most common conditions that contribute to early female infertility - and are unrelated to ageing - are pelvic inflammatory disease, endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Polycystic ovarian syndrome interferes with ovulation, and endometriosis and pelvic inflammatory disease can block the fallopian tubes.

So although ageing does bring a decline in fertility, these three conditions can cause infertility in younger women too.

2. A previous pregnancy is a reliable indication of a woman’s fertility

While producing a child does indicate that a person was fertile at one point in her life, it does not guarantee that she will be fertile in subsequent attempts to become pregnant. If conceiving your first child was straightforward, it may come as a shock when you fail to conceive the next time around. When you have trouble conceiving again it is known as secondary infertility. Secondary infertility is the inability to conceive a child or carry a pregnancy to term after conceiving and delivering one or more children.
About one in seven couples (HFEA 2011, NCCWCH 2013:47) encounter infertility, and secondary infertility is actually more common than not being able to conceive at all in the first place (HFEA 2007). Unsurprisingly, it's more likely to affect older women (NCCWCH 2013:224), as fertility rates fall as we age.  

3. All fertility-related conditions can be diagnosed

While there are a wide number of fertility treatments availablefor both men and women, 25% of infertile couples will be diagnosed with ‘unexplained infertility.’ This generic term is used when doctors can’t find a cause for infertility after a full series of tests and assessments have been carried out. Although this does not mean that a couple will not be able to conceive, it does make the entire process very frustrating. For a number of these couples it will never be clear why they were unable to conceive. IVF is usually offered when a specific length of time has passed which has not resulted in pregnancy.

4. Infertility is a female problem

Not exclusively so; male factors such as poor sperm quality or ejaculation problems account for 30% of all cases of infertility in the UK (NCCWCH 2013:47) A semen analysis is the primary test of male fertility. Fortunately, male infertility is one of the most successfully treated forms of infertility. In men, it  can be the result of a blockage in:

  • the coiled tubes which store and carry sperm from the testes (epididymis) or
  • the two tubes that carry sperm from the epididymis ready for ejaculation (vas deferens).

Other causes include:

  • poor sperm quality
  • sperm not moving well (poor motility)
  • not having enough (or any) sperm to begin with.

Men may have surgery to clear their blocked tubes. Depending on the problem, fertility drugs may boost sperm production. Other drugs can help retrograde ejaculation, which is when sperm shoots into the man's bladder instead of his penis. Or healthy sperm can be chosen for a course of intra-uterine insemination (IUI). However, the option that has become most popular for the treatment of male fertility problems and that is available at The Lister Fertility Clinic is intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). ICSI involves injecting sperm directly into the egg as part of an IVF treatment.  The use of donor sperm remains the best solution for some couples, although the number of ICSI treatments has been overtaking donor insemination treatments (HFEA 2011b).

5. Relax! And then you’ll get pregnant

Obviously it would be sensible to advise those who have very stressful jobs to work less while they are trying to conceive; and while most medical research points to the fact that stress in general is not good for your body, there is no clear-cut evidence that stress prevents pregnancy. Although the physical stress of extensive exercise or military training are stressful enough to reduce fertility by preventing ovulation, infertile women with regular periods and normal ovulation should be reassured that stress is probably not the cause of their difficulties in conceiving.

If you’d like to discuss fertility treatments and with one of our IVF specialists, why not come to a free open evening at The Lister Fertility Clinic?  Held twice monthly, you can reserve a place by emailing appointments@lfclinic.com or by calling 020 7881 2000.