There are many misconceptions on fertility, IVF, and fertility treatments in general. Infertility myths are more commonly believed outside of the fertility community, but some of these are even believed among those trying to conceive.
Here’s the truth behind 15 popular infertility and fertility treatment myths.
1. Infertility Is a Female Problem
Infertility is a people problem, not a female problem.
Infertility occurs in men and women.
In heterosexual couples experiencing infertility:
- Approximately one third will struggle with male infertility
- Another third will struggle with female infertility
- The remaining third will either face both male and female fertility issues, or a cause will never be found (unexplained infertility)
Infertility is also not an exclusively heterosexual issue. LGBTQ couples can struggle with fertility. In most cases, it’s situational infertility: in other words, they require fertility treatments—like insemination with a sperm donor, or IVF with a surrogate—because they biologically can’t have a child together. In other cases, they can face medical infertility on top of situational infertility.
For example, with a lesbian couple, it may be that one or both female partners are unable to conceive because they have a fertility problem. They may require fertility drugs or other treatments in addition to needing a sperm donor.
2. If a Man Can Ejaculate, His Fertility Is Fine
For the vast majority of men with male infertility, there are no visible or obvious signs that anything is wrong. Healthy erectile function and normal ejaculation are not guarantees that your sperm is in tip-top shape.
It’s a common (and unfortunate) myth that if a man’s fertility is compromised, this means his sexual performance is the problem.
This is not true.
Problems with sperm count, shape, and movement are the primary causes of male infertility. You can’t tell there is a problem with your sperm by looking at semen. Only 2 to 5 percent of semen is made up of sperm. Semen is mostly made up of fluids and mucus rich in sugars, amino acids, hormones, and minerals, all intended to support the sperm cells and help keep them alive outside of the man’s body.
That said, erectile dysfunction can be a possible symptom of a fertility problem. It may indicate low testosterone levels or may occur due to a physical injury. Difficulty with ejaculation can also be a sign of some male fertility problems. For example, with retrograde ejaculation (when most of the ejaculate goes backward into the bladder instead of going out the urethra), the volume of semen during ejaculation may be visibly abnormal. But these are not common signs of male infertility.
3. Cough Medicine Can Help You Get Pregnant
The idea that cough syrup can improve fertility or even act as an over-the-counter fertility drug has been around forever. The theory behind it is this: Cough expectorants like guaifenesin work by thinning mucus secretions. Cervical mucus is an important part of female fertility, and in some women, it may be thicker than normal or not as abundant.
By taking guaifenesin (at least according to the myth), you can increase your cervical mucus secretions and boost fertility.
The only problem is that it doesn’t really work. There’s no proof that cough syrups improve your cervical mucus enough to make it easier to get pregnant.
Plus, infertility is usually more complicated than only a cervical mucus problem. If there are problems with cervical fluids, it is likely a symptom of underlying fertility issues that are going to be more complicated to solve.
Could it hurt to try taking cough syrup? Probably not, but maybe. Be aware that not all ingredients in cough syrup are benign.
In fact, some cold medicines contain drugs that should not be taken when pregnant or trying to get pregnant.
4. Clomid Can Help Anyone Get Pregnant Faster
Clomid is not a magical fertility potion that helps anyone get pregnant faster. There’s a misconception that if you’re having difficulty getting pregnant—or you just started trying to conceive, but you want to see a big fat positive faster—all you need is a prescription for Clomid. This simply isn’t true.
Clomid is a good fertility drug for its intended use: to stimulate ovulation in women with irregular or absent ovulation. But if you don’t have any fertility issues, Clomid won’t help you conceive faster.
In fact, Clomid can decrease some aspects of fertility. Clomid reduces the fertile quality of cervical mucus. It makes cervical fluids stickier and less abundant. Cervical mucus helps sperm survive and swim from the cervix up into the reproductive system. If you weren’t having problems that require Clomid and you take it, you haven’t improved your fertility. You added an obstacle.
Also, it’s important to keep in mind that Clomid can’t help if male infertility is involved or if there are structural female fertility issues, like blocked fallopian tubes. This is why a fertility evaluation is important before you try Clomid. You wouldn’t want to waste your time or expose yourself to a fertility drug that can’t work because there are other problems involved.
5. Infertility Means It’s Impossible for You to Get Pregnant on Your Own
It’s important to distinguish between infertility and sterility. Infertility is defined as the inability to get pregnant after a year of unprotected sexual intercourse. When a couple doesn’t get pregnant after a year, we statistically can say that they fall outside the norm. We have reason to suspect something may be wrong, even if we may not know what that “wrong” thing is.
However, people who have been diagnosed with infertility can and do get pregnant without fertility treatments. The likelihood of that happening will depend on the cause for their reduced fertility, their age, and how long they have been trying. The odds may be very small—less than 1 percent in some cases—but they are not necessarily zero.
Certain causes of infertility are less likely to lead to a spontaneous pregnancy. For example, a woman diagnosed with primary ovarian failure is significantly less likely to get pregnant on her own than a couple diagnosed with unexplained infertility. Also, the longer a couple has been trying unsuccessfully, the less likely it is that they will get pregnant on their own. But it’s still possible in all these cases.
Sterility is a different matter. If we say a man or woman is sterile, he or she is incapable of getting pregnant without fertility assistance. Examples of this may be a man who has a sperm count of zero, also known as azoospermia. When a structural issue causes azoospermia, and sperm cells can’t get into the semen, the man is sterile.
An example of female sterility may occur if both a woman’s fallopian tubes are completely blocked. If the egg can’t get to the uterus (and the sperm can’t get to the egg), pregnancy is impossible without the help of technology.
This doesn’t mean that if you’re infertile (but not sterile) that you should rely on those very small odds of getting pregnant. You should seek treatment if you want to conceive. However, it does mean you should rely on your infertility as birth control. If you don’t want to get pregnant, even if you needed an egg donor and IVF to get pregnant in the past, use contraception. Pregnancies have and do occur.
6. If You Adopt, You’ll Finally Relax and Get Pregnant
Adoption is not a fertility drug. It is true that couples that have faced infertility may get pregnant after adoption. However, neither adoption nor relaxing is the reason pregnancy might occur. Couples also get pregnant spontaneously after needing IVF previously. It happens, but it’s not a phenomenon.
As mentioned above, having experienced infertility doesn’t mean it’s impossible for you to get pregnant. It’s just very unlikely. How unlikely depends on why you couldn’t get pregnant in the first place.
7. Most People Need IVF Treatment
With all the press that IVF gets, you might think it’s way more common than it really is. The truth is that less than 5 percent of infertility treatments used in the United States involve IVF.
Will you need IVF? It depends on why you can’t get pregnant. Blocked fallopian tubes and severe male infertility require IVF treatment, but there are other reasons your doctor may recommend moving onto this advanced reproductive technology.
8. Young Men and Women Can’t Be Infertile
The older you are, the more likely you are to face infertility. However, young men and women also face infertility. Age-related infertility is only one possible cause of decreased fertility.
According to statistics collected by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 9 percent of women ages 15 to 29 report difficulty getting or staying pregnant. For women ages 30 to 34, that percentage increases to 14 percent. For women ages 40 to 44, 16 percent report difficulty getting or remaining pregnant.
There are more women struggling with fertility after age 35, but as you can see, almost 1 in 10 face infertility even before they reach age 30.
9. You Don’t Need to Worry About Your Age; There’s Always IVF
People put off having children for a variety of reasons. No one should rush to have kids if they aren’t ready, but age is an important factor to consider.
There is a common misconception that if age-related infertility does strike, you can always do IVF. Things aren’t that simple. Just as your natural fertility declines with age, your odds for success with IVF treatment also decline with age.
According to statistics collected by the CDC, 33 percent of IVF cycles for women under age 35 led to the birth of a baby. For women ages 38 to 40, the success rate drops to almost half, at almost 17 percent. For women age 43 to 44, live birth rates per cycle (using their own eggs) were only 3 percent.
Women may opt to use donor egg IVF if age-related infertility stands in the way of parenthood. But donor eggs are an expensive option and not an avenue every couple is interested in taking.
10. IVF Frequently Leads to Multiples
Actually, of all the available fertility treatments, IVF is the least likely to lead to a high-order pregnancy (triplets, quadruplets). With IVF treatment, embryos must be transferred back to the uterus. Except in special situations, reproductive endocrinologists are not to transfer more than two embryos at a time.
In fact, elective single embryo transfer (eSET) is becoming more popular. This is the ideal path (when it fits the patient) to have a healthy, singleton pregnancy. There is still a risk of twins. (Identical twins) but it’s significantly reduced.
With fertility drugs with or without insemination, there’s no control over the number of fertilized eggs reaching the uterus. Even if an ultrasound shows only two follicles developing in the ovaries, it’s still possible for more than two eggs to be ovulated and fertilized.
High-order pregnancies are much more common with fertility drug or insemination cycles than IVF ones.
11. If You Never Give Up, You Will Eventually Get Pregnant
This is perhaps one of the most painful, damaging myths out there on infertility and fertility treatment. Couples who decide to stop trying are sometimes shamed by those inside and outside of the fertility community for giving up too soon. They may be told, “If you just kept trying, you’d eventually get pregnant.”
This simply isn’t true. Fertility treatment is not guaranteed. While technically, yes, a couple could move onto using a surrogate, an egg donor, and a sperm donor (if all else is failing), and eventually get a pregnancy, that’s an oversimplification of the process. There is a tremendous amount of time, emotions, and cost involved.
Moving on is an option every couple should be able to take without any guilt that the next cycle could have been the one. Yes, maybe it could have. But it also might not have been.
12. Fertility Lubricants Can Help You Conceive Without Fertility Treatment
To optimize your fertility, you should be sure to use a sperm-friendly lubricant. Many of the typical personal lubricants can be damaging to sperm.
However, fertility-friendly lubricants alone will not help you get pregnant if you need fertility treatments. There are success stories online in review sections, with people claiming they were trying for a long time and then used a particular product and got pregnant that month. Except odds are, they probably would have conceived that month even if they didn’t use the fertility friendly lubricant. The lubricant didn’t fix their fertility problem if they had one.
13. If You Already Have a Kid, You Don’t Need to Worry About Fertility
Secondary infertility is when a couple has difficulty getting pregnant after they have already conceived a child in the past. Unfortunately, previous pregnancy success doesn’t guarantee ongoing fertility success.
Things change with time and age. Sometimes, a new underlying medical condition develops. Sometimes, a fertility condition that always existed gets worse. So, while it didn’t prevent pregnancy before, now it’s become a problem.
Sometimes a previous pregnancy causes a new fertility problem. For example, surgical complications or infection after childbirth may lead to scarring. That scarring may lead to infertility.
Even if you’ve gotten pregnant on your own before, if you’re struggling to get pregnant with another child, talk to your doctor. There could be something wrong.
14. You Can Simply Change Your Diet and Lifestyle to Cure Infertility
There are some situations when diet and lifestyle choices can significantly reduce infertility. For example, eating disorders can cause infertility. Treating the eating disorder can often reverse infertility. However, this isn’t a common situation.
Sometimes lifestyle issues also significantly reduce infertility. For example, smoking decreases fertility in women and men. Using a hot tub can significantly reduce sperm count in men. Quitting smoking and dropping a hot-tub-habit can make it more likely you’ll get pregnant.
However, most infertility situations can’t be easily resolved by a lifestyle or diet change.
We don’t completely understand the role of diet and fertility. There are many books and websites advocating for “fertility diets,” promising that you’ll get pregnant faster if you follow their program. But there is very little science behind these claims.
Should you do your best to eat a healthy diet? Of course! Could a healthier diet help you conceive? It’s possible. But it won’t cure infertility. Diet won’t unblock fallopian tubes; it can’t reverse a zero sperm count.
15. Herbs and Supplements Are Harmless Ways to Boost Fertility
Just as there are various books and websites claiming special diets will help you get pregnant, there are also information sources that claim special herbs, naturopathic remedies, or supplements will boost your fertility.
Is there any truth to these claims? There are some supplements that may boost fertility, but not enough to cure anyone’s real fertility problem. But if you wanted to try something, are they harmless? Here’s where things get tricky.
Natural doesn’t mean harmless. In some cases, a natural remedy is harmless. In other cases, they can interact with other medications. Vitamins and minerals, which are good for us in the correct doses, can be harmful and even deadly when you take too much. Herbal remedies can be as powerful as prescription drugs.
The government also doesn’t regulate natural supplements. This means that the bottle may say it contains one thing, but it actually contains something else.
Always talk to your doctor about any herbs or supplements you’re taking, even if they are “natural” and you’re sure they are harmless.
A Word From Tips For Healthy Living
The world of infertility and fertility treatments can be overwhelming. There’s a lot of misinformation out there, and some information sources contradict others. How can you know what’s right? Talk to your doctor. They are the best source for clarifications on your personal diagnosis, situation, and treatment options.
However, there may be times when even doctors get it wrong. Also, sometimes there are various opinions on how to treat a specific issue. Don’t be afraid to seek a second opinion. Advocate for yourself and be sure you’re getting the best care—and best information—that you need.