Fertility myths unravelled

Planning for a baby is one of the most important times in your life, but for many couples it can be confusing and complicated. There's an awful lot of information out there - books, leaflets, websites, your mum, friends, Twitter. people on message boards - but what's actually true and what's not?

So will standing on your head after sex help you get pregnant? Or can eating oysters help?

Here we help to dispel some of the more common fertility and conception myths (some of them may surprise you).

Myth: Having sex every day will increase our chances of conceiving

Couples trying to conceive are encouraged to have intercourse regularly to increase their chances of conception, but having intercourse everyday is likely to leave you exhausted, particularly as it takes many couples 6-12 months to conceive.

However, as sperm can survive up to 5 days after release, and predicting ovulation is an in-exact science, most GP’s advise having sex every 2-3 days to maximize the chances that sperm are around to fertilise an egg once ovulation occurs.

Myth: You can't get pregnant when you are having your period

While women cannot conceive during their period (the hormones resulting in menstruation are the opposite of those required for a pregnancy to occur) you can conceive from sex during this time as you may ovulate early and sperm can survive for up to 5 days after release. Research in the USA has found that women may be fertile as early as day 4 of their cycle (day one is taken as the first day of bleeding) therefore pregnancy could occur at any point in a cycle.

 

Myth: You can only conceive from sex on the day that you ovulate

Not true. The human egg is viable for fertilisation for around one day after it is released from the ovaries. However given that sperm can survive for up to 5 days after intercourse and women may produce more than 1 egg in a 24 hour period, technically a woman can conceive from intercourse occurring from anything up to 5 days prior to or even up to 2 days after ovulation, i.e. for one week of each menstrual cycle.

Myth: A normal menstrual cycle is 28 days

Not true, this is a myth perpetuated by the pill which makes all menstrual cycles regular and 28 days in length. In fact menstrual cycles can vary from anything between 24-36 days, and not only vary between women but can vary considerably in any individual woman from month to month.

Myth: Lying down with your legs in the air after sex will increase chances of getting pregnant

While there is no scientific evidence to support this approach, some people claim it helps. And as it is totally harmless it has to be worth a shot, right?

Myth: Eating oysters will boost my fertility

There is a grain of truth in this because oysters are a rich source of zinc, low levels of which can be a factor in hampering fertility. And, of course, they're also an aphrodisiac. However, we wouldn't recommend you start eating oysters everyday. Instead take stock of your diet and ensure that you are eating plenty of fruit, vegetables and wholegrain cereals, which are rich in antioxidants, include oily types of fish twice each week (e.g. salmon, herring, sardine etc) to boost essential fatty acid and cut down on caffeine and alcohol both of which can hinder conception if taken in excess. Don’t forget to keep active and if you are a smoker, quit.

Myth: You can get everything you need from diet and don’t need to take supplements

This is definitely not true, and in fact women are advised to take a supplement containing 400 micrograms of folic acid daily while trying to conceive and for the first 3 months of pregnancy. Taking a folic acid supplement helps to reduce the risk of the baby having spina bifida or other similar serious disorders. As most of us don’t manage to eat a perfect diet all the time, taking a supplement specifically designed for conception or pregnancy can help to ensure that there are plenty of all the vitamins and minerals important for conception.

Myth: Men don’t need to bother as much as women about what they eat and drink

Not true. A man’s health, nutrition and lifestyle are just as likely to affect the chances of conception as the woman’s, after all every baby is 50% mum and 50% dad. So it’s important for dads-to-be to also increase fruit and vegetable intake, choose wholegrains, include oily types of fish into the diet and cut back on caffeine and alcohol as these can all affect sperm quality. Dad should also try to quit smoking and avoid excessive alcohol intake as both reduce fertility. Look out for our tips on male fertility later in the week...

Myth: Eating red meat and salty snacks increase the chances of having a boy and lots of chocolate and sweet foods increases the chance of having a girl

There are lots of old wives tales about influencing the sex of your baby but they are simply folklore. Studies that have looked at different old wives tales to select a baby’s sex have generally found them to have around a 50% chance of producing a baby of the sex you desire – i.e. exactly the same chance of your having a boy or girl anyway. In fact these dietary habits could cause more harm than good as lots of salt may increase your blood pressure – bad for you and baby, and lots of sugary foods are likely to increase weight gain and affect your teeth. Eating red meats will boost your iron intake, but don’t forget to include poultry and fish in your diet as well.

Myth: There are all girls in my family. Does that mean I am more likely to have a girl? Likewise for boys

Every time a baby is conceived there is a 50:50 chance that it will be a boy or a girl, so just because there are more girls or boys in the family does not mean your baby is more likely to be one or the other. It’s really just down to chance. There’s a lot of folklore about influencing the gender of a baby, from conception on different dates or phases of the moon, what you eat or drink, to sexual positions, but they really are just myths with no scientific evidence to support them.

What was the biggest myth you heard when you were planning for pregnancy? Let us know! Make sure you also read our tips on boosting your fertility naturally.

Gillian blogs over at A Baby on Board about London life as a new mum, covering everything from baby clothes to breastfeeding. She lives with her one year old daughter Eliza and husband Alex in south London.

Image thanks to Thurlbut on Flickr

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