No matter how well we may come to understand fertility and what affects it from a scientific standpoint, it’s understandable that the ‘miracle of life’ still holds a great deal of mystery! Because we will always view the creation of a brand new human as something akin to magic, myths around fertility abound – and many of them are completely unfounded. From the idea that birth control pills can extend a woman’s fertility by saving more of her eggs, to the notion that men can father children at any age, we debunk some of the most common myths around fertility.
Female fertility does decline with age, but it doesn’t ‘fall off a cliff’ after 35
For whatever reason, this idea that a woman’s fertility suddenly plunges on her 35th birthday remains commonplace. In reality, it’s more like a slow decline which starts after her most fertile years – the late teens and early 20s. And while the rate of that decline does accelerate with age as she nears menopause, there’s no need – or point – for a woman to get into a panic when she reaches this milestone.
That said, however…
Myth: Advancements in fertility treatment make it easy for women over 40 to have kids
We hear about a lot of women (mainly celebrities) now having children in their late 40s and even early 50s thanks to procedures such as egg freezing and IVF. It’s important to remember though that in most cases, the ones we hear about involve people who have a huge amount of money to spend on the latest procedures. In many instances, an egg donor is also necessary, although that information is probably not shared.
And while these treatments might seem like a miracle, they’re not an absolute guarantee. One fertility clinic South Africa, for example, which makes use of an innovative device called the EmbryoScope for embryo selection and implantation, has seen a jump from 63% positive pregnancies to 71% since they started using it in 2014.
Every year the science and the technologies get better, but there is always the chance that a couple simply won’t be able to conceive. And unfortunately, the chance of failure will always increase with age.
Myth: The age of the father doesn’t count
While the age of the egg is usually the most important factor in whether an embryo can develop successfully, sorry guys, but the age of the father plays a big role too. After the age of 51, which is interestingly enough also the average age of menopause in women, the success rate of male infertility treatments starts to decline significantly.
This is because as men age, the quality of their sperm and seminal fluid starts to decrease too. The increasing chances of other reproductive issues with age, such as erectile dysfunction, also make the odds of natural conception less likely as men get older.
A study by the University of Bristol, for example, found that men aged between 30 and 34 were 38% less likely, and men between 35 and 39 50% less likely, to become fathers after a year of trying when compared with men under the age of 25. These results remained the same after the researchers took their female partner’s age into account.
Myth: Birth control pills can help or hinder fertility
There are actually two schools of thought around the effect of birth control pills on a woman’s fertility. Some believe that because they prevent ovulation, birth control pills may help preserve more of a woman’s eggs and make it easier for her to get pregnant later when she’s ready to have a child.
In the other camp, people believe that because they interfere with hormones and the menstrual cycle, they may damage a woman’s chances of getting pregnant naturally, especially if she’s been on ‘the pill’ for a long time.
In reality, it appears that neither is true. The use of birth control pills doesn’t seem to have any effect whatsoever on a woman’s chances of getting pregnant – either positive or negative.
Myth: Tracking your body temperature can help you get pregnant
Because a woman’s basal body temperature rises after ovulation, many believe that this measure can be used to discover when she’s at her most fertile. Unfortunately, by the time you see this uptick, you’ve already missed the window! Within a day of ovulation, the woman won’t be able to conceive until after her next menstrual cycle has started – so relying on body temperature is definitely not the way to optimize your chances of getting pregnant.