Common Misconceptions About Infertility
Myths and Facts About Infertility
You know the birds and the bees: A sperm meets an egg and fertilizes it. The fertilized egg travels through a fallopian tube to the uterus, where it attaches to the inside wall.
In many cases, the process goes smoothly and 40 weeks later, a baby is born. In some cases, though, things don't work out as hoped. Couples who have been trying to get and remain pregnant for at least one year without success might be infertile1.
Infertility can happen for a number of reasons and can be a challenging time in a couple's life. Fortunately, treatments are available to help many couples dealing with infertility conceive. If you are concerned about infertility, knowing what's fact and what's fiction will help you get the help you need.
Fact: Infertility Is Relatively Common
Infertility isn't rare. In the U.S., around 12% of women between the ages of 18 and 44 have trouble getting pregnant or having a full-term pregnancy1. Up to 15% of couples who want to have a baby have trouble getting pregnant after a year of trying while up to 10% of couples have trouble getting pregnant after two years of trying2.
Across the world, up to 186 million individuals are thought to experience infertility3.
Myth: Infertility Is Always the Woman's Problem
It's a common misconception that the woman is always responsible for any fertility issues a couple experiences. In reality, either the man or the woman can have issues that contribute to infertility. About one-third of infertility cases can be traced to an issue with the woman and about one-third of cases can be traced to an issue with the man4. In the remaining third of cases, the cause of infertility isn't known.
If an issue with a woman's body is contributing to infertility, in many cases the problem stems from a lack of ovulation. An irregular menstrual cycle is often a sign that a woman isn't ovulating, or releasing eggs. A hormonal imbalance, often caused by polycystic ovarian syndrome, is another common cause of ovulation difficulties and infertility in women.
In men, infertility can be due to a low sperm count or to blocked sperm. Some men have enlarged veins on the testicles, which cause the sperm to overheat. Exposure to heat can change the shape of sperm or reduce the number of sperm.
Fact: Lifestyle Factors Can Contribute to Infertility
Certain lifestyle choices and habits can contribute to infertility in both men and women. For example, smoking cigarettes can reduce sperm count and can affect the quality of a woman's eggs. Smoking also increases the chance of an ectopic pregnancy, meaning the fertilized egg implants in the fallopian tube, not the uterus.
Diet can also contribute to infertility, but there aren't any particular foods that are "off-limits" or that need to be avoided. Generally speaking, eating a healthy diet helps improve a person's overall health, which might contribute to fertility.
High levels of stress can also disrupt fertility in certain circumstances. Typically, the stress needs to be severe enough to disrupt ovulation and lead to amenorrhea, or stopped periods. Having a few stressful weeks at work or in life in general usually won't make a person infertile.
Myth: Age Is Just a Number When it Comes to Fertility
Women in their 30s often get the message that they need to hurry up and get pregnant before the age of 35, otherwise they risk falling off of a fertility cliff.
While the "fertility cliff" is mostly a myth, age can contribute to a couple's infertility. It's not only women who need to consider their age when trying to get pregnant. Age also matters for men, as male fertility starts to decline after the age of 401.
If you are older and are trying to get pregnant, you might want to speak with your doctor sooner rather than later. For example, if you've been trying for at least six months haven't gotten pregnant, it might be a good idea to schedule a visit with a fertility specialist to see if anything is going on.
Fact: Help Is Available
The good news about infertility is that, nowadays, couples who want to get pregnant and who are having difficulty doing so on their own have a lot of options.
Infertility treatments range from improving sperm count in men to assisted reproductive technology, which removes eggs from a woman's body, combines them with sperm to produce embryos, then implants the embryos in the uterus.
The treatment option that can help you and your partner will depend on the cause of infertility and several other factors. Speaking with a fertility specialist is often the first step to take to find out the cause of infertility and the options available to you.
1. Infertility, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/infertility/index.htm
2. How Common is Infertility, National Institute of Children Health and Human Development, https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/infertility/conditioninfo/common
3. Infertility, WHO, https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/infertility
4. Infertility, Office on Women's Health, https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/infertility