Fertility expert busts baby making myths
If your man is smoke-free, eats only organic food and wears baggy underpants will you have a better chance of conceiving? We asked fertility expert Dr Andrew Murray to bust some myths and deliver the facts.
People once believed the world was flat. They also thought that sitting on a pregnant women’s chair, having sex during a full moon and using only the missionary position for sex would all help get you pregnant. Rumour was rife that keeping one’s legs in the air (for the ladies, but men could join in too) after sex helped speed things up, too.
Other fertility boosting tips with absolutely no scientific grounding include planting a rosemary bush but avoiding mint, and men – no socks in bed. And if you want twins, eat plenty of yams.
The old wives’ club
Science and a bit of common sense have now helped us to understand that most of the above ideas are nonsensical. The only one with any substance is the theory of fertility being increased with a full moon. Before our fascination with clocks and calendars, we traditionally looked more to the moon for a measure of time. Many women found their monthly cycle was indeed lunar, getting their period with the new moon and therefore ovulating with the full moon, two weeks later. Timed intercourse is still a wise idea if you are trying to conceive, but timing intercourse with ovulation is key. If you happen to naturally cycle with the moon, all power to you.
While many myths are now mostly laughed at, there are still hundreds of theories just waiting for your Google search, so it can be confusing trying to sort fact from fiction. We asked Dr Andrew Murray from Fertility Associates to explain what helps and what doesn’t when it comes to making babies:
Eating organic food?
There is no evidence to suggest that eating only organic food increases your fertility. However, we are seeing robust research around the positives of eating a diet high in antioxidants and vitamin C. Think of colourful fruits and vegetables – greens, reds, yellows – they all contain a good amount of vitamin C. Peanuts, Brazil nuts and almonds contain both zinc and vitamin E, and cooked tomatoes contain the powerful anti-oxidant lycopene, which also helps.
Cutting out caffeine, smoking and alcohol?
Cigarettes have a huge impact on fertility. Women who smoke are only 60% as likely to conceive as non-smokers and smoking is also associated with miscarriage, small babies and earlier menopause. Smoking appears to speed up the reproductive clock, sometimes by up to 10 years. Men who smoke have lower sperm counts and more malformed sperm than non-smokers and are more likely to have children who develop childhood cancer. Smoking marijuana is also thought to have a detrimental influence on sperm. The good news is that smoking-induced damage to fertility may be reversible. Sperm take around 72 days to fully form, so if you give up smoking at least three months before trying to conceive, sperm quality should improve.
Caffeine intake can affect fertility in women, as it is associated with a longer time to conceive and also reduced chances of becoming pregnant on an IVF programme. Drinking more than six cups of coffee a day may also be linked with miscarriage. Caffeine is not only found in coffee but also in tea, cola, energy drinks, some frozen desserts and chocolate; so be aware of your overall caffeine intake. Male fertility does not appear to be affected by caffeine.
Most people are aware of the detrimental effects that alcohol can have on a pregnancy by causing fetal alcohol syndrome. However, moderate drinking whilst trying to conceive also reduces fertility. Research has shown that women drinking five units or less a week are twice as likely to conceive as women drinking 10 or more units. If there is a safe level of alcohol in pregnancy, it is not known, so it is better not to drink at all as soon as you know you are pregnant – preferably before.
Getting more exercise?
There is a surprising lack of data on the effect of exercise on fertility. However, moderate exercise is always a healthy option and should be encouraged. Excessive exercise may not be so beneficial as it may switch off ovulation resulting in irregular or absent periods. Cutting back to moderate exercise may restore the normal menstrual cycle and therefore assist fertility.
Couples experiencing infertility definitely experience considerable stress, but whether stress causes infertility is a much-debated issue. One effect it can have is to interrupt a normal sex life resulting in less frequent sex. Extreme stress can switch off ovulation completely, however, cognitive therapy can help to reduce stress and has been shown to restart ovulation.
Getting more sleep?
Regular disruptions to day/night cycles can have an impact on the regulation of our reproductive hormones.
Sleep also helps to keep our whole system healthier in general, which is always favorable for fertility. Male sperm counts can drop for three to four months after a bout of sickness such as the flu.
Relationship difficulties are common when one partner is suffering from sleep loss. Sex drive can diminish, men are more prone to erectile dysfunction when exhausted and women may experience vaginal dryness. Tiredness can also lead to fertility disrupting lifestyle factors, such as the overuse of caffeine or other stimulants.
Boys, don’t wear tight underwear?
One of the reasons men’s testes are located where they are (in the scrotum), is that they operate better around one degree lower than the core body temperature. Excess heat through tight underwear, overuse of saunas or spas, or having your laptop on your lap every night may result in excessive testicular warming. In a nutshell, if the testes are too hot sperm production can drop.
Avoid spa pools?
If your weight is too high you are more likely to experience infertility. This is true for both men and women. Women with a BMI of more than 32 will have a three-fold chance of experiencing infertility. The main impact of excess weight on fertility in women is due to hormonal changes. Extra fat produces estrogens that disrupt the hormonal cycle, and these women will often not ovulate reliably. Overweight men have warmer testes and will often have lower sperm counts.
Overweight women who do conceive are more likely to miscarry, develop gestational diabetes, hypertension, and have higher intervention rates.
Have sex every day?
The big question – how much is too much, or, conversely, too little? Studies have shown that regular ejaculation does appear to reduce the amount of DNA fragmentation in sperm. You don’t have to have sex every day, every other day is fine – focusing around ovulation, when the egg is released. Don’t worry – you won’t deplete the stocks! I tell my patients that their ‘homework’ is sex every other day from day 10 to 18 of the menstrual cycle.
Dr Andrew Murray is Medical Director of Fertility Associates Wellington and a New Zealand Committee Member of the Royal Australia and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG). He is also a Senior Lecturer at Wellington School of Medicine, University of Otago and one of the consultant obstetricians and gynaecologists at Wellington Hospital.
AS FEATURED IN ISSUE 28 OF OHbaby! MAGAZINE. CHECK OUT OTHER ARTICLES IN THIS ISSUE BELOW