Infertility experts discuss 5 common myths about fertility
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Everyone loves Chrissy Teigen for her brutal honesty and hilarious insights. And her candor about her struggles with fertility and using in vitro fertilization to become pregnant has helped many people feel less alone with their infertility struggles.
“The big question was why this wasn’t working for us when I was young and he was healthy,” Teigen told SELF magazine in 2016, before her daughter Luna was born. “I thought, ‘People get pregnant by accident all the time! How does this happen?’”
Teigen’s comments about fertility mirror what many believe: Being healthy and young means getting pregnant is easy.
But experts agree that health and age share a complicated relationship with fertility.
“Fertility is a little tricky,” Dr. Marie Menke, a reproductive endocrinology and fertility specialist at Magee Women’s Hospital at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, told TODAY. “There are a lot of things that go into fertility.”
Menke and other experts talk about what’s fact and fiction when it comes to fertility.
1. Myth: If you’re healthy it’s easier to get pregnant.
Often women visit Dr. Alice Domar to talk about infertility. These women discuss their healthy eating and exercise habits — and don’t understand why they can’t get pregnant.
“You can have terrible health habits and be fantastically fertile,” the psychologist at Boston IVF told TODAY. “I have had so many people who do yoga and eat really well and they look amazing and they can’t get pregnant and they don’t understand why.”
That’s because the relationship between overall health and fertility isn’t as closely linked as people think. Being obese makes it slightly harder for women to get pregnant and for men to impregnate women. And smoking damages eggs and sperm. But otherwise, healthy habits don’t make someone more fertile.
“You can’t boost your egg production by exercising,” Menke said.
Women are born with all the eggs they’ll ever have and their eggs steadily decline. But this varies from woman to woman.
“Fertility declines with age,” Dr. Paulette Browne, a reproductive endocrinologist and infertility doctor with Shady Grove Fertility in Fair Oaks, Virginia, told TODAY. “The ovarian reserves are all the eggs you will have. At birth there are 2 million and at puberty there are only 200,000.”
2. Myth: Fertility drops dramatically after 35.
Fertility certainly declines as women get older. But 35 is just a random age.
“Thirty five was a little bit of a made-up number,” Browne said. “Originally they called 35 ‘advanced maternal age’ because it was when they needed to decide to offer amniocentesis (a sampling of the amniotic fluid taken to test for genetic disorders).”
The experts estimate that a woman’s ovarian reserve starts to diminish more rapidly at age 37 or 38, but that’s still a rough estimate.
“Some people’s fertility declines dramatically and some people’s fertility stays the same,” Browne said.
3. Myth: Celebrities get pregnant in their 40s and 50s, it should be easy for me.
Recently one of Menke’s patient’s mentioned that Brigitte Nielsen had a baby at 54. While Menke doesn’t know how Nielsen got pregnant, she explained that most older women do not become pregnant naturally.
“If you are in your early 50s or mid-to-late 40s, you probably had some help,” Menke said.
Older women often rely on eggs they froze or donor eggs. She noted that many women are ashamed when they rely on a donor egg, but she stressed that needing fertility help isn’t a sign of failure.
“A lot of women think they did something to themselves,” she said. “There doesn’t need to be any blame or fault.”
4. Myth: Infertility is a woman’s problem.
While a third of all infertility remains a mystery, experts estimate that men are just as responsible as women.
“The myth I hear most often is that it’s women’s fault,” Domar said. “It is pretty much equal male versus female.”
Men can have semen without sperm, erectile dysfunction, low sperm count or sperm that swim the wrong way. This can all lead to men being the reason for the infertility.
“Whether men are older or not, one-third of infertility is male factor,” Browne said.
5. Relax and you’ll get pregnant.
Often couples trying to get pregnant hear that if they only relaxed, getting pregnant would be a breeze. But that’s not true.
“The role of stress and fertility is not really well known,” Menke said. “There has never been anything proven with markers of stress and reduced fertility.”
Domar agreed. She noted that if stress reduced fertility women would never become pregnant from rape or during war.
“At least 85 percent of people with infertility have some physical cause,” Domar said. “If you have blocked tubes … You can’t just go to the spa to get pregnant.”