Fertility Myths Debunked
A quick Google search of “home remedies/tips to increase pregnancy” yields a pretty interesting blend of fertility myths. Specific sexual positions, keeping your legs in the air after sex, eating gluten-free, eating sweet potatoes, inserting a diva cup after intercourse, drinking cough syrup, and the list goes on and on. But have you ever wondered if any of these remedies have any scientific merit or actually work? Many of these tips are inexpensive (if not free), and in the fertility world, we all know how expensive it can be to conceive. So if they work, why not try it? The problem is, many if not most of these tips have never actually been studied. They could be a big waste of time and wrongly get your hopes up. So if you are trying to conceive, how do you know which ones actually work? Luckily for you, today we are going to dissect these tips and tricks for conception to determine if they’re actually worth your while. So with that being said, here are the most common fertility myths debunked!
Fertility Myths #1: Specific Sexual Positions
This is probably the MOST COMMON of the fertility myths we hear. The rationale behind it is that certain sexual positions allow sperm to be deposited closer to the egg, which should increase the chances of pregnancy. The other rationale behind this is that if the man is on top, gravity works with us and makes it easier for sperm to reach the egg. Now, the two positions the internet touts to be the best for baby-making is missionary and man behind positions. So is there any truth to this at all? Well, there have been zero studies to date looking at which sexual positions are optimal for conception so there really is no way to know. Physics tells us that gravity should help, although again, this has never been studied. There has been ONE study looking at the mechanics of sex, in which MRI images were taken of a couple having sex in two positions (missionary and man behind), and then after ejaculation. The study concluded that in these positions, the man was easily able to reach the cervix, and minutes after ejaculation sperm could be seen swimming very close to the cervix1. It sounds promising, but unfortunately, the study only looked at one couple and did not measure pregnancy as the main outcome. So, what are we to make of all of this? At the moment, we can’t take away much. As it stands, pregnancy can occur in ANY sexual position. If you’d like to use physics and place gravity on your team, then, by all means, engage in these positions; but don’t rely on it as a means of getting pregnant!
Fertility Myths #2: Remaining Immobile/Legs in the Air After Sex
Now, I’m sure you all have heard (or have even seen on TV) that after having sex or having an embryo transferred, ladies you best get your legs up in the air and remain stationary! The rationale behind this funny technique is similar to engaging in specific sexual positions. There’s gravity – and putting your legs up and remaining stationary should make it easier and more efficient for sperm to reach the egg. The other reason behind this method is that if we stand up right after, some sperm may leave the vaginal canal, and if there’s less sperm, there are fewer chances to conceive. Well, interestingly enough this has actually been studied once, and the research isn’t bad! 391 women undergoing intrauterine insemination were randomized to either remain lying down for 15 minutes afterward or were instructed to get up right away. Surprisingly, pregnancy rates and live birth rates were significantly higher in the group of women that were instructed to remain stationary for 15 minutes after the procedure2. This may not be one of those fertility myths after all, but some important things to note are that this only looked at intrauterine insemination and not natural sex, and there is only one study on this and there has yet to be any replication of these findings. That being said, the study was well done, lying down for 15 minutes after is FREE and SAFE, and so far research supports it. So ladies go ahead and give this method a try!
That said, there is no need to have your legs fully up in the air, and there might be reason to believe that the tilt of your pelvis in that position would cause semen to pool outside of the cervix not allowing access to the entry of the cervix (although no studies have proven this either). A better position to take while lying down is to use a thin pillow under your lower back/buttocks and lie down with your legs in a comfortable position.
Fertility Myths #3: Inserting a Menstrual Cup After Sex
This one is quite out there as far as fertility myths go, but there are many women out there who have tried it. Yes, when trying to conceive a common practice is inserting a menstrual cup right after sex in order to hold in all the sperm. This method also supposedly has the added benefit of holding the sperm very close to the cervix (which is where we need it to be deposited to get pregnant). As we mentioned above, the more sperm in the vaginal canal, the better your chances are for conceiving, right? Well, I am sorry to report that there is no research to date regarding menstrual cups and fertility. The manufacturers of menstrual cups do not mention that this product should be used to aid fertility in any way. So although the rationale may make sense, there is no way to know for sure whether or not this method works. Thousands of women claim this has helped them but anecdotal accounts are all we have at the moment. If you already use menstrual cups and want to give it a try, by all means. However, it’s important to be aware that this is NOT a proven method and shouldn’t be used alone or as a first-line treatment for infertility!
Fertility Myths #4: Watching Funny Movies After Sex or Embryo Transfer
Laughter is the best medicine, right? This is my favorite tip I’ve found on the internet when it comes to increasing fertility. This is because fertility treatments and dealing with infertility is SO incredibly stressful, and stress hinders fertility. Well, the rationale behind this one is pretty clear: laughter reduces stress, and reduced stress improves fertility. Funnily enough, this is one of those fertility myths that has actually been researched before! In a prospective quasi-randomized study, 219 women were randomized to either be entertained by a clown after embryo transfer for 15 minutes or were left alone. To everyone’s surprise, the pregnancy rate was actually significantly higher in the clown group vs. the group that was left alone3. This study highlights the importance of stress reduction and one’s state of mind when trying to conceive. Although more studies are needed in this area, and the study didn’t look at natural sex or funny movies per se, there is something very interesting going on here worth trying!
Fertility Myths #5: Drinking Cough Syrup
This is the craziest of the fertility myths, and is sadly all over the internet! The popularity behind this method is that an ingredient of cough syrups, guaifenesin, actually thins cervical mucus and thus should improve your chances of pregnancy. When cervical mucus is thinner, sperm is more easily able to survive and make the trek up to the egg. There haven’t been any studies on this, and I would strongly advise against trying this one! Yes, it does thin cervical mucus; HOWEVER, there are other possibly dangerous components in cough syrup that could harm fertility and the health of any possible pregnancy. Do yourselves a favor and stay away from the cough syrup!
There are other natural methods (such as herbs and supplements) of increasing optimal cervical mucus, though first identifying the hormonal imbalances leading to lack of fertile cervical mucus is always the first step.
Fertility Myths #6: Fertility Cleansing
Some of you may have heard of fertility cleansing, and the benefits of completing a cleanse in the months before trying to conceive. For those who haven’t heard of it, fertility cleansing is a cleanse that prepares your body for conception by detoxifying your liver and uterus. It works by increasing liver detoxification which more efficiently helps excrete unwanted endocrine-disrupting toxins that have negative impacts on fertility. It simultaneously works on your uterus by increasing blood flow to the area in order to remove old stagnant blood and tonify the uterus. The first half of your cycle the focus is on detoxifying the liver, while the second half of your cycle the focus is on detoxifying the uterus. Herbs that are often included in these cleanses include burdock, milk thistle, dandelion, yellow dock, licorice, dong quai, peony, and raspberry leaf.
As of yet, there aren’t any studies looking at the effectiveness of fertility cleanses on conception. The herbs mentioned above, however, have a VERY long history of use for liver support and are incredibly effective at properly metabolizing estrogen. It’s also a well-documented fact that endocrine disrupting chemicals do significantly and negatively impact fertility, so the rationale behind fertility cleanses isn’t flawed at all. At Awaken Life, we’re all for Fertility Cleansing as an initial step towards optimizing liver function and kick-starting hormone balancing – it can be very effective, and is not one of those fertility myths. However, there is no “one-size-fits-all” fertility cleanse. I often see women coming to me after trying a cleanse based on internet information, only to find themselves and their cycles in a worse off position. That’s because the supplements they took were not matched to their specific hormone and fertility profile or their liver function. Detox supplements are not all the same. Many that are publicly available are poorly designed and are of poor quality. There are also a lot of unsafe detox practices on the Internet (such as juice fasting to name just one) that can actually cause more harm than good, especially on your fertility, so beware of extreme plans that involve severe caloric restriction.
In clinical practice, there is a lot of benefits to starting out with a safe fertility cleanse to ensure the body, and your reproductive system is working optimally. That said, try to stay away from products that claim to help ALL women properly detox. Each person is SO unique, so a general approach will not work! Do yourselves a favor and see a Naturopathic Doctor to determine which herbs are most indicated for you specifically!
Fertility Myths #7: Orgasm
This is probably the second most common fertility tip found on the internet! It’s touted that female orgasm during sex should increase your chances of pregnancy. There are two reasons why this might be effective. The first is that orgasm makes you sleepy/relaxed, and will make you want to lie down longer. As we’ve already discussed above, lying down after sex could potentially increase your chances of pregnancy. The second theory is that when we orgasm our uterus has a series of contractions which help “suck up” sperm into the uterus, thereby expediting the sperm’s journey to the fallopian tubes. The rationale behind this is convincing, thus it is no surprise research has actually been completed on this topic. One study decided to test the orgasm and uterine contraction theory. The study found that if women had an orgasm up to 45 minutes after male ejaculation, sperm retention in the uterus was significantly higher4. However, the study did not look at pregnancy or live birth rates after the fact. Another study looked at whether there was a correlation between orgasm and the number of children in women. It found there was a very weak but positive correlation, indicating that orgasm may be weakly related to possible pregnancy. However, this relationship was so weak that researchers concluded female orgasm likely plays no role in enhancing fertility and no direct relationship can truly be ascertained5. So what does this mean? Basically, it seems that orgasm may have a very modest impact on fertility, however, more research is needed to determine whether or not this tip is to be included on the list of fertility myths. It certainly can’t hurt, and often an orgasm can also reduce stress levels which is a bonus. By no means does this indicate that not having an orgasm will hurt your chances of conception! As it stands, pregnancy can occur with or without orgasm. If you are trying to have an orgasm only to conceive this will likely just stress you out even more, and take away from your relationship. A healthy relationship with your partner will go a lot further in the end!
Fertility Myths #8: Honourable Mention: Diet
There are MANY dietary claims on the internet in regards to increasing fertility. Eating sweet potatoes, eating gluten-free, eating pomegranates, and drinking wheatgrass just to name a few. It’s true that what we eat pre-conception and during pregnancy significantly impacts fertility and pregnancy outcomes. However, specific foods increasing our chances of pregnancy (e.g. a sweet potato), is not as well studied. Diet is a very important component to optimizing fertility and should not be taken lightly! For complete dietary guidelines on what to eat while trying to conceive, check out our posts on The Optimal Fertility Diet and Optimal Fertility Diet: Common Mistakes to learn more!
Having a hard time navigating the complex world of fertility information?
There are many other interesting tips you can find on the internet that are purported to increase the chances of pregnancy. However, always remember, what you read on the internet is not always accurate! Always ask yourself: what’s the rationale, is there any science behind this, does this make sense, and is there any possible harm? While going through fertility issues, any hope at all is welcomed. It can be a very stressful and emotionally difficult time, and this is why many people are willing to engage in some pretty funny and out there methods. If you are having fertility issues, I urge you to avoid seeking answers on the internet! Not only is there a lot of misinformation, as we’ve outlined above; but there is much more that could be going on that needs to be individually investigated and treated. When trying to conceive, the most important things are timing sex with ovulation, adopting a healthy lifestyle, optimizing your hormones and working on your own individual health obstacles. If you are struggling with infertility, a Naturopathic Doctor who focuses on fertility and reproductive health can be a very valuable part of your healthcare team. If you would like to learn more about effective fertility treatments, and how you can increase your chances of pregnancy, at Awaken Life I am here and happy to help!
With love and in health,
Dr. Priya Prakash, ND
I want to help you get there. The key to your fertility lies within you.
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