We'd all like to think we know what we're doing, but sometimes -- especially when it comes to getting pregnant -- we simply don't. Luckily, Glade B. Curtis, M.D., co-author of Your Pregnancy, Week by Week, has solutions to nine of the most common fertility misconceptions that lead to, well, missed conceptions.
Freaking out about getting frisky
You probably have at least one friend who, upon getting pregnant, said, "It happened right when I stopped worrying about it." It's annoying to hear, especially when all you want to do is get pregnant, and nothing seems to be working -- but it's often true. Stress can be a major party crasher in the baby-making process. When you have an elevated level of cortisol, a stress hormone, it can negatively affect ovulation and fertility.
"Calm down, relax, let it happen," Dr. Curtis says. "Stop trying to plan pregnancy so much." Instead, he suggests reminding yourself that pregnancy is a miracle that actually happens very often. "I tell my patients who are actively trying to simply stop 'trying' so hard, and that's usually when they will conceive."
Over (or under) doing it
If you're gonna do it, do it right (and the right amount of times!). Dr. Curtis recommends having intercourse every day or every other day during your most fertile period. If you, like so many other women, don't know when that is, stick to every other day throughout the time you think you're most fertile. More than that could deplete your partner's sperm count. Less than that and you might miss that critical fertility window.
Turning to fancy products
Although douching might seem like a natural next step in your baby-making routine, it's absolutely not a good idea. Douches can act like a spermicide, altering the PH of your vagina. "This has been shown to impair fertility," Dr. Curtis says. Ditto for personal lubricants, most of which have actually been shown to not only lower sperm count, but also lower its mobility.
When we talk about infertility, we typically start by asking if the woman's condition is the issue. In fact, Dr. Curtis says, cases of infertility are about 40 percent male-related, 40 percent female and 20 percent a combination of both partners. "Frequently, the would-be mom rushes in to see her doctor at the first sign of a delay in getting pregnant. This is wrong, since it's really an even playing field in terms of diagnoses." And remember: It usually takes a healthy couple between 6 months and 1 year to conceive.
Relying on "good enough" math
Didn't think you'd need a degree in math to get pregnant, eh? "Not understanding the timing of ovulation is a popular mistake," Dr. Curtis says. For most women, ovulation occurs midcycle, but that also assumes a 28- to 32-day cycle. "Most women ovulate 14 days before the beginning of their period, too," he says. "So, for example, if you have a 24-day cycle, ovulation is around day 10." All of this info can be confusing if you have irregular periods or just can't remember when you last menstruated.
Another common mistake? Not counting from the real first day of your cycle. "Day one is the first day you bleed, not the day after or the day before," Dr. Curtis says. Because fertility can literally come down to a matter of hours, it's important to know your cycle's exact timing.
Dr. Curtis suggests using ovulation predictor kits, available over the counter. Keeping a calendar to track your cycle can be helpful. Using an online ovulation predictor or a mobile phone app works too.
Trying to stay on schedule
As much as we try (sigh), pregnancy really cannot be planned. According to Dr. Curtis, an average, normal, healthy couple will take about a full year to become pregnant. "Many women take about six months or more just to start having regular cycles when they first quit contraception altogether. Ovulation isn't likely to be happening until your periods are getting more regular." His wise advice? Take your time. And if at least six months have passed and you haven't been getting regular periods or you're not sure if you're ovulating, [or you have questions about your fertility], then it's a good idea to seek out the advice of a doctor.
Getting a move on
No one knows why, but there's a lot of anecdotal and scientific information to support the fact that after intercourse, it helps to remain lying flat in bed, hips elevated, for about 20 to 30 minutes. In other words, after getting busy, Dr. Curtis advises, "don't jump up and certainly don't run to the bathroom or douche!" That one change alone, he says, could solve up to 80 percent of fertility problems. So, as much as you might want to do a happy dance after you think you just made a baby, refrain -- for a little bit, at least.
Ignoring your "crazy" worries
Maybe you've always had irregular periods and worry you'll have trouble conceiving. Or perhaps you have diabetes and want to make sure it's under control before trying for a baby. Checking in with a professional isn't neurotic or crazy -- it's smart! These are situations in which you shouldn't ignore those more antsy feelings, Dr. Curtis says. Instead, seek out the help of a doctor or fertility consultant right away to formulate a bambino-making plan. That way, if it takes you a little longer to get pregnant, you'll already know how to handle things. And, if you do (surprise!) find yourself reading a plus sign sooner than you thought, you'll already be getting monitored by a doctor and acting healthfully.
Living it up before baby
As Dr. Curtis puts it, "Why take a chance with drinking, alcohol, smoking, or drugs if you know it could negatively affect fertility?" He warns his patients that the early part of pregnancy is the most critical in the development of the fetus. "There is no safe amount of alcohol during pregnancy, and we know smoking is harmful. My advice is, if you are not using protection, then with regards to drugs, alcohol and smoking, act as if you're already pregnant."
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