2 March 2015

The truth behind… falling pregnant

From downing cough syrup, to keeping your legs up in the air after intercourse – here we separate the fact from fiction on some of the world’s most common pregnancy ‘old wives tales’.

For generations we have been told a plethora of weird and wonderful tips to help us fall pregnant however, unfortunately on many occasions these pearls of wisdom fail to fulfil their promises, leaving couples frustrated and confused as to why they are unable to conceive.

To help separate the fact from fiction, fertility specialist Dr Israel Ortega, from world leading fertility clinic IVI, provides his expert insight into whether there is any truth behind some common old wives tales.

Keeping your legs raised after sex will improve chances of conception

Dr Ortega says: “Research has suggested that over 30% of UK couples believe that if the woman raises her legs in the air after intercourse, it will improve their chances of becoming pregnant.

Unfortunately, there is no scientific proof to suggest that this is true. It is important to remember that each male ejaculation contains millions of sperm so it is simply not possible that all of them would disappear if a woman was to immediately stand up.

Although there is no evidence to suggest that this is true, there is also no reason not to remain laid down for a short while after intercourse.”

Drinking cough syrup will help you to conceive

Dr Ortega says: “There isn’t any medical evidence to support this idea, but many women are big advocates of the approach.

There is one ingredient which is commonly found in cough syrups, Guaifenesin, which some experts claim can thin cervical fluid – enabling the sperm to travel more easily up the fallopian tubes to fertilise the egg.

We would not recommend this as an approved technique especially as taking medication when not needed can reduce its effect when required for illness.

Wearing tight underwear can reduce men’s fertility

Dr Ortega says: “One of the most well-known old wives tales surrounding male fertility is that men who wear tight underwear will lower their sperm count, and therefore, reduce their chances of producing offspring.

Many experts have commented that there is a potential link between a raised scrotal temperature and a reduction in sperm mobility however, very few medical studies have been able to back this up with evidence that raising the scrotal temperature has any lasting negative effects on sperm.

For those who do tend to wear tighter underwear and are concerned this may be effecting their fertility, I would suggest choosing a slightly looser style that will not only allow the skin to breath but will also help with general personal hygiene.

Exercising can make you infertile

Dr Ortega says: “It has previously been suggested that women who do too much exercise risk making themselves infertile. However, if you pay attention to your body and ensure that your menstrual cycle is normal, then there is no reason why this should be the case. In fact, many experts actually advise women to carry out regular exercise when looking to conceive. Physical exercise has many benefits, particularly for the hormonal system, which can increase the odds of conception.

I would recommend that anyone trying to fall pregnant is careful of the level of intensity of the exercise that they are carrying out to ensure that they are not expending too much energy however, generally speaking women should not be concerned about this.”

Too much stress in your life will stop you from conceiving

Dr Ortega says: “Contrary to popular belief, there is no medical backing to the claim that stress stops you from falling pregnant. Whilst we would always advice women to try and remove any unnecessary anxiety from their daily life to help them cope with the natural emotional ups and downs of trying to conceive, overall this should not have negative impact on your chances of falling pregnant.”

Contrary to the five common old wives tales above, there are two common health issues which people often associate with infertility which experts claim do have a bearing on pregnancy success rates

Being overweight can affect your chances of falling pregnant

Dr Ortega says: “Being overweight can affect your chances of conceiving and giving birth to a healthy baby. This is because too much body weight can cause hormonal imbalances and problems with ovulation, such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

At IVI we recently conducted a study which found that obese women not only have a lower chance of conceiving, but also have a lower IVF success rate compared to women of a more normal weight, as they are likely to develop an abnormal embryo metabolism.

Obesity not only affects women during and post pregnancy, but is also an important risk factor for chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome and diabetes type II, in adolescence and adulthood. In addition to this, the odds of the offspring being overweight or obese increase 40% and 26% respectively, by the age of 16 years.”

Smoking can have an adverse effect on your offspring

Dr Ortega says: “It is true that people who smoke are more likely to have fertility problems than non-smokers. However, in addition to causing problems with falling pregnant in the first place, we know that smoking during pregnancy can also have a significant impact on the health of your offspring – including causing them to become infertile themselves in later life.

Mothers who smoke more than 10 cigarettes a day during pregnancy will cause direct harm to their offspring. Our most recent studies have highlighted that mutations in the sperm caused by smoking can be transmitted to offspring as permanent and irreversible changes to their genetic composition. This means that the consequences of smoking whilst pregnant extend far beyond the smoker themselves, to their decedents.”

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