There are so many myths surrounding the topic of fertility and there are many sources of information out there regarding getting pregnant. Yet, it can be difficult deciphering what’s true about female fertility and what’s not.
So, we’re looking at some of the myths and misconceptions surrounding female fertility and busting them once and for all.
Every female ovulates on the 14th day of her menstrual cycle
No, she doesn’t. Ovulation occurs when a mature egg is released from the ovary. On its travels down the fallopian tube, the egg can be fertilised by a male sperm, resulting in pregnancy. The days when a woman is most likely to get pregnant is sometimes called the ‘fertile window’ and is the day of ovulation and the 3-5 days before it occurs. However, it doesn’t necessarily have to occur on the 14th day of your cycle. Usually, ovulation occurs between 12 and 16 days before your next period is due. It really is an individual thing and depends on the length of your menstrual cycle.
If you are looking to get pregnant, you need to be having sex within your fertile window. The lifespan of a sperm and an egg is limited and so they need to ‘meet’ at the right time for fertilisation to happen.
You can try to work out your most fertile days by taking into consideration on average, ovulation occurs 14 days before your next period.
- If your menstrual cycle is 28 days long, you will ovulate around day 14
- If your cycle is 35 days long, you will ovulate around day 21
- If your cycle is 21 days long, your ovulation day will be around day 7
It can be more difficult to work out your window of fertility if you have irregular menstrual cycles. Therefore, in these cases having sex every 2-3 days should improve your chances of pregnancy.
Women should get pregnant before they’re 30
Although female fertility is dependent on age, it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to have fallen pregnant before the age of 30. There are, however, many factors which can influence when couples can start a family, such as financial constraints, career, professional and personal ambitions as well as not able to find a suitable partner.
Biologically, the most optimal time for a female to have children is between the ages of 18 and 30, due to declining egg quality. The probability of having a baby, according to some studies, falls by 3-5% per year after the age of 31.
Females are born with a fixed number of eggs, unlike men who continuously produce sperm. Female fertility really begins to decline after the age of 35. As females age, the quality of their eggs declines and this can cause problems such as increased risk of miscarriage and conditions such as Down Syndrome in full-term babies. Plus, her store of eggs will also decline in the lead up to the menopause.
The contraceptive pill affects fertility
In the short term, yes, the pill does affect fertility. After all, the main reason for using a contraceptive pill or another method of birth control is to prevent pregnancy. But what about when you want to stop taking the pill and try for a family?
The fear of long-term infertility has been shown to be a reason some women avoid contraception. However, evidence suggests that the contraceptive pill doesn’t have any overall effect on long-term female fertility. One study found that pregnancy rates after a one-year cessation of the contraceptive pill ranged highly between 79% and 96%.
On the other hand, it does not mean that once a woman stops taking the pill, she will instantly fall pregnant. Some research has shown that some females experience a temporary delay, particularly in the early months of cessation, in the ability to conceive.
I’m breastfeeding so I’m not fertile
Breastfeeding does suppress the function of the ovaries which can block ovulation. Although, it is not guaranteed that you won’t fall pregnant during this time.
The production of breast milk is stimulated by the hormone, prolactin, during the later stages of pregnancy. When the baby suckles on mums’ breast, the production of prolactin is stimulated, but levels can fall within 4 hours. Frequent suckling can keep prolactin levels high meaning milk can be supplied and ovulation is suppressed.
During breastfeeding, there is a 2% risk of falling pregnant if:
- The baby is less than 6 months old
- The mother is only breastfeeding her baby both day and night
- And her periods have started again
If the situation changes then the risk of pregnancy increases and breastfeeding can no longer be relied upon as a method of contraception.
It is possible to fall pregnant again as little as 3 weeks after giving birth, even if you are breastfeeding. So, if you don’t want to get pregnant it is probably best to use some form of contraception.
Janet Jackson became a mum at 50 so I can wait, can’t I?
The number of women having children later is increasing. In the UK between the years 1985-7, the percentage of women aged at least 35 giving birth was 8%, in the years 2006-8 this had increased to 20%. There are so many factors associated with why women may be waiting longer to have a family, but there are some added risks with pregnancy in advancing age.
- Increase in unexplained stillbirths
- Neonatal mortality
- Conditions such as Down Syndrome
- High blood pressure and gestational diabetes
- Delivery complications
If you want to find out more about your own fertility hormones or if you want to check you are ovulating, Forth offers easy at-home tests, which are analysed by accredited labs and reviewed by medical experts. Results are available within days and available through your online dashboard, where you can track how your hormones are changing over time.
Arévalo, M et al. (2002). Efficacy of a New Method of Family Planning: The Standard Days Method. Contraception: 65, pp 333-338.
Barnhart, K, T and Schreiber, C, A. (2009). Return to Fertility Following Discontinuation of Oral Contraceptives. Fertil Steril: 91(3), pp 659-663.
Habbema, J, D, F et al. (2015). Realizing the Desired Family Size: When Should Couples Start? Human Reproduction: 30(9), pp 2215-2221.
Mansour, D et al. (2011). Fertility After Discontinuation of Contraception: A Comprehensive Review of the Literature. Contraception: 84(5), pp 465-477.
National Health Service. (2016). Your Pregnancy and Baby Guide. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/sex-contraception-after-birth/ [accessed 28 November 2018].
Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. (2013). Induction of Labour at Term in Older Mothers. Available at: https://www.rcog.org.uk/globalassets/documents/guidelines/scientific-impact-papers/sip_34.pdf. [accessed 28 November 2018].
van Noord-Zaadstra, B, M et al. (1991). Delaying Childbearing: Effect of Age on Fecundity and Outcome of Pregnancy. BMJ: 302, pp 1361-1365.