5 top fertility myths debunked by Dr. Jennifer Gunter

Dr. Gunter spoke with Know Your Value about the most common fertility myths, then debunked them once and for all.
Jennifer Gunter is an obstetrician-gynecologist who is known for frequently challenging dubious health and medical claims.
Jennifer Gunter is an obstetrician-gynecologist who is known for frequently challenging dubious health and medical claims.Jason LeCras

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By Halley Bondy

Dr. Jennifer Gunter has heard it all. As an OB-GYN and blogger on women’s health issues, she’s often confronted by women who have very misguided ideas about getting pregnant.

Through her web series, blog, and New York Times column, Dr. Gunter is known for debunking health myths that are perpetuated by the media or celebrities. In 2017, Dr. Gunter famously criticized Goop, a website and e-commerce company headed by actress Gwyneth Paltrow, for a number of bogus health claims on the site, including one assertion that bra-wearing can increase the risk of breast cancer. Dr. Gunter’s new book “The Vagina Bible: Separating Myth From Medicine” will be out Aug. 27.

Dr. Gunter spoke with Know Your Value about the most common fertility myths, then debunked them once and for all.

Myth #1: After you go off birth control, you are still infertile for a while.

Many women believe after they get off birth control pills or the IUD that their effects linger and they can’t get pregnant for a while. Dr. Gunter said this is the most common fertility myth among her patients, and it is unequivocally false.

“That’s by far the biggest myth I hear,” said Dr. Gunter. “It doesn’t just scare the women from going on the pill, but it affects people who are trying to plan a family; they stop contraception and say, ‘oh, I won’t be able to get pregnant until June,’ then boom, they get pregnant right away. It happens all the time.”

Myth #2: Eating choices help fertility.

It’s important to eat well in general. However, what you eat has practically nothing to do with your fertility levels, according to Dr. Gunter.

“Having a balanced diet and limiting processed foods is great for preventing heart disease and creating a healthy environment for the baby, but not for getting pregnant,” said Dr. Gunter.

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That means so-called “fertility diets” are myths, too.

“You hear you’ll get pregnant if you eat sweet potatoes, coconut — it seems to change all the time,” Dr. Gunter said.

The exception is women who have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. They may have to monitor their diet if they’re planning a pregnancy.

“For those women specifically, those dietary modifications might be useful — but it wouldn’t be: ‘eat yams.’ It'll be: ‘cut out some carbohydrates.’

Myth #3: Sex position matters.

Women think that hanging upside down or keeping their legs in the air will help them get pregnant, according to Dr. Gunter. But, it doesn’t really matter.

“Whatever floats your boat,” she said. “Sperm is motile, so it doesn't need gravity to get where it goes. It has to go up the uterus and into the fallopian tubes which is a lot to navigate, and hanging upside down is not going to help that. It only takes one strong swimmer.”

Myth #4: You can’t get pregnant after age 35.

Age is a big factor when it comes to getting pregnant, however, 35 isn’t the be-all-end-all, according to Dr. Gunter.

“While your fertility drops, it's not zero,” she said.

According to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, the risk of infertility for women ages 30 to 34 is 16 percent, while the risk of infertility for women ages 40 to 44 is 64 percent. But this is based on global instances, not your individual chances, which are unknown.

“It’s a hard thing to translate to people, because what matters individually for you … is not always reflective of what's happening on a global level,” said Dr. Gunter.

Myth #5: Egg freezing and IVF are foolproof.

Dr. Gunter said that while it’s possible to get pregnant from IVF using your own eggs, and egg freezing later in life, you should mitigate your expectations.

“You hear about celebrities getting IVF and getting pregnant over the age of 45 and yes it happens,” said Dr. Gunter. “But dealing with an egg in a lab is a lot harsher on the egg than a spontaneous pregnancy. The odds of doing IVF and getting pregnant with your own egg and not a donor egg if you’re over 43 — it’s low.”

Egg freezing can work, but there isn’t a lot of data out there to confirm your chances, said Dr. Gunter. It’s best to freeze your eggs before age 30. After age 35, your chances of success diminish considerably. Additionally, egg freezing can be expensive.

“Egg freezing is a bit like an insurance policy. It doesn’t always help you down the road, but it could ... however, like an insurance policy, there is fine print,” said Dr. Gunter. “Ask yourself if the person telling you about egg freezing is profiting off of your decision, because they might be up selling.”