If you’ve watched Brooklyn 99, you might remember the hilarious episode where Jake and Amy tried super hard to make a baby despite being healthy individuals. Laughs aside, it made me realise that not every couple’s journey in conceiving is smooth sailing, and some also have misconceptions about fertility.
As someone in her 20s with many friends settling down and having kids, I was only curious as to what determines a healthy pregnancy. I spoke to Dr. Janice Tung, a Consultant Obstetrician & Gynaecologist and IVF Specialist from Thomson Fertility Centre, to debunk fertility myths so couples can get a better understanding of conception.
Myth 1: Only female fertility decreases in efficacy over time
Like how we get older with age, it is only natural that fertility for both males and females decreases in efficacy over the years. Dr Tung points out that the rate of decline in efficacy for both genders is not similar in any way.
“While the egg count decreases and females reach menopause eventually, or in other words the end of reproductive life, the sperm count should not decline with age,” Dr Tung explains, “They may still father children, but the sperm quality and function does decline.”
Myth 2: Miscarriages are highly dependent on the female
As the saying goes: “it takes two to tango”. Miscarriages are never the fault of only the females. Males play a part too, and older males may also contribute to a higher risk of miscarriages and birth defects.
Apart from the age factor, Dr Tung shares that unstable medical conditions such as diabetes and hypothyroidism, obesity, exposure to toxins and chemicals, and excessive alcohol consumption are also common reasons that lead to miscarriages. On the other hand, females with structural issues of the womb such as fibroids and polyps, an overactive immune system, and deficiency in Protein S have a higher chance of miscarriage.
To lower the possibility of miscarriage, Dr Tung recommends avoiding exposure to toxins, chemicals, radiation, excessive alcohol and drugs like retinoic acid, as well as weight management. Screening for some of the above problems amenable to treatment would also help.
“Medications like steroids and anti-clotting injections can help in immune and clotting conditions,” Dr Tung suggests, “IVF and screening of embryos also help to exclude genetic abnormality in those with a predisposition.”
Myth 3: Vaginismus aka the fear of vaginal penetration, is “all in the mind” and does not affect fertility
For the unacquainted, vaginismus is defined as the body’s automatic reaction to the fear of vaginal penetration. Dr Tung explains that some females experience vaginismus for issues such as vaginal dryness, inflammation in vulvar vestibulitis, vulvovaginal infections, and atrophy at an older age, previous surgery or injury that occurred, for example, during childbirth.
“These reasons can lead to a postponement in trying for a baby, which may lead to a decline in fertility as time passess,” Dr Tung says.
Additionally, Dr Tung mentions that some women experience a more traumatic attempt at penetration during their first intercourse, because they are mentally-conditioned by others to expect pain which leads to them tensing their pelvic muscles. As such, they naturally become even more anxious about future intercourse. On the other hand, it is also possible that certain females have negative feelings due to past sexual abuse and trauma.
Thankfully, vaginismus is treatable, and females who suffer from the condition can seek professional help from relationship coaches, sex therapists, physiotherapists, psychiatrists, and gynaecologists. They can receive physical therapy to condition and learn how to relax their pelvic floor muscles and stretch with vaginal dilators. Additionally, numbing cream may also be used on top of the aforementioned solutions.
Verdict: Partially false
Myth 4: Young and fit couples in their 20s will not have fertility health issues
Privileges of being young include having a clearer mind, better skin, a healthier body, and more energy to carry out daily activities. While being young and fit lower the chance of suffering from fertility problems, it doesn’t mean everyone in their 20s and 30s is excluded.
“Some males in their 20s may have low sperm count due to genetic factors or unexpected testicular failure with no symptoms, and young females may also have polyps or fibroids in their wombs,” Dr Tung shares.
In addition, family health history also plays a small part in fertility. For instance, conditions that run in families such as endometriosis and adenomyosis, and certain genetic mutations may lead to earlier ovarian failure and premature menopause.
As a way to naturally contribute to fertility health, Dr Tung recommends exercising, a varied healthy diet and avoiding excessive caffeine intake.
Myth 5: It is harder to get pregnant after a miscarriage
It is never easy getting over a miscarriage, and some couples could take some time to recover before they are ready to try again.
“In general, I would advise couples to try as soon as possible once the miscarriage has completely resolved. Sometimes after a pregnancy, the female may experience irregular ovulation for one or two cycles, which makes it difficult to try.” Dr Tung explains.
However, if the couple is already of an older age before conception, they would find it harder to get pregnant due to the decline in fertility. Additionally, if the miscarriage was due to underlying conditions such as lupus and hypothyroidism, chances are, couples will indeed have more difficulty in conceiving, if the condition remains untreated.
Verdict: Partially true
Myth 6: Frequent masturbation will affect fertility and sperm quality
As a rule of thumb, the more healthy sperm you have, the probability of you getting pregnant is higher. Dr Tung reveals that although semen volume and sperm concentration may decrease if there are multiple ejaculations within a day, daily masturbation is unlikely to affect fertility in males with normal sperm count and quality.
In addition, she says that “avoiding ejaculation or masturbation for more than a few days may actually be detrimental to sperm quality or male health since sperm is stored while awaiting ejaculation, and its quality will decline while in storage”.
Couples should try every other day during the ovulation window to increase the chances of fertilisation and avoid masturbation at this time. Those going for semen analysis tests, IVF treatments, and sperm freezing should also abstain for 2 to 5 days.
Myth 7: Fertility treatments are expensive and more accessible for the rich
Many of us assume fertility treatments are costly due to the sensitive nature of medications, technology, and specialised personnel involved. However, not all hope is lost – there are subsidies in Singapore that make these treatments more affordable for the average population.
“These subsidies are only available in the public institution centres and couples have to understand that there is considerable workload and waiting time,” Dr Tung shares. “Given that IVF treatments and fertility problems are often time-sensitive, these logistical delays may affect the chances of success and efficacy of the treatments.”
Myth 8: Long-term use of contraception will affect fertility in the long run
Some females might be familiar with contraceptive methods like birth control pills and IUDs, but not everyone knows whether long-term use of contraception affects fertility.
“Certain contraception such as birth control pills may lead to a thinner endometrial or womb lining that takes 2 to 3 cycles to recover.” Dr Tung elaborates. “Intramuscular depot injections also require a long wash-out period, up to a year or more. However, there is no contraception that will affect fertility or cause fertility problems in the long run.”
Since the body takes time to recover from specific contraceptive methods, and the contraception itself postpones plans for starting a family, it may indirectly affect fertility since fertility declines with age.
Verdict: Partially true
Learn About Fertility Wellness & Address Intimacy Issues At I Love Children’s Hybrid Seminars
Now that we’ve cleared up some misconceptions about fertility, you can work towards improving your health and address fertility concerns with your partner without feeling lost.
To further gather insights and receive in-depth answers about fertility from professionals, social service agency I Love Children is welcoming couples to attend their Know Your Wellness Seminar 2023 on 3 and 10 March 2023, from 8pm to 9.30pm at SCAPE Gallery (Level 5).
The hybrid seminars are conducted by a panel of doctors and experts from KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, Singapore General Hospital, Thomson Fertility Centre, and Thomson Chinese Medicine.
They will cover topics such as intimacy while trying to conceive on 3 March 2023. Experts will focus on helping couples to overcome and improve sexual intimacy while discussing how intimacy affects conception. Other areas of discussion include sperm and male fertility, fertility after pregnancy loss, and medical conditions like cysts, fibroids, cycles, and PCOS.
Those curious about fertility treatments can find out what goes on in an IVF lab, and learn the link between TCM and fertility boosting at the seminar that is happening on 10 March 2023. This session allows couples to gain a deeper understanding of the different treatments and resources available in Singapore.
No worries if you can’t make a trip down on either of the dates to attend the seminars ‒ you can still attend the sessions online at no cost via Zoom. While a physical ticket to each seminar costs $8, attendees will receive light refreshments and a gift pack from ClearBlue that is worth $107.
All you have to do is to sign up through I Love Children’s official website and flash your e-ticket on the day itself. Participants who opt to attend the online sessions will be provided with the Zoom link two days before the seminar.
Stay Ahead Of Fertility Challenges With I Love Children
Rather than shunning away from topics like fertility wellness and treatments, couples can open up to optimal conceiving methods at I Love Children’s hybrid seminars on 3 and 10 March 2023. The educational sessions will provide insightful information on fertility and allow couples to understand that it is okay to seek help.
For couples who have been trying for 6 to 12 months without success, sign up for a fertility consultation at Thomson Fertility Centre and Thomson Chinese Medicine via I Love Children website, terms apply.
This post was brought to you by I Love Children.
Cover: The Smart Local, source