When you decide that it is the right time to have a baby, you will probably be thinking about your fertility much more deeply than you ever have before.
If you have been having regular, unprotected sex for over a year, particularly in your ovulatory window with no success, you may be likely to take to the Internet to research some common reasons why you aren’t getting pregnant.
However, with this kind of research, you may stumble upon some advice that lacks the scientific evidence necessary for guiding your choices about you and your body.
The following article clarifies some of the most common fertility misconceptions, and offers some practical advice on areas of health with substantial evidence proven to help with your fertility.
What we’ll be looking into:
- What is St John’s Wort and does it impact our fertility?
- The impacts of stress on fertility
- Clearing up some misinformation about contraception and abortion
- Alcohol, tobacco, and their impacts on fertility
Misinformation surrounding St John’s Wort
St John’s Wort is an over-the-counter herbal antidepressant, available in many forms including tablets, tea bags, and creams. St. John’s Wort has been subject to much misinformation surrounding its effect on boosting fertility. In fact, some research conducted at the turn of the century found that St. John’s Wort may have some harmful effects on egg health.
This is because there is nowhere near enough scientific evidence, or studies conducted, to analyse the effects of the medicine on general fertility. Of the studies that do exist, all conclude that further research is necessary to establish a clear cause and effect.
The truth is, there have been no studies investigating whether taking St John’s Wort specifically affects the chances of becoming pregnant. Where few studies have been conducted, researchers have found no significant effects of St John’s Wort affecting chances of miscarriage, or birth defects compared to those not taking the medicine.
There are many natural remedies that people may choose to use to supplement their diet for a whole number of reasons. Other herbal ingredients have a stronger presence in the academic field than St. John’s Wort specifically, and there is evidence of academic consensus that some of these can improve fertility, rather than negatively impact it.
This study is summarised in the below table:
Table 1: Findings from Akbaribazm et al. (2021)
*Shown to have negative impacts on the health of newborns when taken by pregnant mothers.
However, for studies looking at the use of anti-depressants specifically, including but not limited to St. John’s Wort, researchers note that it is again, hard to establish a cause and effect of taking anti-depressants on fertility. This is because it may not be the drugs affecting fertility, but rather the factors that led to taking the drug in the first place.
Stress and fertility
One key piece of advice you may find when trying to conceive is to ‘relax’. This is because there is an exact link between the brain and the reproductive system, meaning that stress can interrupt regular communication within the endocrine system (the part of the body that deals with hormones). When feeling stressed, the fallopian tubes and uterus can actually spasm and prevent the movement and implantation of an egg.
Stress can be triggered by environmental factors, or may result from self-pressure. Many women who want to conceive will feel an immense amount of pressure to do so, whether that’s self-imposed or caused by a partner, and this in turn will result in an increased amount of stress.
Stress factors associated with women’s infertility have been known by the scientific community for decades, and whilst we now know that it is not necessarily work-related stress that leads to this, the assumption has been used for more malicious purposes.
Did you know?
In the 1940s, doctors coined the term ‘psychogenetic infertility’ to describe female patients who were ‘too ambitious’ and, as a result, not in tune with their own fertility. Soon, women were talking to magazines about how much more successful they had been in their fertility journeys since leaving the workplace and accepting their place at home.
Luckily, society nowadays is much less inclined to assume that a woman who wants a career also harbours anti-maternal instincts that can apparently cause infertility to manifest!
Protecting your own space and mental health, however, is still of paramount importance to boost your fertility, as stress is a risk factor associated with those who may be struggling to conceive. You can find some top tips for achieving this here.
Indeed, managing stress may also help with other risk factors. For example, if you are feeling overwhelmed, a typical reaction may be to over or under eat, both of which will impact you physically, and may affect fertility. Alternatively, you might feel stressed due to a lived environment or lifestyle, for example, if you are typically exposed to environmental toxins or have a demanding physical schedule. Removing yourself from the environment or modifying your schedule (where possible), may reduce your stress as a risk factor.
Contraception, abortion, and infertility
Another common misconception surrounding the risk of infertility regards the kinds of contraceptives and health interventions you may have experienced in your life. One report by the UN warns that fertility myths actually put people off taking contraception, despite not wanting a pregnancy.
It is important to note here, that there are significant cultural differences across the globe which may affect one woman’s idea of how taboo, or even accessible, contraceptives are. The most important thing is for governments worldwide to reach an international standard of sexual health education in order to empower women with total reproductive and bodily autonomy.
But what are the facts? Contraception does not induce infertility, however, some hormonal methods may delay the return of fertility.
Let’s take a look at some of the common methods:
- The longest delay comes from injectable contraceptives, with normal fertility returning within 5-8 menstrual cycles.
- Patch contraceptives are next, taking up to 4 cycles.
- Oral contraceptives and vaginal rings take approximately 3 cycles.
- The fastest people to regain fertility are those using hormonal and copper IUDs and implants, who experience only a 2 cycle delay.
It is also a myth that having an abortion (assuming it was a safe procedure) can cause infertility. The NHS clearly states that this is not possible. However, issues may arise if there are any untreated complications with the procedure, such as an infection occurring following treatment. However, if this is a situation you have found yourself in, there are options available to you.
Other lifestyle considerations impacting your fertility
No one has complete control over their fertility. However, there are a number of things you can do, and not do, in your day-to-day life that can increase your chances of conceiving a baby.
Removing alcohol from your daily routine can massively increase your chances of conceiving naturally. This advice can induce some anxiety if a person finds that they are pregnant and has been drinking. The most important thing is to stop as soon as you find out, rather than criticising yourself about it. We advise you to speak to your medical professionals if you have any concerns about this.
It is also a good idea to wave goodbye to tobacco, and the sooner the better. Ideally, you should do this before you start trying to conceive. The good news is that for women, those who have previously smoked but have ceased before trying for a baby, actually do not take any longer to conceive, in general, than women who have never smoked.
E-cigarettes are often used to help people stop smoking, however, the effect of using e-cigarettes during pregnancy is another area of research that lacks sufficient evidence. The NHS advises using nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) to help you quit. While medical professionals recommend NRT patches and gum as the safest option, using an e-cigarette is still currently considered to be more favourable than smoking.
So to sum up…
There is a lot of advice available online for those researching about their own fertility, and it can seem impossible to get through it. This is made even harder when some can be contradictory, and misinformed scientific advice can present itself as factual.
The most important thing to do is to first and foremost seek the professional advice of medical personnel if you have any concerns with your, or your partner’s fertility.
At Kari, our job is to provide resources and advice to cut through the chaos of what is available online.
The most important part of a fertility journey is empowering yourself with the knowledge necessary to make the best decisions for you and your body.
Remember, we hear you and we support you!
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