Infertility Causes: What’s Real and What Isn’t?

When it comes to infertility causes, some might just be fake news.

There are a lot of rumors out there about what does and doesn’t contribute to infertility. Some of them are brand new and some of them are as old as baby-making itself. So let’s shine some light on some of the biggest lies out there about infertility causes. That way, you can get back to stressing about the real stuff.

History of avoiding pregnancy

Now that you’re in the phase of life where you’re trying to get knocked up, a little info would go a long way. So imagine we’re your junior-year P.E. teacher, because we’re about to tell you everything you need to know about what your uterus gets up to every month. Spoiler alert: it basically has a life of its own.

The pill

“One of the biggest myths is that birth control is bad for a woman’s fertility,” says Dr. Jamie Knopman, M.D., a reproductive endocrinologist at the Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine, New York. “That is completely inaccurate.”

You may find that it takes a month or two for your cycle to self-regulate after you go off birth control, but most women will start ovulating again within a few weeks. What we will say is that being on the pill may keep you from identifying hormonal issues, like early menopause, but that’s not the same thing as birth control causing infertility.

In fact, many fertility clinics use the pill as a means to help women time their ovulations for egg retrievals. In your own practice, going on and off the pill “might make it harder to characterize your cycles,” says Dr. Knopman, “but there’s no data that that could impact your fertility negatively.”

IUDs

Back in the 1980s (which feels like the 1880s in science years), the old IUD designs used were known to contribute to women developing pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which sometimes led to infertility by damaging the fallopian tubes and uterus. But those are now completely out of use. The copper models used today pose absolutely no known threat to your fertility.

Abortions

Unless you had any (very rare) complications or infections from the abortion, you should have no issue carrying out a healthy pregnancy when you’re ready to do so.

Plan B

It will probably shift the rhythm of your cycle—like create a delayed ovulation in the month following its use—but it doesn’t have any long-term effects on your fertility.

STDs/STIs

Chlamydia

When diagnosed and treated quickly, chlamydia will most likely not affect your chances of a healthy conception. But if you’ve had chlamydia, talk to your doctor before you start trying, just to be sure.

Alternatively, if chlamydia goes untreated, it can develop into PID (see above). This can also result in an increased chance of an ectopic pregnancy (where the zygote implants in the fallopian tubes and not in the uterus), which you definitely don’t want. All of this emphasizes the importance of getting tested and getting treatment, ASAP.

Herpes

According to Dr. Knopman, a herpes outbreak could alter how you deliver a baby and prophylactic medication may be needed if you want to have a vaginal delivery. However, if your herpes is closely monitored and treated, your fertility should see no significant effects.

That said, there is one rare strain that has been found in the uterine linings of some women with previously unexplained infertility. A 2016 PLOS Onestudy speculates that their immune response to this strain of herpes causes their bodies to fight off any “invasive species,” including a potential pregnancy. And a 2012 Journal of Biomedical Research study also found that men with asymptomatic herpes (with no outward signs of the disease) may experience a decrease in sperm quality and/or quantity. In short: test early; treat early.

Bacterial vaginosis

The real danger with BV seems to be PID. If BV is left untreated, PID can creep in and wreak havoc on your reproductive organs. There have been some recent studies showing that BV is more likely to be found in infertile women verses fertile ones, but we’ll say it one more time: test and treat as early as possible. “Any infection left untreated is not good,” says Dr. Knopman.

Getting it on

Rough sex or too much sex

If you know you have a fertility issue, such as low sperm count, timing might be important—but otherwise, go for it. The expert consensus here seems to be, “whatever does it for ya.”  Seriously, as long as all parties are in agreement (and you keep all toys clean, eliminating the risk of infection), have all the wild (or vanilla) sex you want.

Masturbation

Along with causing teenage blindness and killing kittens, masturbation is unjustly framed for all sorts of social ills. Rest assured, self-pleasure is not a cause of infertility, in either males or females. Yes, men want to avoid ejaculation of any kind within 2-5 days of collecting a semen sample for either a sperm analysis or IVF/IUI procedure, and if you already know you have a low sperm count, men should avoid masturbation during the fertile window in order to save those spermies for intercourse. Otherwise, rest assured that your “me time” poses no threat to future family time.

Your lady parts

PMS

In a normal cycle, you have PMS a solid 2 weeks before you ovulate. As long as everything is operating normally, the phases of your cycle work in concert (not conflict) with each other. If you have severe cramps, you probably want to make sure that you don’t have endometriosis, but otherwise, don’t stress your PMS.

Tampons

This one’s been making heavy rounds on more “new-agey” sites, but Dr. Knopman says not to buy it. “There’s no data to show that [it affects fertility.]”

Laser hair removal

While it’s not recommended during pregnancy (just because no one’s tested it), there’s no indication that it impedes you from getting pregnant.

Other lifestyle factors

Too much caffeine

According to a 2017 Clinical Epidemology study, drinking too much caffeine does seem to correlate with an increase in miscarriage rates, but you’d have to have A LOT to see that effect; like more-than-5-cups-a-day, a lot. So unless you’re downing doppios like it’s your job, you can cross this concern off your list.

That said, most fertility clinics will advise that you reduce your caffeine intake to 1-2 cups/day, and then only on a full stomach, throughout an IVF cycle. Plus, since you’ll want to reduce caffeine intake once you’re pregnant anyway, it might be easier to start weaning yourself off the good stuff now.

Not drinking enough water

Water’s definitely good for you. But not drinking it isn’t going to keep you from conceiving.

Green tea

Again, caffeine only starts to pose a potential issue after a large amount is consumed on a daily basis. A cup or two per day should be fine, especially if it’s how you unwind!

Cat hair

Poor kitties! We’re not sure where it came from that cat fur was the issue, but the only potential risk your feline friend poses to your fertility is the slight chance that his poop could give you toxoplasmosis (a nasty infection caused by a parasite which can also come into your body through undercooked meat). That’s why it’s usually recommended that pregnant women don’t clean litter boxes (but again, it’s very rare for a person to get toxoplasmosis from cat poop, especially if the cat has been tested – and there’s no risk if yours is a strictly indoor cat).

Myths, debunked

So there you have it. Hopefully this will help you see more clearly as you work your way through the fertility weeds. Arm yourself with the facts and block out all the nonsense. You got this.

Holly Lynn Ellis

Holly Lynn Ellis is a writer and film and video producer. Her five feature films include the Sundance-selected Prairie Love and she's made countless videos for parents and families on multiple pregnancy and parenting sites. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and toddler, and they are trying to conceive again.

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