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Fertility: Apparently we’re getting it wrong

Kristen Fischer is a copywriter, author and journalist based in New Jersey. She is a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW) and host on the monthly podcast, Freelance Radio. Learn more about Kristen at www.kristenfischer.com.

Sex ed didn't cut it, survey shows

Think you're a know-it-all in reproductive health? A new study finds that women know less than they think.
Confused woman with pregnancy test

Women know it all when it comes to, you know… down there. Right? Not so, according to a new study in Fertility and Sterility.

The research was conducted by professionals at Yale and shows that American women are kind of clueless about their reproductive health.

According to the study of 1,000 American women from ages 18 to 40, only 50 percent have brought up their reproductive health with their doctor. And one-third of women say they only saw their reproductive health provider less than once a year or never.

What else are we missing?

And now, time for more shockers:

  • 40 percent have talked about their concerns over conceiving
  • Over one-quarter were not aware that things like obesity, STDs, smoking or irregular periods have an effect on fertility
  • Half of women did not know that taking a multivitamin with folic acid is recommended to prevent birth defects
  • One-fifth did not know how aging affects the reproductive success such as higher chromosomal abnormalities, increased miscarriage rates and a longer time to conceive

Dr. Hal Danzer, M.D., co-founder of the Southern California Reproductive Center, said the anti-mullerian hormone (AMH) testing is relatively new, but it can provide tremendous insight into a woman's egg reserve.

"It is important for women to empower themselves and seek information from their OB-GYN in order to measure their AMH or get an ultrasound to measure follicle count," Danzer said. More than 50 percent of fertility issues are related to diminished egg reserve, which is a big number, he added. "With advanced technology such as vitrification for egg freezing, there are now ways women can preserve their fertility."

Danzer said that up to 15 percent of women in their late 30s and up to 25 percent of women over the age of 40 may struggle with their fertility.

"This study, on one hand, brings to the forefront gaps in women's knowledge about their reproductive health, and on the other, highlights women's true concerns which are often not discussed with their health providers," said Dr. Jessica Illuzzi, an associate professor at Yale School of Medicine's Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences.

Fertility misconceptions

Though many women say they want to have children, the study showed that women weren't too knowledgeable about the process.

In fact, half the respondents thought having sex multiple times a day would give their chances of conceiving a boost, while more than one-third said a certain sexual position could give them an advantage. Just 10 percent knew to have sex before ovulation, rather than after ovulation, in order to become pregnant.

First Response also looked into how women approach family planning. In the study, 38 percent of women say the economy interfered with them trying to get pregnant, while 25 percent say work and parenting were impacts.

Serena Chen, M.D., Director of the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in New Jersey, said that discussing sex, sexual function and reproduction should be a routine part of preventive health care — but most physicians don't discuss it.

"This leads to a lot of misconceptions about conception and sex and increases the risks for sexual dysfunction, depression, anxiety and the 'Uh oh I forgot to have a baby and now it's too late' syndrome we see so often in our society," Chen said.

Instead, doctors and patients need to make an effort to pay more attention to these issues, so that they can optimize health rather than just treat preventable problems, Chen added.

3 Things you must know about your reproductive health

So, if we're not too bright about our sexual health, where can we turn for good information? The study showed that 75 percent of women in all of the age groups turned to health care providers, while 40 percent hit the internet for know-how.

We get the message — we may not be know-it-alls after all…so what should we know about our reproductive health that we may not be aware of?

When it comes to fertility, Danzer said that women should:

  • Know they have an egg reserve
  • Understand that egg quality is largely based on age (so as your age increases, starting in your mid-30s, your egg quality decreases)
  • They can be proactive about their reproductive health and ask their doctor to order an AMH test to estimate their egg reserve and potentially consider egg freezing or other fertility options

"Especially for women, there really is a biological clock and age is a very significant risk factor for infertility," Chen said.

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