It’s not just you — sometimes it can seem like everyone has an opinion or nugget of well-meaning advice when it comes to getting pregnant. Unfortunately, all of that talk often leads to some pretty dated and wildly inaccurate old wives’ tales about trying to conceive. These conception myths vary in absurdity — from throwing your underwear on the roof during a waning moon to holding your legs over your head after sex — but they all have one thing in common: they’re not helpful.
“These things perpetuate not out of science, but out of hearsay, and can spread like wildfire,” Dr. Mark Trolice, an infertility specialist at Fertility CARE: The IVF Center in Orlando, tells SheKnows. “Now, because of social media, it’s a disaster.”
The problem, he says, is worsened when influencers and celebrities chime in with their fertility success stories. “If [insert celebrity here] has lots of followers, and she says something, well, she doesn’t have to worry about having a scientific study to support it,” he adds. “All she has to do is say it. People follow it like gospel.”
Trying to conceive can be an emotional and confusing journey, so we get that it’s sometimes easy to buy into the tips other people, especially famous ones, swear by. To help make the process less stressful, we consulted with experts about which old wives’ tales about trying to conceive you can ditch for good.
Old wives’ tale: Fertility is solely a women’s issue
A study published in the Fertility and Sterility journal found women often feel higher levels of stress, anxiety, and guilt than men when experiencing infertility or difficulties trying to conceive. The findings shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise — after all, society has historically blamed women for everything (looking at you, Adam and Eve). But, according to Dr. Trolice, science suggests that people of all genders have a metaphorical biological clock that could impact their abilities to conceive.
“Women’s [clocks] are much louder and much more defined because a woman is born with all the eggs she’s going to have,” he says. That much is undeniable. Dr. Trolice explains that while most people with ovaries are born with one to two million eggs, their counts drop to roughly 10,000 by the time they’re 37. Decreasing egg counts do impact the chances of conception; for example, he says that at age 30, there’s only a 20 percent chance a woman will conceive during a typical cycle.
Men, however, don’t start producing sperm until they hit puberty; though Dr. Trolice says this doesn’t mean that their supply is endless or healthy.
“In men who are above 40 to 45, you’re going to start having increasing infertility, increasing miscarriage, even some birth defects, as well as significant increases in autism and schizophrenia in the offspring,” he adds.
Infertility impacts 11 percent of women and 9 percent of men, and, on average, fertility issues are evenly linked to back to men and women, according to the National Institutes of Health. In any case, there is no reason to blame or shame anyone unable to conceive — ever.
Old wives’ tale: Keeping your feet elevated after sex increases the chances of pregnancy
Plenty of movies show women doing all kinds of acrobatics after having sex because of the fertility myth that sperm have a better chance of “swimming upstream” if a woman’s pelvis is elevated. Thankfully, there’s good news for those of us who aren’t super athletic: You don’t have to do a handstand after having sex to get pregnant!
“Sperm swim very fast. In fact, before you can even get out of bed, the sperm’s up the tubes,” Dr. Deborah Smith, board-certified reproductive endocrinology and infertility treatment specialist, tells SheKnows. “What leaks out is not the sperm but the fluid that holds the sperm, so having your feet elevated after intercourse does nothing.”
Phew, it looks like we can keep the inversions in our yoga classes.
Old wives’ tale: Drinking cough syrup aids in fertility
One of the worst parts about getting a cold is having to gag down cough syrup (sorry, Mary Poppins, but not even a spoonful of sugar helps that medicine go down). So, you may be surprised to learn that some people believe drinking medicines like Robitussin, which include guaifenesin, increase fertility by thinning out the cervical mucus.
“The theory here is that by [freeing] congestion in the upper respiratory, the sinuses and the nasal passages, that could make the cervical mucus more watery, which could make the sperm pass through to the uterus easier,” Dr. Trolice explains “It’s an interesting theory, but I can’t tell you there’s great scientific evidence to support that. What makes the cervical mucus watery is high levels of estrogen.”
While doctors don’t advise drinking cough syrup regularly (some prescription cough syrups contain codeine, which can be addictive), Dr. Smith says her clinic does recommend the method in rare cases, such as “in men who have very thick sperm that’s not liquefying.” Of course, you should only try this method if directed explicitly by a trusted doctor. Otherwise, feel free to spare your tastebuds and exclude this practice from your TTC routine.
Old wives’ tale: Wearing rose quartz increases fertility
Some celebrities swear that collecting crystals help them be better parents, improve relationships and make them more beautiful. But these New Age-y ideas aren’t just percolating around Hollywood. Retailers and self-proclaimed spiritual healers sell stones, like rose quartz, to thousands of people with the promise that they increase fertility and boost conception success rates.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with collecting crystals if that’s your thing, but it is critical to note that there is no scientific evidence to support claims that using crystals helps those trying to conceive.
“Nothing inanimate has been shown to have an impact on fertility,” Dr. Trolice says, adding that everyone should be wary of anyone “making money exploiting fertility patients.”
Old wives’ tale: Sex positions impact conception
Another common fertility misconception is that pretzeling your body during into various positions can not only increase your chances of getting pregnant but can also impact whether you conceive a boy or a girl. Let’s allow the experts at the Mayo Clinic to clear this one up: There are no sex positions to help conceive a boy or girl. None. Nada. Zilch. The only thing that determines a baby’s sex (outside of controversial genetic sorting practices) is the sperm, according to Stanford’s The Tech Museum of Innovation.
Additionally, Dr. Smith adds that there are no golden sex positions that guarantee conception.
“The sperm gets in the vagina and swims up the cervical canal. The sex position doesn’t matter,” she says.
Old wives’ tale: IVF treatments cause early menopause
Sadly, many popular IVF myths are floating around the internet that are intended to scare or mislead people. One such tale, according to Dr. Shahin Ghadir, a founding member of the Southern California Reproductive Center (SCRC), is that in vitro fertilization triggers menopause by taking too many eggs.
“One of the major comments that I hear is that people think that freezing their eggs or doing IVF takes all the eggs out of their bodies, which is completely wrong,” Dr. Ghadir says. “Every month, you will lose one egg, and about 1,000 other eggs die in the process. What IVF and egg-freezing does is allows us to capture some of those eggs that are going to die off anyway… Taking out between 10 and 25 eggs doesn’t affect your menopause at all.”
Old wives’ tale: You can’t get pregnant while breastfeeding
Breastfeeding may not make you feel your sexiest (thanks a lot, leakage), but it won’t prevent you from getting pregnant. This myth likely started because women noticed breastfeeding impacts ovulation cycles — but only temporarily.
“If you’re exclusively breastfeeding multiple times a day, most people do not ovulate and don’t get pregnant, but I would never use that as a good method for birth control,” Dr. Ghadir says. “If you’re not exclusively breastfeeding, you can definitely get pregnant.”
If you’ve been breastfeeding for a while and haven’t gotten your period, speak to your doctor, who can better assess your situation.
Old wives’ tale: Women have to orgasm to conceive
While one study published in Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology found that women retained higher counts of sperm after achieving orgasm than those who didn’t, no science proves orgasms increase the likelihood of conception.
“Sperm will reach the reproductive tract with or without a woman achieving orgasm,” Dr. Trolice says.
Now, that doesn’t mean that couples shouldn’t try to increase their pleasure in the bedroom. If you’re looking to spice things up, take a look through some of the best sex positions for better orgasms and consider using some mindfulness for more frequent orgasms. Hey, if you want to conceive, you might as well have some fun!
Old wives’ tale: Abortions and Plan B lead to infertility
There are so many reasons someone may elect to have an abortion or take a Plan B pill. Often, the decisions are difficult or scary, and it’s terrible to think that some wield the threat of future infertility as a deterrent. While there are always exceptions, Dr. Nataki Douglas, Chair of the Modern Fertility Medical Advisory Board, says these methods, mostly do “not affect your fertility.”
“Plan B is a huge dose of hormones used in many birth control pills that prevent fertilization of an egg or prevents the fertilized egg from attaching to the uterus,” she tells SheKnows over email. “Once you get your period, your cycle has restarted, and the Plan B hormones are out of your system.”
The Mayo Clinic also notes that “elective abortion isn’t thought to cause fertility issues or complications in future pregnancies.”
Old wives’ tale: Birth control harms your ability to conceive later
Birth control methods such as oral contraception and IUDs are incredibly effective if used consistently and correctly, the Mayo Clinic reports, which is excellent news if you don’t want to get pregnant. However, some women fear that years of birth control use could adversely impact their fertility. Dr. Douglas clarifies that these fears are unfounded.
“Birth control has not been proven to have any harmful long-term effects on a woman’s ability to conceive,” she tells SheKnows via email. “However, once you stop your birth control method and are ready to get pregnant, you want to pay close attention to the regularity of your menstrual cycles.”
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) offers plenty of information and resources for women to track their menstrual cycles and monitor their fertility, but don’t be afraid to ask your doctor for help.
Old wives’ tale: Exercise negatively impacts fertility
This myth is dangerously misleading. The Mayo Clinic boasts that exercise has numerous benefits, such as reducing the risk of certain diseases, boosting people’s moods and energies, and promoting better sleep — facts any medical doctor worth her salt would happily confirm. However, exercise, like everything else, should be done in moderation.
“People should exercise on a regular basis,” Dr. Smith says. “It’s excessive exercise that affects menstrual cycles and impacts fertility.”
Studies, such as one published in Research and Sports Medicine, have found that overtraining or consistently exercising for prolonged periods can impede a women’s ability to menstruate. The same thing goes for women who lose too much weight through disordered eating.
The key here is to find a balance. The American College Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends those trying to conceive stay on top of their health by eating nutrient-rich foods, like fruits and vegetables, exercising regularly and scheduling a checkup with a doctor.
“If your menstrual cycles aren’t impacted [by your diet and exercise], it’s less likely that your fertility is going to be impacted,” Dr. Smith adds. “You should at least exercise for 20 minutes three times a week, minimum.”
Over time, you’ll probably encounter some of the dozens of other old wives’ tales about conception. While we can’t confirm or dispel them all, your doctor probably can.
This post is sponsored by Nature Made Prenatals.