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10 Crazy Fertility Myths—Debunked

When it comes to questionable baby-related rumors, we’ve heard some real doozies. Read on to get to the bottom of a few common mistruths.
ByKaitlin Stanford|Published November 9, 2023
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Image: VICTOR TORRES

Trying to conceive can be an unpredictable—and sometimes frustrating—process. So it’s natural that our culture has made up quite a few tales about how to get pregnant fast and what to avoid when trying to conceive. Below, some fertility myths you should definitely take with a grain of salt, according to experts.

Myth #1: You Need to Orgasm in Order to Conceive

Orgasming is always a plus, but when it comes to conceiving, it’s not at all a must for women. What it does aid in doing is helping the uterus to contract—which can help sperm travel toward the fallopian tubes faster. But even if this doesn’t happen, your baby-making efforts won’t be for naught.

“Conception occurs when a sperm cell fertilizes an egg cell, and this process can happen without the person with the egg cell experiencing an orgasm,” explains Jenna Turocy, MD, an ob-gyn, reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist at Columbia University Fertility Center. That said, orgasms can have positive effects on fertility, she adds. “Orgasms can help with the movement of sperm through the cervix and into the uterus, which could theoretically increase the chances of conception. Additionally, sexual pleasure and emotional intimacy can enhance the overall experience of trying to conceive, but they’re not a biological requirement for fertilization to occur.” Of course, if you’re trying to conceive via sex, your male partner will need to have an orgasm, as this is what releases sperm.

Myth #2: Swallowing Semen Will Make You More Fertile

You gotta admire the creativity of whoever started this rumor. But…come on.

“This myth has been going on for a while, but it’s absolutely false,” says Katherine McKnight, MD, FACOG, an ob-gyn, reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist at CCRM Houston. “The proteins and different substances in semen have nothing to do with fertility and won’t improve fertility at all.”

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Myth #3: Breastfeeding = Birth Control

This one’s as old as the hills. It’s definitely true that breastfeeding can keep you period-free for longer and, therefore, inhibit ovulation and make them less fertile. But experts say that relying on breastfeeding as your sole form of birth control isn’t an effective route to take.

“Breastfeeding can provide a degree of contraceptive protection, but it’s not a foolproof method of birth control,” says Turocy. She explains that breastfeeding could cut back on your fertility if your period hasn’t resumed yet and baby exclusively breastfeeds on demand, eating no more than four hours apart during the day and six hours apart at night. This is most common and effective, in the first six months after giving birth—but isn’t as reliable as other contraception methods.

Myth #4: Lifting Your Legs in the Air for 20 Minutes After Having Sex Will Help You Get Pregnant

This might sound like a good idea in theory. The logic is that if you tip your pelvis, the little swimmers will find a more direct route—all it’s likely to do, though, is make your legs go numb from all the blood rushing away from your feet.

“While it may seem like a [good] idea to help sperm travel toward the cervix and uterus, the reality is quite different,” says Turocy. “Sperm are very efficient swimmers, and gravity has a minimal impact on their ability to reach the cervix and fertilize an egg. The position of your legs, or any other part of the body, after sex does not affect the chances of conception.” On the other hand, it’s not likely to hurt your chances of conceiving!

Myth #5: Drinking Alcohol Will Harm Your Fertility

Well, this one is actually rooted in some truth. While you definitely shouldn’t feel guilty about having a glass or two of wine while trying to conceive, research shows that drinking excessively could put your body through the wringer, ultimately, affecting your fertility.

“The relationship between alcohol consumption and fertility is a complex and nuanced one,” notes Turocy. “While it’s not accurate to say that drinking alcohol will automatically harm your fertility, excessive alcohol consumption can indeed have a negative impact on fertility.”

Christine Greves, MD, FACOG, an ob-gyn at the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies in Orlando, advises abstaining from drinking if you think there’s any chance you might be pregnant to play it safe. “If you’re late with your period, take a pregnancy test before considering a drink,” she says.

Myth #6: Doing It Missionary-Style Is the Only Way to Conceive

Good news: Just because you’re trying to conceive doesn’t mean you can’t switch it up when having sex. The truth is, at the end of the day, the actual position you do it in doesn’t matter much. So do whatever floats your boat.

“The chances of getting pregnant depend on various factors like timing, fertility and overall reproductive health,” says Meleen Chuang, MD, a clinical associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine and medical director of women’s health at the NYU Langone Family Health Center. “The position itself doesn’t significantly impact the chances of pregnancy.”

Myth #7: Eating Yams While Trying to Conceive Will Cause Twins

Yams first got their rep as a twin-maker after researchers started looking into why the African village of Igbo-Ora has one of the highest rates of twin births in the world. The only thing they could come up with? Apparently, the people in Igbo-Ora are crazy about their yams. One study has linked yams and fertility, but the study was the result of a Yale student’s research and has yet to be officially proven. In other words: The jury’s still out on this one!

“Yams contain a natural hormone called diosgenin, which is believed to potentially enhance fertility,” explains Chuang. “However, scientific evidence supporting this claim is limited.” She adds that it’s important to consult with a health-care professional for personalized advice.

Myth #8: Chugging Cough Syrup Will Help You Conceive

This little falsehood has been around since at least the ’80s, and we’d like to put an end to it right now. The theory behind this one has to do with one of the common ingredients found in cough syrup: guaifenesin. In a 1982 study, it was found to be a potential fertility booster for its ability to thin cervical mucus (in the same way it thins the mucus in your nasal passages), thereby allowing easier travel for sperm to get to egg. But considering that no studies have proven this to be true (and the fact that swallowing cough syrup also means you may be taking in other not-so-good things for your fertility), we say next time you hear this wacky piece of advice, just laugh it off. And stay away from the Robitussin (unless, well, you have a cough).

“Some people believe that cough syrup, particularly those containing guaifenesin, might thin cervical mucus and increase the chances of conception,” explains Chuang. “However, there isn’t enough scientific evidence to support this claim. Also, some cough syrups may contain pseudoephedrine, which can cause hypertension so please consider not using cough syrup in large amounts for this reason.”

Myth #9: Being on the Pill for Too Long Will Delay Pregnancy

We’re happy to report that this one’s not true. In fact, research shows that plenty of people get pregnant within a few months of stopping the pill.

“Birth control pills work by regulating hormones to prevent ovulation and pregnancy, but their effects are reversible once you stop taking them,” says Turocy. “After discontinuing birth control pills, most people can return to their normal fertility levels relatively quickly. In some cases, it may take a few months for your menstrual cycle and fertility to return to its regular pattern.”

Myth #10: Adopt a Baby, and You’ll Get Pregnant

This is a pretty wild claim, but for some reason it’s spread like wildfire. That’s not to say it can’t happen—but in the grand scheme of things, we think it’s safe to chalk this one up to coincidence.

“Anecdotally, I have seen it happen, but there are no studies that support the myth that adopting a baby can result in getting pregnant!” says Greves. McKnight adds that “the vast majority of couples who adopt a baby don’t end up conceiving naturally.”

You can rest assured that there are many factors that do not affect your fertility. So what does affect your chances of conceiving? Primarily, the timing of intercourse in relation to ovulation and the overall health of you and your partner, says Turocy. At the end of the day, trying to conceive is an individual journey, so it’s best to schedule a detailed conversation with a specialist about your unique chances and potential risk factors.

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

Sources

Meleen Chuang, MD, is a clinical associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine and medical director of women’s health at the NYU Langone Family Health Center. She earned her medical degree from Stony Brook University School of Medicine in Stony Brook, New York.

Christine Greves, MD, FACOG, is an ob-gyn at the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies in Orlando. She received her medical degree from the University of South Florida College of Medicine.

Katherine McKnight, MD, FACOG, is an ob-gyn, reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist at CCRM Houston. She earned her medical degree from the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

Jenna Turocy, MD, is an ob-gyn, reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist at Columbia University Fertility Center. She earned her medical degree from Georgetown University School of Medicine.

BMJ, Alcohol Consumption and Fecundability, August 2016

Plos One, Community Perceptions on Causes of High Dizygotic Twinning Rate in Igbo-Ora, South-West Nigeria: A Qualitative Study, December 2020

Yale School of Medicine, What’s in a Yam? Clues to Fertility, a Student Discovers, 1999

Fertility and Sterility, Improvement of Cervical Factor with Guaifenesin, May 1982

Contraception and Reproductive Medicine, Return of Fertility After Discontinuation of Contraception: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis, July 2018

Learn how we ensure the accuracy of our content through our editorial and medical review process.

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