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Dossier: Planning a family

Trying for a baby: myths and facts

If you’re trying for a baby, you’re sure to receive a lot of well-meant advice, some of which will be contradictory. How do you find the information you need? What’s true and what isn't? We’ve taken a closer look at some common pregnancy myths.

Fact or myth? “Caffeine prevents egg cells from implanting.”

Unfortunately it’s bad news for coffee lovers: drinking more than one cup of coffee (approximately 200 mg) a day halves your chance of falling pregnant.

Studies show that the risk of a miscarriage doubles if a mother drinks more than 200 mg of caffeine a day. The rate of miscarriage rose from 12.5% for women who drank no caffeine to 25.5% for women who drank more than one cup of coffee.


Fact or myth? “Taking cough syrup increases your chances of falling pregnant.”

This may sound like an old wives’ tale, but it can actually help, because expectorant cough syrup loosens the cervical mucus and makes it receptive to sperm.

Cervical mucus is the vaginal discharge and an important factor in getting pregnant. Most of the time it prevents germs and also sperm from entering the uterus, but it changes consistency and takes on a different role during ovulation. The discharge becomes fluid and clear, allowing sperm to pass. It now resembles raw egg white and is stretchy. It also protects sperm against the acidic vaginal environment.


Fact or myth? “You shouldn’t go to the toilet after having sex.”

To prevent urinary tract infections, many women go to the toilet directly after having sex. You can still do this if you’re trying to fall pregnant.

Even if fluid comes out of the vagina, there’s no reason to worry. It’s mainly protein and vitamins. Just 1% of the semen is made up of sperm. Immediately after ejaculation, some three-quarters of the sperm is released from the semen and goes directly to the cervix. Before you get up to go to the toilet, the sperm will already have arrived. Anything that leaves your body now wouldn’t have made it to its destination anyway.

For this reason, softcups (containers that are actually used for periods) don’t help either. There are often discussions in online forums about using these cups so you don’t lose sperm. But that’s nonsense.


Fact or myth? “You can’t get pregnant during your period.”

You're not likely to get pregnant during your period, but it is possible. It depends how long your period lasts and the moment ovulation occurs in the cycle. A cycle starts on the first day of your period and ends on the first day of the following period.

In a standard cycle, it is not possible to get pregnant during your period, because a period typically lasts 5 days and ovulation takes place on the 14th day of a cycle. A women therefore bleeds from the first to the fifth day of her cycle. However, she can only fall pregnant from the ninth day. Why? You can conceive on six days: five days before ovulation and on the day of ovulation itself. So, if ovulation takes place on the 14th day of the cycle and you include the five days before ovulation, you get to the 9th day. Here’s the sum: 14 (day of ovulation) – 5 (days before ovulation) = 9 (start of fertility window).

However, the body doesn’t tend to stick to theoretical guidelines, and 70% of women do not have a standard menstrual cycle. Let’s assume that a woman ovulated on the 10th day of her cycle and her period lasts 6 days. In this case it's theoretically possible for her to fall pregnant during her period: her fertile window starts on the 5th day and her period lasts until the 6th day. The maths: 10 (day of ovulation) – 5 (days before ovulation) = 5 (start of fertility window).

This scenario is not very likely to occur. According to a US study, only 30% of women have a fertile window during their period. What’s more, the probability of falling pregnant on the first day of the fertility window is less than 5%. So, all things considered:


Fact or myth? “Certain positions or doing a headstand can aid fertilisation.”

Gravity doesn’t play a role in fertilisation. This means that from a medical perspective there are no positions that increase your chances of pregnancy. However, some studies have shown that men who engage in longer foreplay have more sperm in their semen than men who engage in brief foreplay. In other words, pleasure is more important than the position.

Some fertility experts recommend doing a handstand or headstand after sexual intercourse. But this is a lot of nonsense. Gravity doesn’t play a role in fertilisation, nor does fertile sperm fall out of the vagina (see above).

However, some people claim that being upside down has a positive impact on the endocrine system, i.e. your hormones. Although the effect is not scientifically proven, if you’d like to give it a go, you only have to put your legs up against a wall.


Fact or myth? “Lubricant is harmful to sperm.”

You might think that lubricant is similar to cervical mucus and therefore helps if you want to fall pregnant, but the opposite is in fact true. Some lubricants have a high acid content, which kills sperm. What’s more, the lubricant’s thick consistency makes it hard for sperm to move. This applies to both commercially available lubricants and homemade solutions such as coconut oil or saliva.

Anyone who uses a lubricant for comfort should opt for a fertility-friendly lubricant. But don’t be misled by the name: fertility-friendly lubricants don’t increase fertility – they’re simply harmless to sperm.


Fact or myth? “Good pregnancy tests can tell if you’re pregnant four days after ovulation.”

You should wait at least eight days after ovulation to take a pregnancy test. And for really reliable results, it’s better to wait at least 12 days after ovulation.

The reason for this is that a pregnancy can’t be determined until the fertilised egg has implanted in the uterus, which happens eight to ten days after ovulation. It’s only after implantation that the embryo starts to produce the pregnancy hormone hCG, and this is what pregnancy tests use to produce a result. It often even takes a few days before the hormone levels are high enough to register.