Advice overload spreads fertility anxiety among younger women

A new study by The Lister Fertility Clinic has found that conflicting and unreliable fertility advice is causing ‘unnecessary stress’ to women in the UK, prompting leading fertility experts to urge women not to take too much notice of generalised advice

The research indicated that:

  • Nearly half (47%) of under 45s said they worry about not being able to have a baby and – more shockingly – this rose to 62% among 18-24 year olds.
  • Almost two thirds (63%) reported feeling upset, stressed or pressured by conflicting fertility advice, with 1 in 3 women saying that they found it hard to get information that they could trust.
  • Women aged 25-34 reported the highest level of pressure from family and friends to have children (52%), while older women (aged 35-44) felt less pressure from the media and celebrity culture than younger women.
  • For women who were concerned about getting pregnant, nearly half (49%) were worried that they may have a fertility problem that they didn’t know about, and in women aged 35-44 70% worried their age might affect their ability to have a baby.

Dr James Nicopoullos, Consultant Gynaecologist at The Lister Fertility Clinic, part of HCA Healthcare UK, said, “It’s understandable that women are feeling both worried and confused about their fertility. There is so much information (and also misinformation) out there which in some situations is causing unnecessary stress, but the truth is that there’s no one size fits all approach to fertility advice.”

“I would caution against oversimplified messages about how age equates to fertility, and would say that anyone who is worried – regardless of age – seeks reputable advice and considers a fertility test.”

Fertility tests are the most reliable method of measuring the quality and quantity of eggs.  Tests can check the level of a women’s ovarian reserve through a blood test and a scan, providing peace of mind and reliable information to help people make informed choices should help be needed. This could be anything from considering options such as egg freezing or IVF.

Popular fertility myths busted

The consumer research indicated widespread confusion about factors that can affect fertility. Here, Mr James Nicopoullos, Consultant Gynaecologist at The Lister Fertility Clinic, part of HCA Healthcare UK, busts some common myths.

Being on the pill for a long time could make it harder to get pregnant
James said: This is a common myth that I hear, but it’s actually false. 75% of women ovulate and cycle normally within a month of stopping the pill and 90% within 3 months. Those who don’t have regular cycles thereafter may have some underlying issue causing this (such as polycystic ovarian syndrome).

Doing regular exercise can help improve fertility
James said: There is no consistent evidence that regular exercise negatively effects fertility so I would always suggest keeping in shape is a good thing. In extreme cases, there have been instances where women have decreased their body fat stores through exercise, leading the body’s hormonal production to switch off and prevent periods, which negatively impacts on fertility.

Drinking alcohol can make it harder to get pregnant
James said: Some studies have indicated that alcohol can affect fertility so decreasing intake or stopping completely is never a bad thing. The evidence, however, at low levels  is inconsistent. National guidelines suggest no more than 1-2 units of alcohol once/twice per week.

Smoking can affect your fertility
James said: Smoking tobacco even a small amount can significantly impact on fertility and the evidence for this is much more clear-cut than with alcohol. There is evidence of a negative effect on natural fertility, an increase in miscarriage risk, ectopic pregnancy risk as well as lower chances with assisted reproduction. There is even a significant risk of earlier menopause. Some studies have also shown a correlation with number of cigarettes smoked. Just as important are the increases in risk in pregnancy of complications such as preterm labour, stillbirth and placental problems.

A positive state of mind can help improve fertility
James said: Stress is a very hard thing to quantify but my motto is “don’t be stressed about being stressed”. At extremes, it can again cause periods to cease but in most this will not be an issue. A large study in the British Medical Journal suggested that stress caused by fertility problems or other life-events did not seem to impact on the outcome of fertility treatment.

Being overweight or obese can make it harder to get pregnant
James said: Both extremes of weight can be detrimental. Those underweight may have issues with their cycles stopping affecting chances of natural conception and as body mass index rises above normal there are risks to fertility and once pregnant. Studies have shown that it may be harder to conceive naturally, as well as lower chance of success with fertility treatment. Miscarriage rate is also higher as BMI increases. Ideally we should aim for a BMI of 19-25 and strongly recommend a BMI of <30 when trying to conceive.

Wearing loose clothing can help improve fertility
James said: This is a myth. While some studies have suggested that wearing tight underwear may affect sperm production in men, the same can’t be said for women.

Pilates and yoga can improve your fertility
James said: Anecdotally, I would say that being calm, happy and in good shape could help you conceive, but whatever works for you. I think it would be false to attribute good fertility to doing yoga.

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