Assisted conception has been around for decades, but many people don't understand what, exactly, it involves. Even worse, there are myths that have floated around for years about assisted reproductive technology — and that can make things even more challenging for couples who need help conceiving.

"It's a very small group of people that undergo assisted reproductive technology — this isn't something that the whole population needs," Dr. Jane Frederick, a board-certified reproductive endocrinologist at HRC Fertility, tells Yahoo Life. "There are a lot of myths surrounding it because not many people do it." As a result, she says, people may be more likely to assume what someone tells them about assisted conception is true because they just don't have experience with it or know the right answer. 

At a basic level, myths are confusing. But they can also be harmful and even prevent someone from seeking reproductive care when they need it. With that in mind, doctors break down some of the biggest myths about assisted conception out there, along with the real deal. 

Myth #1: IUI is done "turkey baster"-style.

Many people are at least familiar with intrauterine insemination (IUI), even if they don't know the term for it. In pop culture, it's been referred to as "turkey baster"-style insemination. It was even portrayed that way in The Switch, the 2010 Jennifer Aniston movie in which her character held an insemination party before impregnating herself with donor sperm that was harvested at the party ... and left out in her bathroom.

But doctors say that's not how an IUI is done — at least, not in a medical setting. "An IUI is not performed with a turkey baster," reproductive endocrinologist Dr. Asima Ahmad, chief medical officer and co-founder of Carrot Fertility, tells Yahoo Life. For the procedure, sperm is harvested from a woman's partner or donor and typically screened for infectious diseases, Dr. Pietro E. Bortoletto, director of reproductive surgery at Boston IVF, tells Yahoo Life. It's then placed through the cervix and into the uterus, he says. 

"That way, we're getting more sperm closer to the egg," he says. "It's going to be much more effective and safer than doing it with a turkey baster."

Still, "there are methods of doing at-home inseminations which is where the concept of the 'turkey baster' comes from," Dr. Priyanka Ghosh of Columbia University Fertility Center, tells Yahoo Life. Those methods are just much less likely to work or be hygienic compared to an IUI in a medical setting. 

Myth #2: IVF results in multiple births.

There is some precedent for this myth. "IVF historically was associated with a high rate of multiple births because of practices of transferring multiple embryos at a time," Ghosh says. "But due to a more widely adopted practice of transferring one embryo at a time, the rate of this has decreased dramatically."

Because of more advanced testing methods, "we're getting better at selecting the embryo," Frederick says. "Now, you can transfer just one embryo and not three or four," she adds. That doesn't mean someone won't get multiples with IVF — the egg can still split in the uterus and certain medications used to induce ovulation can raise the risk of twins, for example — but it's less likely than it was in the past, according to Frederick.

Overall, "the goal is to have a singleton pregnancy, because this is the healthiest option for the pregnant person and the baby," Ahmad says. 

Myth #3: IVF is the only way to get pregnant if you have infertility.

Infertility is complicated, and there are a range of treatment options that can help someone conceive if they're unsuccessful on their own. "In some cases, IVF is the only option, such as when someone has blocked fallopian tubes that cannot be repaired or if the partner has very low sperm counts that remain low despite treatment," Ahmad says. "But in many cases, one can get pregnant through other means, such as ovulation induction or intrauterine insemination."

IVF tends to be discussed the most because of the technology involved but it "is certainly not the only way of getting pregnant," Ghosh says, noting that timed intercourse and the use of sperm or donor eggs is also common. 

Myth #4: All assisted reproduction protocols are the same.

Each form of assisted reproduction has a protocol, which is the procedure used to help someone conceive. But while there tends to be a standard approach with each type of assisted conception, it's often tailored based on the individual needs of the patient. 

"Protocols for each type of treatment, whether it is IUI, IVF or another treatment modality, are customized to the desired patient and provider goals and patient characteristics," Ahmad says. "For example, someone who is young and has a high ovarian reserve may require lower dose medications and may have a protocol chosen to decrease their higher risk of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS). Whereas someone who is older and has a lower ovarian reserve may require higher dose medications and have a lower risk of OHSS." 

The protocol can also change with different attempts at conceiving to try to tweak it along the way, Ahmad says. 

Bortoletto compared protocols for IVF to the set-up for a nice dinner. "There's an appetizer, entrée and dessert," he says. "Things that really vary are how you start and how you finish. The entrée itself is the same for everyone." Protocols are "probably all more similar than different, but there are certain protocols we use for different patients."

Myth #5: Babies conceived via fertility treatments will have more health problems.

Research has linked assisted reproduction with several health issues in children, but the data is complicated and often misinterpreted. One recent study published in the European Journal of Population, for example, found that children conceived through reproductive assistance did better at school than other children but had a slightly higher risk of mental health problems by their late teens. But the researchers noted that the link was only found when the social demographics of parents were factored in — and that there was no evidence that the reproductive assistance itself raised the risk of mental health issues. 

Older research linked children conceived with reproductive assistance to a higher risk of having birth defects and poorer health outcomes but, again, it's complicated. "Much of that data comes from an earlier period in IVF when rates of multiples — twins, triplets, etc. — was quite high and [the multiple births] led to higher rates of prematurity, low birthweight and the health consequences that can result from that," Ghosh explains. "Today, it does not appear that fertility treatments themselves result in more health problems."

Myth #5: You can have IVF at any age.

There have been several celebrities who have gotten pregnant in their late 40s and even 50s, but experts stress that isn't the norm. "As you age, the chance of getting a good egg drops dramatically," Frederick says. "Anybody over the age of 40 who wants to conceive should seek out a specialist. And you do not want to come in at age 50 and decide to have a baby."

Eggs are more prone to be damaged and have genetic abnormalities as someone ages, Bortoletto explains. "If you're thinking about doing IVF, sooner is better," he says. "Above the age of 45, 46, the chances of having a baby with your own eggs are in the low single digits. If you're seeing celebrities having babies in their late 40s or early 50s, they're using eggs they froze before or someone else's eggs."

If someone wants to use her own eggs, she should undergo IVF before she hits menopause, Ahmad says. "In someone who is postmenopausal, although they cannot use their own [eggs] with IVF, in some cases if approved by the clinic, the person can use donor [eggs] and have the embryo transferred to their uterus," she says. 

Assisted reproductive technology is a complicated science and there are a lot of options within it. For those interested in it, experts say it's best to talk to a medical professional who can help answer any questions.

Wellness, parenting, body image and more: Get to know the who behind the hoo with Yahoo Life's newsletter. Sign up here.

2023-06-05T13:53:59Z dg43tfdfdgfd