How much do you know about fertility?
If the answer is "not much," you're not alone. A study conducted by First Response in-home diagnostic tests found that women in the United States are largely unfamiliar with their reproductive health and held many misperceptions about conception.
We chatted with Dr. Elizabeth Yepez, an OB-GYN from Chicago, Illinois, about some of the biggest misconceptions surrounding fertility and pregnancy. Here are eight surprising facts about reproductive health that every Latina should know:
1. Fertility: Doctor
Only 36% of women are seeing their healthcare provider on an annual basis.
Dr. Elizabeth Yepez warns that many women -- especially Latinas -- fail to visit their doctor on a regular basis. Additionally, only 50% of women were having conversations with their doctor about reproductive health and fertility issues. Dr. Yepez instructs that all women should be having open conversations with their doctor about these issues.
"It's not only a woman's responsibility; it's also your physicians responsibility to ask you," she said. "It's not only something the woman who's ready to have children should be asking -- but it's something that young women should be aware of as well."
2. Fertility: Women Wellness Exam
You DON'T need a pap smear exam every year, but you DO need a Women's Wellness Exam annually.
Shocker, right? A pap smear only screens for cervical cancer, and it no longer needs to performed on an annual basis. Instead, women between the ages of 21-30 should have a pap smear screening once every three years. Women between the ages of 30-65 should have a screening every 5 years.
A Women's Wellness Exam, however, should be conducted every single year. This exam consists of three different steps. First, your doctor will perform an outer examination of the vulva and rectum to determine that there's no lesions or abnormalities. Second, the doctor will insert a speculum into your vagina to determine that everything looks okay on the inside. The doctor may take cultures to make sure there are no infections, such as common ones like a yeast infection or something like bacterial vaginosis. Next, the doctor will screen you for gonorrhea and chlamydia -- especially if you're younger than 25 and having multiple sexual relationships.
3. Fertility: Eggs
Women are born with all of the eggs that they will ever have in their lifetime.
However, a staggering 41% of women believe that their ovaries continue to produce eggs throughout their lifetime. This unfortunate misconception could affect women's fertility later in life.
"[Young women] should be aware that, regardless of what they want later on in life, that when it comes to fertility, there is a time clock on that decision. So, they should enter that with the knowledge that once you make that decision and you reach a certain point in your life, there's no turning back," she said. "Our eggs aren't aware of our professional goals and our desire to get that promotion at work and everything else."
Because there's a limited amount of eggs in our body, it's important to consider reproductive health when you're young. Only 58% of Latinas (compared to 70% of the general public) worried about their reproductive health prior to becoming pregnant. Regardless of whether or not you're ready to have children (or even want to have children), the decisions you make when you're young could affect your fertility later in life.
4. Fertility: Lifestyle
Your lifestyle choices NOW can affect your pregnancy later in life.
Bad news: Poor habits in your youth can affect your fertility later in life. One of the biggest threats to a healthy pregnancy is being overweight and not exercising.
"When women are overweight, it affects your reproductive cycle. So, our fat cells start hanging on to that extra estrogen -- estrogen and progesterone are the hormones that allow us to have a normal reproductive cycle. When there's an inbalance in the reproductive cycle, we don't ovulate regularly. When you don't ovulate regularly, your ovary isn't letting go of that egg that will then allow you to become pregnant, essentially."
Dr. Yebez advises young women to start changing their bad habits now: "Regardless of whether or not you want to have kids, what you do in your 20s is going to start affecting you in your 30s."
5. Fertility: Older Moms
Yes, the biological clock does exist.
According to Dr. Yepez, the ideal age of reproductive health is in the mid 20s. By the time a woman has reached her mid 30s, her eggs have decreased in quantity and quality. At the age of 35, a woman's chance of becoming pregnant has decreased by 50%.
Additionally, more complications can arise in older mothers. At the age of 35, a woman's chance of delivering a baby with Down Syndrome is around one in 400 pregnancies. By age 40, it's closer to one in 40. Women who are older also carry a higher risk for diabetes, hypertension, preterm delivery and conditions like preeclampsia.
Dr. Yepez stresses that this doesn't mean that women cannot have babies later in life. It simply means that older women need to plan pregnancies early and with anticipation. "A planned pregnancy means a healthy pregnancy," she said.
6. Fertility: Hispanic Women
40% of women don't know when they're ovulating.
The study found that many women are misinformed about ovulation, and fail to track their own cycles.
In fact, ovulation occurs about 14 days before a woman's period, although it may be useful for women to use a Daily Digital Ovulation Test to determine precisely the best two days of the month to conceive. "Narrowing down that period of time when you can become pregnant really helps you to kind of focus your energy when it comes time to try to become pregnant," Dr. Yepez said.
Additionally, 51% of women incorrectly believed that having sex more than once a day would increase their chances of ovulation. In reality, when timed just before ovulation, a single sexual encounter is as effective as frequent sex. In fact, frequent sex may decrease a couple's chances of success because sperm counts and semen volume both decline with frequent ejaculations.
7. Fertility: Infertility
Infertility is defined as 12 months of unprotected sex with no pregnancy.
After the age of 35, it drops to six months. At this point, women need to see an OB-GYN to discuss their fertility and pregnancy options.
8. Fertility: Plan
There are tools to help you track ovulation, your menstrual cycle, and your pregnancy.
First Response offers multiple tools to make reproductive health easier on women. Their free smartphone application, First Response Tracker, eliminates the guesswork normally associated with tracking all matters of a woman's personal reproductive health data. It features four essential tracking tools, including a personalized Period Tracker, Ovulation Tracker, Pregnancy Tracker and Due Date Calendar.
For women trying to get pregnant, First Response also offers a Daily Digital Ovulation Test, which predicts ovulation based on your unique LH hormone level. It identifies the two best days to conceive with over 99% accuracy.