Do women produce eggs every month? The MYTH most women believe about fertility

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The Government has announced that the current limit on egg freezing will be raised from 10 years to up to 55 years to put less pressure on people wanting to start a family. If you’re worried about your egg count or have a condition that increases your risk of infertility such as endometriosis or PCOS, you might be wondering what you can do to help your chances of having a baby. While fertility isn’t the most complex subject out there, most of us are pretty clueless. When primary school sex education and GCSE biology are long in the past, it’s easy to forget the ins and outs of fertility. chatted to Dr Helen O’Neill, CEO and Founder of Hertility Health to find out the one myth most women believe about fertility.

A quarter of women admit that they don’t understand how their menstrual cycle works, which is shocking considering it is something that most women experience every month without fail.

The fact that we release an egg every time we have our periods is confusing and leads women to believe that they are producing eggs every month.

However, this is a common misconception and is simply not the case.

Do women produce eggs every month?

It is estimated that we are born with between one to two million eggs (in the form of ovarian follicles).

Dr O’Neill said: “This is the total number of eggs that we will ever have, and will drop to around 500,000 by the time we reach puberty.

“Unfortunately, we can’t make more and they decline each month.”

We don’t just lose one egg a month during every period, as that would mean we only lose around 400 eggs in our lifetimes.

The fertility expert said: “There are an estimated 1,000 follicles (potential eggs) that are lost each month, and this loss increases with age.

“During a woman’s menstrual cycle there are four stages; the menstrual phase, the follicular phase, the ovulation phase and the luteal phase.

“A healthy cycle is very important to our overall health and any irregularities can really indicate if something is wrong with our hormones.

“The ovulation phase marks when an egg is released and makes its journey to the uterus whereby if on its way, it’s united with the sperm, the fertilised egg settles in the uterine lining and starts to grow into an embryo.”

Women are often pressured to have children before it’s ‘too late’ because they have a ‘ticking biological clock’, and this isn’t far from the truth.

Our egg counts start to decline from the onset of menstruation, which tends to occur around the age of 12 but normally no earlier than eight.

Dr O’Neill said: “From the onset of menstruation, we lose around 1,000 eggs per month.
“Peak fertility occurs in our late teens, continuing to our mid-20s.

“Once we hit our early-30s, fertility starts to dip – in fact, after the age of 30, a woman’s chance of falling naturally pregnant each cycle is just 20 percent.

By our forties, on average, only three percent of our eggs are left.”

It’s hard to know anything about your chances of getting pregnant without taking a fertility test, such as Hertility Health’s Hormone and Fertility test (£149). 

Everybody is different and, just like ageing, the rate of egg decline differs for everyone and may drop sooner for some than others.

One in seven heterosexual couples suffer from infertility, and while this can seem scary, knowledge really is power.

Dr O’Neill explained: “The more you know about your reproductive health, the more informed choices you can make about your own fertility future.

“There is a lot of anxiety that many people carry when they have symptoms or irregular periods, many assume they could be infertile and carry this worry. It’s far better to be proactive and to know.”

We can all be guilty of overindulging at times, but there are certain lifestyle factors that can impact a woman’s fertility more than others:

  • Smoking: This one is simple. Toxins present in cigarette smoke can potentially damage the DNA in eggs. In IVF, smoking by either partner can reduce success rates. The good news is that the minute you quit smoking, your overall health begins to improve, which can only help improve your chances of conceiving.
  • Drinking alcohol: While the harmful effects of alcohol consumption on a developing embryo are well established, less is known about the effects of alcohol on your fertility and chances of conception. Some studies investigating the effect of a woman’s alcohol intake and their likelihood to conceive have suggested that low to moderate alcohol consumption is associated with reduced fertility. However, these studies did not rule out other factors such as age, smoking and age, so it is not certain if the effects were caused by alcohol alone.
  • Caffeine: This one is a little bit hazier. Despite numerous studies, there is nothing concrete on the impact caffeine has on fertility. However, many associations recommend limiting your intake to 200mg per day.
  • Diet: It isn’t as much about ‘being overweight’ or ‘being underweight’ that can cause difficulties in conceiving, more the associated medical conditions you’re more likely to suffer from through being either overweight or underweight. Obese or clinically underweight females are at higher risk of encountering problems with their cycles, including irregular periods, or even none at all, not to mention diabetes (for those overweight) and a host of other complications.
  • Stress: A silent hold-up in your fertility plans could be stress. Although studies have failed to prove that stress alone reduces your chances of getting pregnant, a number of cohort studies over the years have indicated a correlation. Stress hormones such as cortisol disrupt signalling between the brain and the ovaries, which can prevent ovulation.

Can you slow down how quickly your egg count declines?

There is, unfortunately, no way to slow down how quickly your egg count declines, but understanding your own rate of decline allows you to make empowered decisions.

Dr O’Neill said: “At Hertility Health, we believe you should track your ovaries over your calories, as this empowers you with greater insight into your fertility and hormone health than waiting and guessing.

“Maintaining a healthy BMI, eating a balanced diet, cutting down (or stopping) smoking, alcohol and caffeine and staying on top of cervical smears are all steps to help ensure optimum health for conception.”

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