Fertility Home Remedies: True or False?

Folk wisdom. Wives’ tales. Home remedies. Too good, too easy, to be true? In most cases, yes. While these tidbits of advice may work (sometimes) for the average fertile person, when it comes to conception difficulties, those little “words of wisdom” that you often hear are usually way off the mark.

Just for fun, we polled the gang on our forum to find out what kind of “helpful” advice is running rampant these days; then we turned that advice over to some real experts, reproductive endocrinologists (REs), to get their opinion on these suggestions. The docs kindly offered up some of their own personal favorites, too.

(Specifically, we defined “home remedies” as advice which had not been given by a qualified medical professional and/or any practices typically referred to and passed on patient-to-patient without oversight or intervention of professional practitioners.)

Advice Heard By Our Forum Visitors

First prefacing that his “usual practice is to recommend scientifically proven treatments” (but that he won’t discourage alternative practices unless they are harmful), Dr. Alan Copperman of the Mt. Sinai Medical Center’s Assisted Reproductive Technologies Program responded to our visitors’ (very candid!) offerings:

Forum Visitor (FV): About a half hour before you have relations, you just gotta douche with soda water. That cleans everything out so the sperm has a clear shot to get you pregnant!

DR: Not only will this not help you get pregnant, but there is some data that douching increases the incidence of PID and subsequent tubal disease.

FV: Have a skin graft about the size of a dime transferred from your husband to you. This is from a Native American ceremony and it really works when you are of different races.

DR: No evidence at all to support this!!!

FV: A friend of mine read an article that drinking green tea increases fertility. Tried it once, but couldn’t stomach it.

DR: Many herbal remedies may have medicinal benefits. The problem is that in many cases, alternative medicine has not allowed its treatments to be subjected to the same scientific scrutiny and standardization that traditional medicine has, making evaluation of its claims impossible.

FV: I’ve heard drinking regular tea helps…

DR: “I would not recommend more than 1-2 ‘servings’ of any caffeinated beverage.”

FV: Using egg whites if you need lubrication–anything else can kill off the sperm…

DR: Saliva is probably best.

FV: No oral sex because of bacteria that kill off sperm (okay, maybe not a home remedy but good to know).

DR: There id no data supporting or refuting this claim, however it is extremely unlikely that oral bacteria are any more toxic to sperm than the usual vaginal bacteria.

FV: Avoidance of sugar and alcohol–clean living.

DR: Certainly heavy alcohol intake is bad. Sugar is probably only a real problem in diabetics.

FV: Here’s one from Ripley’s–use a turkey baster to get the sperm up there (no, never tried it, never will).

DR: This should not be necessary except in cases of severe ejaculatory dysfunction (the husband is unable to ejaculate deep inside the vagina). Even in these cases, the best bet is probably to go to a reputable reproductive endocrinologist and have the sperm appropriately washed and inseminated.

Advice From Physicians

John L. Gililland, M.D. of the Northern California Fertility Medical Center offers the following non-medical interventions to his patients:

On women’s position following relations:

“After having intercourse, it isn’t necessary to lie down more than 20 or 30 minutes to keep the semen in the vagina. After 30 minutes, sperm that are not already in the cervical mucus are very unlikely to survive.”

On frequency of intercourse:

“When attempting to conceive, have intercourse no more than every 36 hours in the days leading up to ovulation. Ejaculating more often than 36 hours may lead to a lowered sperm count and temporarily decrease a man’s fertility. Once ovulation has occurred (and progesterone production begins), the cervical mucus rapidly becomes impenetrable to sperm and thus having intercourse after that time does nothing to increase the odds of conception.”

On the use of BBT for timing intercourse:

“Basal body temperature graphs (BBT’s) are not helpful for timing of intercourse. Once the temperature rise has occurred, ovulation has already happened (probably the day before). BBT’s do give us some information about cycle length, approximate time of ovulation (though the cycle day of ovulation can vary some from cycle to cycle), and length of the luteal phase (postovulatory phase) but are not helpful prospectively.”

Dr. Alan Copperman (from Mt. Sinai Med Ctr) adds this advice:

On the use of guaifenesin (Robitussin et al.):

“While there are volumes of data that support the “throat mucus” thinning properties of cough syrups such as Robitussin, there is absolutely no good data that suggest that it has any effect on cervical mucous.”

On sexual intercourse position:

“The position in which a couple has intercourse has no effect on the chance of conception…As long as ejaculation occurs deep in the vagina.”

On frequency/timing of intercourse:

“The old school of thought about abstaining from intercourse for one week to give the couple a really good shot at conceiving is probably bad advice. This technique will most likely result in poor quality sperm being delivered, often after ovulation. Intercourse daily or every other day in the 5 days leading up to ovulation are probably ideal.”

On determining gender of offspring:

“The timing of intercourse does not determine whether the baby will be male or female, neither does the position, the presence or absence of a family history, or the phase of the moon. It is quite simply the result of whether an X or a Y bearing sperm fertilizes the egg.”

On women’s position following relations:

“A woman does not have to lie flat for 30 minutes after intercourse… Most sperm reach their target within minutes.”

On relaxation and conception:

“Relaxation does not help someone become pregnant…There is little if any data to support a relationship between state of mind and embryos sticking to the uterus. In fact, telling a woman to “relax” just makes her feel like it is her fault that she is not getting pregnant. There is also no correlation between taking vacations and becoming pregnant, and of course none between adopting and {subsequently} conceiving!”

Our thanks to Drs. Copperman and Gililland for their responses.