Infertility is a worry that weighs heavy on the minds of so many women. But according to Dr. Zaher Merhi, the director of research and development in IVF Technologies at New Hope Fertility Center, misinformation is often the greatest obstacle. On a recent episode of Mom Brain, the hit parenting podcast co-hosted by Hilaria Baldwin and Daphne Oz, Merhi discussed the true definition of infertility, and shared strategies she recommends to patients who are trying to get pregnant.
1. You Don’t Need to Be Having Sex Every Day
Daphne Oz: For people who don’t really understand what IVF is and what it looks like, can you explain a bit more about it?
Dr. Zaher Merhi: “Infertility is a very common thing. One in 12 couples in the United States have infertility problems. And infertility by definition is: If a couple is having unprotected sex for a year and the woman doesn’t get pregnant. If the woman is above 35 and she’s had sex for six months unprotected and doesn’t get pregnant, that’s infertility. Also, when it comes to having sex, I mean two or three times a week. Not once a month, but also not every day.”
Oz: Oh wait, that’s interesting: Why not every day?
Merhi: “The sperm lives inside the body of a woman for three days, so if a woman has sex once every three days, she should be OK. The most fertile window is one to two days before ovulation. If a woman has 28 days in her cycle, she ovulates in the middle at day 14. If she has sex on day 12 and day 13, these are the most important days. The reason why is that a day after you ovulate, your chances of getting pregnant are zero—the egg is gone.”
Oz: Is it helpful or harmful to have sex every day for the three days leading up to the day you’re ovulating?
Merhi: “It’s not helpful and it’s not harmful. I think having sex every day for a couple can cause stress. I see a lot of men telling me that it’s too much stress and they couldn’t function. We don’t want it to be a job, it’s supposed to be fun.”
2. 35 Really Is An Important Age—But It’s Not the End-All Be-All
Hilaria Baldwin: I want to ask about the magic age of 35 because I started having kids at 28. I got pregnant with my daughter at 28, I had her at 29; then I had a baby almost every year. But, at 35, I had two miscarriages. [My doctors would] say: ‘Well, you’re 35 now.’ And I said: ‘Wait a second, last year, at 34, I was so young. Now, at 35, I’m advanced maternal age.’ Why 35?
Merhi: “The reality is that women are born with a number of eggs. You do not make new eggs. Men keep producing sperm until they die. But for women, it’s like an ATM machine. Your parents give it to you, it has money, you can spend it, but you can’t put more money in the ATM machine. But the money also gets old as you get older, so some of that money will be bad. Having said that, at age 35, the number of eggs start to decline—but not only the number, the quality. And that’s why miscarriages happen. Once the quality of the egg isn’t good, it starts to make errors in the DNA. It fertilizes, goes to the uterus, sticks, but doesn’t grow properly and nature by itself wants to clean out unhealthy or babies with problems. So that’s why 35 is a magic number that people talk about.”
3. You Can Still Have a Glass of Wine When Trying to Get Pregnant
Baldwin: Should people give up drinking when trying to conceive?
Merhi: “No. Some studies show that people who did some moderate drinking actually got pregnant faster than women who said, ‘OK, I’m stopping drinking right now, I’m stopping coffee, I’m eating vegetarian, running every day.’ All of the above—if your body is not used to it, why do you need to stress it even more when none of those habits have been shown to improve outcome? Drink a glass of wine every day, have a cup (or two) of coffee every day. When you’re pregnant, that’s when you have to talk about changing things.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. For more from Dr. Zaher Merhi, listen to his recent appearance on Mom Brain with Hilaria Baldwin and Daphne Oz and subscribe now.