As we become more comfortable using the internet, more and more of us go online for advice, including medical advice. Last March (2013), a group of researchers at the Yale University School of Medicine turned the tides of the online flow of information. They used the internet to find out what American women of reproductive age think they know about making babies. Seems there are many things we just don’t know.

Dr. Jessica Illuzzi was a part of the team making that online query. She’s an Obstetrician and Gynecologist at the University hospital. She and her colleagues recruited 1,000 women, aged 18 to 40 years, to share their thoughts on conception and fertility. The survey focused on attitudes, knowledge, and practices associated with reproduction. The women represented a racial, ethnic, and socio-economic cross-section of the United States population for the target demographic.

Some findings the research team reports in the medical journal, Fertility & Sterility, include:

  • 75 percent get information of reproductive health from women’s healthcare providers.
  • 40 percent identify the internet as #1 go-to source for such information.
  • Younger women - 18 to 24 years old - demonstrated less overall knowledge of conception, fertility and ovulation.
  • Older women were more prone to believe in myth and misconception.
  • Regardless of age, about 40 percent were concerned about their own ability to conceive.
  • Even so, one-third of them did not know that irregular periods, obesity, smoking, and history of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) hinder conception; a history of chlamydia and/or gonorrhea infection can be especially damaging to a woman’s fertility.
  • 20 percent did not know that older women are at increased risk of miscarriage and giving birth to children with chromosomal abnormalities that include Down syndrome.
  • 40 percent did not know how the menstrual / ovulation cycle works.
  • About half did not know to begin folic acid supplements at least a month before trying to conceive (TTC), in order to provide the best protection against a baby’s risk of neural tube defects such as spina bifida.
  • The single factor most women associate with infertility is stress (although, according to Ulluzzi, “the literature doesn’t really support stress as a risk factor).
  • The number of women seeking professional assistance with specific fertility-related issues is “sparse.”

The research team suggests any woman of reproductive age who has questions about her own reproductive health should discuss these concerns with a licensed healthcare professional first.

Source: Illuzzi, Jessica, MD, MS, et al. “Knowledge, attitudes, and practices regarding conception and fertility: a population-based survey among reproductive-age United States women (abstract).” Fertility and Sterility. Elsevier Inc. Jan 30, 2014. Web. Feb 4, 2014.