"This study, on one hand, brings to the forefront gaps in women's knowledge about their reproductive health, and on the other, highlights women's concerns that are often not discussed with health providers," Dr. Jessica Illuzzi, an associate professor at the Yale School of Medicine, said in a statement.
Illuzzi is the senior author of a study based on an online survey conducted last March of 1,000 women ages 18 to 40 representing all ethnic and geographic regions of the U.S. census. The survey included questions to assess knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, and practices regarding conception, pregnancy, and basic reproductive health-related concepts.
The study, published in Fertility & Sterility, found 30 percent visited their reproductive health provider less than once a year or never, yet 40 percent of the reproductive-age women surveyed expressed concern about their ability to conceive.
Half of the women were unaware that multivitamins with folic acid are recommended to reproductive-age women to prevent birth defects, while more than 25 percent were unaware of the adverse implications of sexually transmitted infections, obesity, smoking, or irregular menses on fertility.
Only 10 percent of women were aware sexual intercourse needed to occur before ovulation, rather than after, to optimize conception, the study said.
One-of-five were unaware of the adverse effects of aging on reproductive success, including increased miscarriage rates, chromosomal abnormalities and increased length of time to achieve conception.
For example, even though women today are healthier and taking better care of themselves than ever before, improved health in later life does not offset the natural age-related decline in fertility.
The American Society for Reproductive Medicine said it is important for women to understand fertility declines as a woman ages due to the normal age-related decrease in the number of eggs that remain in her ovaries.
A woman's best reproductive years are in her 20s. Fertility gradually declines in the 30s, particularly after age 35. Each month that she tries, a healthy, fertile 30-year-old woman has a 20 percent chance of getting pregnant. For every 100 fertile 30-year-old women trying to get pregnant during one month, 20 will be successful and the other 80 will have to try again, the ASRM said.
However, by age 40, a woman's chance is less than 5 percent per cycle, so fewer than 5-out-of-every 100 women are expected to be successful each month.
"We found that 40 percent of women in the survey believed that their ovaries continue to produce new eggs during reproductive years," study co-author Lubna Pal, an associate professor at Yale, said. "This misperception is of particular concern, especially so in a society where women are increasingly delaying pregnancy."