The makers of a new cervical cap say it can head off some fertility issues. But does it really work?
When you're trying to conceive, you want to be pregnant like now. So when it doesn't happen in the first few months, you may start to get anxious. Although it can take healthy couples up to a year to make a baby, the makers of a new fertility aid called the Conception Kit say it can help things along, and increase your chances if you're having minor fertility problems.
Helping sperm get to where they need to go
The FDA-approved kit costs $360, but is covered by some insurance plans. It comes with a three-month supply of ovulation and pregnancy tests—but the key component is the Conception Cap. You fill the cap with your partner's semen (obtained during sex in a condom-like semen collector) and place it over your cervix. This saves the sperm from having to swim up through your vagina. "Doing so ensures that the maximum amount of sperm are protected and are best positioned to achieve conception," Michael La Vean, founder and president of Conceivex, the company that makes the Conception Kit, tells Fit Pregnancy. "This is achieved by holding a concentrated pool of semen in direct contact with the cervical mucus, where the sperm start to swim to the uterus in search of the egg."
Cervical caps are nothing new, but back in the day your doctor had to insert them. This kit is available by prescription, so you still have to make a trip to your doctor—but it can be used in the privacy of your own home. The kit's makers say that during FDA testing, 24 percent of the women using it became pregnant in the first month, just over the 20 percent chance a healthy 30-year-old has of getting prego naturally per month.
Boosting the odds for some infertile couples
La Vean says the kit is a first-line treatment for couples who have a low sperm count or motility, a hostile vaginal environment, or who don't want to pursue fertility treatments. "This method could have some advantages when a mildly low sperm count is the culprit, which occurs in about 15 to 20 percent of cases," Clara Ward, MD, an OB/GYN with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth and Children's Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston, tells Fit Pregnancy. "If that's the only reason for infertility, the Conception Cap is a good alternative to IUI [intra-uterine insemination] or IVF. However, couples with infertility will ultimately need a workup to determine the cause." In the case of a hostile vaginal environment, she says the cap would help—but it's best to treat the underlying problem, usually an infection.
Fertility patients with sperm issues typically first try an IUI, in which a doctor inserts the sperm directly into the uterus, skipping the vagina and cervix. "There are very few studies that compare [the cervical cap] to insemination, but one such study showed that insemination was three times more effective than the cervical cap," Ward says. Although IUIs are invasive and more expensive than the cap, she says the success rates and time saved might justify the additional cost.
Less evidence of benefit for fertile couples
For a couple without fertility problems, Ward is skeptical the cap can do much to increase the chances of pregnancy. "Fertile couples will not need any help conceiving, and the old-fashioned way should suffice," she says. The kit's ovulation predictors can help time sex correctly, she says, but "if you are having intercourse every two to three days your chances of conceiving are likely similar" with or without the cap. Unfortunately, there's just not much scientific research to compare the two methods. "There are older studies, however, none of them to my knowledge are conducted in a rigorous manner to control for variables that may affect the results," Ward says.
So, should you try the Conception Kit? It can't hurt, but if you've been trying for over a year (or six months if you're over 35), you should see a fertility specialist to figure out why you're not getting pregnant.