How to Prepare for an IVF cycle
5 Tips to Improve Your Chance of Success
Commencing IVF is big journey that can stretch couples financially, physically, emotionally, and often comes after the stress of several years of attempting to conceive naturally. If you are investigating IVF or commencing on a cycle, here are my top 5 ways to enhance the process and optimise your chance of success.
One of the most important steps you can take is to prepare both partners adequately. This is often referred to as preconception care and is akin to preparing the soil before you plant the seed. Ideally this process involves 90 days of physical (and some emotional, too!) preparation for your IVF cycle.
Three months is the approximate length of the cycle of both sperm development and egg maturation. During this time eggs and sperm are influenced by what you eat and drink, supplements and herbs you take, what you are exposed to in your environment, the amount of sleep you get, your stress levels, your abdominal circulation, your levels of inflammation and your hormone balance and your overall health and wellbeing. Put simply, your nutrition, lifestyle and health today will impact the health of the egg or sperm released 3 months from now!
90 days is also (generally) sufficient time to influence other factors that contribute to fertility. This preparation period aims to balance hormones, increase abdominal circulation, moderate the nervous system to minimise the influence of stress and tension, as well as enhancing the quality of both eggs and sperm. A plan to influence these factors is based on individual health and is involves looking at diet, lifestyle, toxin exposure, supplements, herbs and acupuncture
Optimising your health and fertility prior to conception will increase your chance of a successful cycle, reduce the chance of miscarriage, and may even help to reduce incidence of asthma, allergies and other health issues in your child. Given how invasive and expensive IVF cycles can be, spending 3 months preparing yourself to ensure your best chance of conceiving and a healthy pregnancy is a worthwhile investment. For a more detailed look at the benefits of preconception care, you can check out my website.
2. Manage Stress
If you have been trying to conceive for a while you will be aware that stress is a major barrier to fertility. Our current culture and lifestyle emphasise a very busy and masculine way of existing in the world. Our lives are filled to the brim, we tend to feel guilt for taking time to chill out (how many times when you stop do you start thinking “I really should be…”?), we push ourselves to soldier on through tiredness and illness & often even take pride in it.
Add in to this mix high pressure jobs, caffeine, complex family arrangements, and then IVF to top it all off…this accumulation of both physiological and psychological stress has a profound effect on our overall health and on hormone balance. This lifestyle is contrary to what we need to make space physically and emotionally to welcome a baby. While I would encourage you to think about whether you can minimise some of the external stressors in your life, there will still be many you can’t eliminate, so trying to manage your response and giving your body and mind time to decompress is important. Some ideas on how to do this include:
- Taking time out for yourself each day to do something with the sole purpose of your own pleasure and relaxation. A walk on the beach, catching up with a friend, having a massage. Whether large or small ensuring you take time out each day will reduce your stress levels.
- Regular Meditation practice or guided relaxations. Websites like Be Fertile have guided meditations specifically for different stages of IVF. Most benefit is gained when done regularly, aim for at least 5 times per week.
- Journalling – writing out your experiences can be a powerful way to integrate aspects of your journey that you are finding challenging. Others find writing out what they are grateful for each day can help them to see the positives even in the most stressful of times.
- Seeing a counsellor or psychologist. There are psychologists and counsellors that specialise in reproductive health and fertility, and can help you to manage some of the emotions and challenges that can up on an IVF journey.
- Yoga, walking or gentle to moderate excercise 3 to 4 times per week can help to alleviate stress and keep you fit and healthy.
- Regular acupuncture helps to moderate stress hormones and engage the parasympathetic nervous system
Throughout your fertility journey it is really important to get at least 8 hours sleep per night. This is important for hormone regulation and egg and sperm quality.
Sleep is essential for a well functioning endocrine system, a variety of hormones are regulated as we sleep and are influenced by the duration and quality of our sleep. The hormone Melatonin is produced and released at night by the pituitary and is best known for regulating our sleep-wake cycle. However, it’s also a hormone that acts as an ovarian antioxidant, protecting and improving the quality of follicles, as well as playing a role in both embryonic and fetal development 1. Sleep is just as important for men, as testosterone is released at night, and reduced sleep has been linked to poor sperm quality and erectile dysfunction 2.
If you are having trouble sleeping, addressing this prior to commencing IVF is an important step to improve your fertility. Ensuring you get to bed by 10pm is therefore an important part of optimising your fertility and preparing for an IVF cycle. Addressing any sleep issues like sleep apnea, can also increase fertility.
Continuing to have sex with your partner can play an important role in your journey to have a baby, even if this is not how you will conceive. Sex is important for all couples, both same-sex and heterosexual and whether you are trying to conceive naturally or with IVF as it helps to improve circulation to the reproductive organs, decrease stress hormones, and continue a feeling of connection.
For heterosexual couples, there are some additional benefits. Regular exposure to semen is thought to modify the immune system so that a woman’s body is more receptive to pregnancy, and around the time of embryo transfer appears to aid embryo implantation and development 3. In addition regular sex (or, more accurately, regular ejaculation) also helps reduce DNA fragmentation rates in sperm leading to a significant increase in sperm quality 4 to aid in conception rates, reduce chromosomal problems in any embryos and reduce miscarriage rates.
The benefits of regular sex for conceiving are numerous and fascinating, you can see a full post on this topic here.
Acupuncture is one of the most powerful tools you can use to increase your chances of a successful IVF cycle. A significant amount of research is focused on acupuncture around the time of embryo transfer, and this has shown to increase live pregnancy rates 5. However, the most benefit is seen when acupuncture is used regularly in the lead up as part of preconception care, where egg and sperm quality can be influenced and hormones can be regulated, and we can improve blood circulation and enhance the circulation of oxygen and nutrients to the reproductive organs. Preliminary research indicates that this has a more even more substantial impact on pregnancy and live birth rates when used in combination with IVF, than when acupuncture is used with embryo transfer alone 6.
Acupuncture can influence many important processes involved in fertility. It is amazing because it can have a direct influence on so many different aspects involved in fertility including increasing abdominal circulation, improving in egg and sperm quality, improve uterine health and endometrial lining, regulate hormones, reducing inflammation, improving blood quality, soothe the nervous system and regulate the immune system.
This is by no means a definitive list of how you can optimise your odds of a successful IVF cycle. This is a big topic, an individualised plan to improve your health and fertility will give you the best chance of having a successful IVF cycle. These are a few basics that are applicable to enhancing an IVF cycle most people. If you would like more information, I run workshops on how to Get Your Body Baby Ready, and can help you formulate an individual plan to enhance your preparation for IVF and maximise your chances of conception.
1 The Role of Melatonin in Fetal Development. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4316124/
2 Decreased Pituitary-Gonadal Secretion in Men with Obstructive Sleep Apnea. https://academic.oup.com/jcem/article-lookup/doi/10.1210/jcem.87.7.8663
3 The effect of intercourse on pregnancy rates during assisted human reproduction. https://academic.oup.com/humrep/article/15/12/2653/2915864/The-effect-of-intercourse-on-pregnancy-rates
4 Daily Sex Helps Reduce Sperm DNA Damage And Improve Fertility, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090630075311.htm
5 Effects of acupuncture on rates of pregnancy and live birth among women undergoing in vitro fertilisation: systematic review and meta-analysis, http://www.bmj.com/content/336/7643/545
6 Impact of whole systems traditional Chinese medicine on in-vitro fertilization outcomes, http://www.rbmojournal.com/article/S1472-6483(15)00092-9/abstract)