TOP TIPS FOR AN IVF CYCLE
By Rachel Sherriff, Founder of The Fertility Suite
Are you about to embark on an IVF cycle, or maybe you had your first child via fertility treatment and are about to embark on a frozen embryo transfer to try for baby number two? There are lots of things you can do to help optimise your chances of success and having had my own son via IVF I know how hard it can be. Here are my top tips for optimising your chance of IVF success and surviving the two week wait!
Optimising Egg Quality
The three 3 months before your eggs are collected is a vital time, this is how long it takes them to be recruited and matured so what you do in that time will affect your hormones, general inflammation and overall egg health. If you are having a fresh treatment cycle then optimising egg quality really should be at the top of your priority list and there are lots if simple changes you can make to help.
Good nutrition is key
Clinical evidence is starting to show us that nutrition really can make a big difference to egg & sperm quality and therefore overall embryo quality. It is worth spending the time before a cycle to make sure your nutrition is on point.
Nourish your body with good foods and hydrate. Following a low sugar, high protein and fat diet is best as sugar is a key hormone disruptor and creates inflammation within the body. Naturally by increasing your protein you will be fully for longer and crave less sugar. Increase your intake of fibrous vegetables as keeling your bowels regulate is also key for hormone balance as this is one of the main ways that the body is able to detox excess hormones.
Its often not possible to get all of the vitamins and minerals we need from food especially if we want to supercharge egg quality. As a minimum taking a pre-natal supplement, omega 3 and vitamin D which are the 3 key supplements for fertility & early pregnancy, plus any medications you have been prescribed to support your pregnancy. We would also recommending working alongside a good nutritionist who will likely recommend some high dose antioxidants such as CoQ10 or Resveratrol and tailor make a supplement programme according to your clinical picture.
An essential step in ensuring a healthy pregnancy and delivering a healthy baby is to reduce your exposure to specific toxins that can harm fertility. Elimination of toxins is not a fad but a lifestyle approach for your fertility health and beyond.
One toxin that has been shown to compromise egg quality is Bisphenol A (BPA). Research shows that women with high levels of BPA during IVF treatment had fewer embryos to transfer and a reduced chance of pregnancy. High levels of BPA also increase egg abnormalities, interfere with reproductive hormones and appear to increase the risk of miscarriage.
The aim is to reduce your exposure not to avoid it entirely. The good news is that there is a lot that you can do to reduce your exposure. By taking a few simple steps, you can reduce the amount of BPA in your system quickly. It’s never too late or early to start, but ideally, you will reduce BPA exposure for 3-4 months before conceiving.
Phthalates are another example of endocrine disruptors which may impair the quality of eggs and fertility. They are often used in plastic, vinyl, cleaning products, nail varnish and fragrances.
Early human studies show the impact on sperm quality by altering hormones and causing oxidative stress. The latest research points to them effecting egg health in the same way.
Phthalates have also shown, at high levels, to affect the developing foetus negatively. Exposure to these chemicals is also linked to an increased risk of endometriosis and miscarriage.
Some ideas to reduce toxins include:
- Replace synthetic and fragranced products with natural, plastic-free versions. Include moisturisers, perfume, shampoo, conditioner and body wash.
- Choose a natural deodorant that is free from toxic metals.
- Replace pads or tampons with organic pure cotton ones or use silicone menstrual cups. Also, try washable and reusable period pants and pads.
- Choose Epsom bath salts which are natural, rather than synthetic fragranced bubble baths, and enjoy the benefits of a nice long soak, along with the magnesium, that relieves muscle tension and stress, which is important when looking to conceive.
- Avoid nail varnish and instead buff and file your nails.
- Avoid perfumes and use essential oils (check they are pregnancy safe).
Consider acupuncture in the three months prior to IVF as this can be excellent for regulating hormones, menstrual cycles and modulating your immune system which is key for fertility.
I would also recommend a session of acupuncture within the 24 hour window after your embryo/s have been transferred. Studies have concluded that acupuncture given with embryo transfer improves the rates of pregnancy and live birth among women undergoing IVF. Find an acupuncturist that specialises in fertility though as not all general practitioners will be familiar with the protocol used in the studies.
It can also be beneficial to have another session a few days after transfer as the implantation window for a 5 day blastocyst starts a few days after transfer and last for around 4/5 days.
Continue on your existing exercise program or routine, there is no evidence to show that running, swimming, cycling or anything similar can cause implantation to fail. Your embryo is well protected within the uterus and exercise can actually help keep the healthy blood flow to the pelvic cavity, which supports implantation.
Exercise which should be avoided is basically anything new or too extreme – i.e.: don’t start couch to 5k if you’ve never run before, or any competitive sports such as training for a marathon or competitive CrossFit. These intense sports tend to raise cortisol levels which is not ideal after an embryo transfer.
Continue to nourish your body with good foods, you have probably done this prior to egg collection as you have been keen to create the healthiest eggs possible however it’s important to continue looking after yourself as the same principles apply to early pregnancy.
Surviving the two week wait
Avoid the tendency to google individual symptoms or spend hours on fertility forums, you can go down a rabbit warren which leads to anxiety and undue worry. If you do read forums remember that you only have a snippet of those individuals histories and their fertility picture may be completely different to yours, therefore just because they took XYZ or did certain things and it was the ’key’ to getting pregnant….it doesn’t mean that you need to do it or that it’s right for you, follow your medical professional or complimentary health providers advice!
Do the things you enjoy. Let’s start with the obvious one. Watching the clock only makes time go slower. So arrange a date night or two, go to the cinema, go shopping, go out for dinner or binge watch Netflix. Time will pass anyway so why not fill it doing the things you love. This might be seen as distraction, which is an ok coping mechanism to use sometimes, as long as it’s not the only method you have of dealing with difficult emotions. Watching or listening to something which makes you laugh is a great way to distract and lift your mood. What’s your favourite funny film?
Which TV show or podcast makes you howl with laughter? Put them on and see what happens.
Use relaxation techniques. No, not “just relax”. But taking time out to focus on breathing deeply is a natural and easy way of relaxing and will force you to stay calm. Maybe listening to a guided relaxation to avoid your mind from wondering. Maybe yoga, visualisations or meditation.
Find support from people who get it. Your partner, a friend, someone in your family, a colleague, the online TTC community or support from a specialist. The two week wait is a particularly stressful time, emotions are heightened. Things you can normally handle without any problem, can tip you over the edge during this time. Avoid keeping your pain to yourself. Suppressing difficult emotions will only cause them to fester and lead you to feel worse. Who is that person for you?
Rachel Sherriff is a fertility acupuncturist who runs The Fertility Suite in Surrey and online platform and podcast The Fertility Method. She support’s couples who are struggling to conceive using acupuncture, reflexology, nutrition and online courses. She will help you achieve a happy, healthy pregnancy whether naturally or through fertility treatment. Having been through fertility struggle and treatment herself she wants you to feel empowered, educated and confident to take back control of your fertility.