IVF: Preparing for Success
In vitro fertilization (IVF) is an effective and increasingly popular fertility treatment for couples who are struggling to conceive. The process of IVF is complex and involves many steps, so it is important for those
considering the procedure to understand how to best prepare for success. It can be a long and emotional journey, but with the right knowledge and guidance, the experience can be very rewarding. This procedure has helped many couples struggling with infertility achieve their dream of having a child and also same-sex couples or single individuals who wish to become pregnant.
In this blog post, we will look at the steps that couples can take to prepare for IVF and increase their chances of successful IVF outcome.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), infertility is defined by “the failure of a couple to achieve a pregnancy after 12 months or more of regular unprotected sexual intercourse.” It affects millions of people of reproductive age worldwide and for many, it has a direct impact on their wellbeing, their families and communities.
Both men and women can be equally at risk to be infertile. Often the female will have issues with ovulation and male with sperm cells and how they function. But fertility can also be affected by age, lifestyle and
health conditions. In some cases, a person may present an unexplained infertility when no cause is found.
A woman is born with a limited number of eggs and, with time, that number gradually decreases with age, from as early as 32 years old and it becomes more significant at 40. The risks of miscarriages also increases with age due to the increase in chromosomal abnormalities (abnormal karyotype) in the eggs.
Other possible causes of infertility in women are:
- Abnormalities of the ovaries, uterus, fallopian tubes, and the endocrine system
- Hormonal imbalances including thyroid irregularities, diabetes type 1 and early menopause
- PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome)
- Irregular menses or absent menses (amenorrhea), uterine fibroids, tubal disease, endometriosis
- Prior gynaecologic surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and pelvic infection
Infertility in men may be caused by:
- Obstruction of the reproductive tract due to injuries or infections of the genital tract, causing dysfunctionalities in the ejection of semen.
- Hormonal disorders leading to abnormalities in hormones produced by the pituitary gland, hypothalamus and testicles.
- Testicular failure to produce sperm caused by varicoceles or chemotherapy.
- Abnormal sperm function and quality.
Poor lifestyle choices such as smoking, excessive alcohol intake, high levels of stress or being under/overweight may cause a temporally infertility due to the effects of these factors on the gametes (egg and sperm) optimum health.
What is IVF?
In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) is a form of assisted reproductive technology in which sperm and eggs are combined in a laboratory to create an embryo. The embryo is then transferred to the woman’s uterus to allow for a successful pregnancy. Unlike the simpler process of artificial insemination in which sperm is placed in the uterus and conception happens normally, IVF utilizes eggs, sperm or embryos from the
parents-to-be or anonymous donor.
IVF is typically used when natural fecundation or other methods of assisted reproductive technology have failed, or when there are genetic problems or issues with the quality of the sperm or egg. Your chances of
having a healthy baby using IVF will depend on different factors, such as age, lifestyle and infertility causes.
The success depends on a combination of medicines and mild surgical procedures to assist the process of fertilization and the implant of the fertilized egg in your uterus. It is a complex procedure that requires
careful preparation, both emotionally and physically, and it can be time-consuming, expensive and invasive.
So, it is important for you to learn about the procedure and understand its risks and potential complications before embarking on an IVF journey.
The process involves 6 main stages according to NHS.uk:
Step 1: Suppressing your natural cycle – your menstrual cycle is suppressed with specific medications to regulate the cycle and facilitate the beginning of the procedure. It can take up to 2 weeks and starts from
the day one of your period.
Step 2: Helping your ovaries produce extra eggs – fertility hormone called follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) is used to encourage your ovaries to increase the production of egg at one time so more eggs can
be collected and fertilised. This stage can take anywhere from 3 to 12 days.
Step 3: Monitoring your progress – a vaginal ultrasound scan is carried out to monitor your ovaries and check the development of the eggs. During this process, you will receive a hormone injection called human
chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG) which is used to help mature the egg. You should then return at exactly 36 hours after the injection so your eggs can be havested.
Step 4: Collecting the eggs – a needle is inserted through your vagina and into your ovaries to remove the eggs under a ultrasound guidance while you are sedated. They are then taken to the lab to be fertilized with
the sperm already donated by your partner or the donor. This is a minor procedure that takes about 15 to 20 minutes.
Stage 5: Fertilising the eggs – the eggs are mixed with the sperm for up to 6 days to allow them to be fertilised. In the meantime, you will start taking a hormone called progesterone which is responsible for the
preparation of your womb for a healthy pregnancy. This is usually given either as a pessary placed inside your vagina, an injection, or a gel.
Stage 6: Transferring the embryo(s) – 1 or 2 fertilised eggs are placed into your womb via a thin tube (catheter) inserted into your vagina. You won’t usually be sedated for it.
A pregnancy test at home can be taken two weeks after transferring the embryos into your womb to see if it the treatment was successful. Some clinics may require you to have a blood test for a more accurate result.
Any remaining embryos are then frozen if further treatments are required, or you wish to have another baby. All going well, you will be offered the normal antenatal care given to all pregnant women.
What are the risks?
In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a highly effective form of fertility treatment, but as with any medical procedure, there are risks and side effects to consider before undergoing the procedure. The most common side effects include ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), multiple births, higher risk of ectopic pregnancy, and risk of infection.
Other potential risks and side effects may include depression and anxiety, premature delivery, and birth defects. Some possible side effects are described as bloating, cramping, breast tenderness, mood swings, headaches, bruising from shots, allergic reaction to medicines and bleeding. If the procedure is unsuccessful, you may be able to try again but make sure you take all the necessary steps to support your body on the recovery.
How do I prepare my body for IVF?
Preparing for an IVF cycle should begin 3-4 months before the first treatment. During this period, you should focus on creating a healthy lifestyle, both physically and mentally. Eating a nutritious diet, getting
regular exercise and getting adequate sleep can help to improve your overall health and fertility, as well as reduce stress.
It is also important to make sure that any underlying medical conditions are managed properly before beginning IVF. You should consult your doctor to discuss any medications or supplements you may need prior to beginning your IVF cycle.
Prior to beginning the IVF process, it is important to be as healthy and physically fit as possible. Regular exercise can help to increase your fertility by improving blood flow to the uterus and ovaries, reduce stress
and fatigue, and improve the chances of a successful outcome. Most exercises are fine to continue as long as you work within your own comfort zone and avoid high impact cardiovascular exercises as it may
interfere on your normal menstrual cycle.
Instead, aim for low-impact exercises such as yoga, swimming and walking as they can help to reduce stress, regulate hormones, and improve sleep. If you have been doing weight training, it is recommended that you reduce the weights to a maintenance level and do not exercise for more than four hours per
In some cases, it is best that you stop exercising all together during some stages of the IVF, for up to 10 weeks and particularly during the week of egg retrieval, to avoid reducing the blood flow to your ovaries
Eating a balanced diet rich in proteins, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants is important for IVF preparation for both, you and your partner. Since diet also affects sperm health, encourage your partner to
stick to the plan with you. Foods that are particularly beneficial include fruits, vegetables, leafy greens, whole grains such as quinoa, farro and whole grain pasta, lean meats, fish and healthy fats such as avocado,
extra-virgin olive oil, nuts and seeds.
Is important to avoid processed and refined foods, for example, red meat, sugar and refined grains. Reduce salt intake and give preference for flavours from herbs and spices instead. Be sure to drink plenty of
water throughout the day to stay hydrated. Eating healthy and mindfully will help keep your body nourished and energized throughout the IVF process.
Remember – you are not alone on this journey! It is essential to take care of your mental health while preparing for IVF. Stress can negatively impact fertility, so it is important to make time for relaxation activities such as yoga, meditation, and listening to music. Additionally, it is important to talk openly and honestly with your partner and/or with a counsellor about your feelings and fears associated with the IVF process.
Alternative therapies such as acupuncture, massage and hypnotherapy, have shown to support the overall mental health and many other symptoms that may occur during the treatment. Although evidences of
the efficacy of these therapies are still unknown, it is clear that they can support your body and mind when come to managing stress and pain.
To ensure a successful treatment, avoid smoking, drinking alcohol and caffeine, and taking drugs that are not prescribed by your doctor. By taking the necessary steps to prepare for IVF, you can increase your
chances of success and ensure that the entire process goes as smoothly as possible.
It is important to talk to your doctor and/or a health professional specialised in IVF before starting any exercise or diet program as they will be the best to guide you on the right approach.
Written By Aline: Female fitness expert at MotivatePT – Reps Level 3 Qualified / Pre & Post Natal