Support - Top tips for improving fertility
- IVF Information Events
- Top tips for improving fertility
- Bulletin Board
- Dear Doctor
- Counselling service
Eating a healthy and balanced diet is crucial for both of you, when preparing to conceive. Remember… You are what you eat! You should ensure you are eating at least five servings of fruit and vegetables per day and preferably 8-10 servings for vitamins, minerals, trace elements and antioxidants. Eat foods from each of the five food groups:
- Proteins (chicken, oily fish & dried beans)
- Grains (Bread, cereals, rice, pasta etc)
- Dairy Foods which contain calcium (Milk, cheese & Yogurt)
Ensure you avoid foods high in fat and sugar such as cakes and biscuits.
Vitamins & Minerals
Taking vitamins and minerals will help boost your fertility and will definitely improve the health of your pregnancy. You can benefit from these essentials vitamins:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
In addition to a healthy and balanced diet you may wish to take a multi vitamin and mineral supplement especially designed for pre pregnancy, known as prenatal vitamins. As a general rule most prenatal supplements contain a greater amount of folic acid, iron and calcium so simply taking an ordinary multi vitamin will not suffice when trying to conceive. There is good evidence that a healthy diet together with appropriate vitamins will improve outcome and additionally reduce the risk of miscarriage by as much as 50%.
You should also take a folic acid supplement, starting at least a month before beginning your treatment cycle. Folic acid is essential for normal cell division, especially during early pregnancy. It also protects against certain developmental abnormalities such as spina bifida. The dosage of folic acid taken should be 400mcg or 0.4mg daily and you should ensure that the supplement you use does not contain vitamin A or fish liver oil. Folic acid can be found in the following foods:
- Leafy green vegetables
- Fortified breads and breakfast cereals
- Hard boiled eggs
- Orange Juice
Several studies have shown the beneficial effects of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants on sperm quality. We would therefore recommend that men start taking the following supplements 3 months before starting treatment:
- Vitamin E 400 IU
- Vitamin C 100 mg
- Selenium 26 ugm
- Zinc 25 mg
- Lycopene 6 mg
- Folate 0.5mg
- Garlic 1000 mg
Exercise & Weight
Being overweight or underweight can reduce the chances of conceiving. Women who are underweight often have problems with ovulation. Women who are overweight or obese tend to have more fat in their bodies, this fat can actually increase the amount of Estrogen inside the body. Obesity in men also has a detrimental effect on sperm motility and erectile function.
Exercise is an integral part of any healthy lifestyle and will of course help you with any weight issues. When exercise is pursued in healthy moderation, it can actually help to increase fertility. Exercising 30 minutes a day, three to four days a week, can help you on your way to pregnancy.
Alcohol disrupts the hormonal balance of the female reproductive system, leading to menstrual irregularities and even anovulatory cycles (menstrual cycles where ovulation fails to occur). These changes can drastically decrease a woman's chance of becoming pregnant and thus affect fertility.
Excessive alcohol intake is also detrimental to sperm quality. Men who continue to consume alcohol on a regular basis, can decrease their sperm count and even affect sperm quality, both of which are important factors in achieving fertility. We would recommend where to possible both partners cut down on alcohol or preferably stop completely during treatment and pregnancy.
You should try and cut back on caffeine where possible. Research suggests that high caffeine intake can affect both male and female fertility, so it's best for both partners to keep track of how much coffee, tea, cola and chocolate you consume before and during treatment. As a general rule men and women should limit their caffeine consumption to about 2 cups of tea or coffee per day. In addition to the potential impact on fertility, caffeine can impair your body's absorbtion of iron and calcium. It has also been linked to an increased risk of miscarriage.
Cigarette smoke contains many toxic substances that impact on both male and female fertility. Men who smoke have been shown to have abnormalities in sperm production. Both sperm quality and quantity are affected.
For women, smoking causes hormonal changes that can lead to menstrual irregularities and even anovulation (menstrual cycles where ovulation fails to occur). Women who smoke ten or more cigarettes per day are three times more likely to experience difficulty conceiving than non-smokers. There is clear evidence that smoking reduces the chance of success in an IVF cycle by about a third, therefore couples trying to conceive should quit smoking immediately.
Managing your stress
Going through fertility treatment definitely falls under the heading of ‘a stressful experience’ you are both likely to feel a range of emotions before, during and after treatment. There will be highs and lows, as well as the stress of the actual treatment programme itself, whilst juggling all the other things that are going on in your lives; jobs, home, social life and the rest.
Whilst we cannot completely remove the stress of going through fertility treatment there are some things we advise to try to help reduce your stress levels:
- Talk to each other, remember you aren't going through this alone.
- Use CARE's counselling service A professional and confidential counselling service is available to all CARE patients before, during and after treatment.
- Do not work for more than ten hours a day.
- Take regular breaks during the day and allow at least half an hour for meals.
- Do some exercise two or three times per week.
- Use relaxation techniques once a day (e.g. meditation or relaxation tapes etc).
- Set aside some time each day to be by yourself listen to music, have a relaxing bath or just take time out.
- Do not set or accept deadlines that you cannot keep, most things can actually wait until tomorrow.
- Get sufficient sleep each night. Do something to relax you before going to bed and avoid drinking tea and coffee during the evening.
- Eat a healthy balanced diet and reduce your caffeine intake.
- Have a complete break away from everything at least once a year if possible.
- Do something fun at least once a week.
When trying to conceive, it's best to avoid taking any drugs, prescribed or otherwise. Some medicines can decrease fertility, so tell your GP or specialist that you are trying for a baby if you need a prescribed medicine. If you are on long term medication, your GP may be able to prescribe an alternative if the original drug is known to have an affect on fertility. If you are unsure about any medication you have been prescribed or have bought over the counter, please do not hesitate to consult a member of the medical/nursing staff at CARE.
Complementary therapies are not necessarily a cure for infertility but they can help encourage conception by bringing the body back into balance. They also help relieve the stresses and strains of treatment and day to day life.
Acupuncture can be used to help prepare the body for conception and pregnancy and also to support fertility treatment. A research study published in the British Medical Journal (February 2008) concluded that ‘Acupuncture given with embryo transfer improves rates of pregnancy and live birth among women undergoing IVF’. Male infertility accounts for 40% of infertility cases. A normal sperm count today is half the quantity and quality that it was 20 years ago. Healthy sperm production is affected by hormones, fevers and infections, prescribed drugs and lifestyle.
Acupuncture can support a man in much the same way as a female can be treated, helping him reach his potential for fatherhood.
Preparing for IVF, some real life experiences
“As a woman who had never struggled to conceive I had a very naïve view of IVF you only hear about success stories in the media or from friends so the reality took a while to get my head around.
Dr. Patel was very straight about DH's sperm issue and told us we needed to improve the quality as much as possible and the increase of anti-oxidants was crucial. This was coupled with seeing a BBC program which used anti-oxidant rich fruit smoothies with men who had been identified as having male factor fertility issues and their experiment saw incredible results i.e. pregnant wives!!
We both started taking daily vitamins with added anti-oxidants and my hubby who is not a natural fruit eater had a berry based smoothie every night. We both had acupuncture, me 6 months in advance and through IVF cycle and DH did 3 months before treatment. Pretty much gave up alcohol and greatly reduced intake of tea and coffees.
When we had our 2nd ‘fresh’ cycle we immediately felt things were more positive as my DH results showed over a 40% improvement considering how many sperm tests he had with zero change we were and still are convinced these little changes made all the difference and then for both embryo's to take and have 2 healthy little boys was the cherry on top.
Emotional prep having a couple close to us share their ups and downs gave us an insight into the ‘roller coaster’ ride of IVF. I felt it was important that we sat down and agreed on how much we were prepared to spend and roughly outline how many attempts we felt was fair. I don't know if we would have stuck to our original plan but I feel it gave us as a couple a plan that we were both happy with I think when you are in treatment you are so focused on having a baby and when it fails you are devastated more than you can anticipate and the drive to have a baby can be all consuming. You can lose focus on the rest of your life and possibly forget what you already have in your life.” Janine & Nicholas
“Before treatment I did a very low calorie diet, I am overweight and felt that it couldn't do any harm and it also provided all the essential nutrients and vitamins I needed, so I was potentially more balanced than my usual diet.
I also changed jobs, I'd been working in a high pressure job with very long hours, so had little time to relax. I changed to a 9am 5.30pm role, so I knew I'd have more 'me' time and that if the treatment was succesful, I'd be more relaxed.
My husband I went abroad just before treatment started and had a very relaxing break.
I treated myself to lots of pampering, things I enjoyed and that helped me chill out. I got some lovely Clarins oils and lots of girlie books. My friend also gave me a step-by-step book of IVF, which I read a chapter of daily on the run up. I felt this knowledge helped put me at ease, knowing what to expect and I also utilised the CARE forum. Being able to chat with people experiencing the same thing was great.
I had a routine every night, when I did my injections I recorded a tv series that was on daily and I did my injection in my bedroom, then I would lie down and watch my programme and just have a little chill. It really made the process easier and also, helped any ‘icky’ feelings pass, as I was lying down just watching tv.
I took pregnacare prior to and throughout treatment. I also really wanted to start aromatherapy but no-one in my area specialised in fertility treatments so opted not to ultimately.” Joanne
”Preparing for IVF for the first time is a bit like going into an unknown country with no idea of what to pack and what you will find there. IVF is a journey that challenges every aspect of your life and engages every fibre of your being. We ended up going through more than one cycle and each one became easier to prepare for. Here's my 2-cents from our own experiences on how you can prepare:
In every way you can with the sole objective of dumping anything in your life that causes negative stress. This is one time in your life that you and your partner need to be ruthless and focus on just you and your journey. Emotionally and physically, IVF is a battle and you cannot afford to cope with other stressful situations at the same time.
This includes friends and family who tend to dominate you with their problems, major events such as moving house, getting on top of issues at work. Chilling out means physically too. Before IVF, exercise is brilliant for relieving stress and making you feel good. Infertility can affect your self-esteem and cardiovascular exercise can really help by giving you a boost in oxygen and energy. Exercise keeps you fit and you need to be fit for IVF. If you can't afford to go to a gym walking and gentle jogging are great alternatives.
To get into a deeper state of chill-out, if you can afford it, professional relaxation treatments are helpful. I had regular Reflexology and back massages during which I completely switched off for an hour and I slept so well on those nights. If you can't afford these treatments, you can buy good IVF Hypnotherapy CD's for under £20 and you can allocation yourself half an hour, a few times a week, to listen to your CD in a quiet room.
Chilling-out helps you manage the anxieties that can really dominate your life. If you do not control them, thoughts such as ‘how will I handle the injections?’ ‘will it work?’ ‘when will I start’ ‘how will I cope with failure?’.
Have realistic expectations of when you will reach your dream of becoming a parent. Each IVF cycle has a chance of working and sadly a chance of not. Help yourself by seeing this as a journey rather than achieving pregnancy in your first cycle. If you do achieve your dream in the first couple of cycles then that's a great bonus. Start planning in the next year rather than months, this really helped us manage the disappointment of a failed cycle and to start mobilising ourselves to try again as soon as possible.
It's vital for women and men to really ‘clean up their act’ when preparing for IVF. The right food for energy and cell division is essential and really contributes to success. It's never too early to prepare for this. I changed my diet to include lots of fresh fruit, vegetables, milk and low fat low GI foods. Three months before my first cycle I lost some weight to get well within my ideal BMI index and I felt better for that. The impending cycle really gave me something to aim for. I also knew that if the cycle failed and the drugs made me put weight on, I would be more relaxed about the weight gain afterwards.
During a cycle, two litres of water a day is recommended so I started increasing my water intake a few months before to get used to it. The extra water and vitamins from healthy eating make a visible difference to your skin and general well being, I can't recommend it enough.
I took a pre-natal supplement to ensure I got enough Folic Acid, iron etc. If you don't use a pre-natal formula, ensure Vitamin A is not included since it's not recommended for pregnancy. I also took Q-10 to help with blood flow and a fish oil supplement, both of which I stopped taking after egg collection to prevent any adverse toxic effects on the embryos.
Whilst I didn't stop drinking alcohol completely until a month before each cycle, I radically cut down to 4 units a week or 4 glasses of wine, usually with a meal. Alcohol dehydrates you and forces your body to spend energy in flushing out the toxins I just didn't feel it mixes with the other things I was doing positively to prepare for IVF.
Now is the time for treats. Rewarding yourself for adopting a healthier lifestyle and facing the anxiety of IVF really helps. Treats can be a weekend away and as cheap as a new nail polish and a home pedicure.”
Fertility Assessment at CARE
Even if you are not currently trying for a baby you may be wondering, or have concerns about your fertility health. There are various screening tests that can be done to evaluate fertility for both women and men. At CARE Fertility we offer a Fertility Assessment to look at some of these key issues. Fertility Assessments are available at all CARE Fertility clinics.
Contact CARE Fertility
Contact CARE Manchester on 0161 246 3066
Contact CARE Northampton on 01604 608788
How to arrange a referral to CARE Fertility