My clients often ask me whether there is anything they should be doing in advance of undergoing fertility treatment. Regardless of what type of treatment you’re having, whether you’re only starting to discuss it with your doctor, you’re starting your first time, or you’ve already gone through a number of cycles, it’s so important to be prepared – both physically and mentally.
Fertility treatment can have a huge emotional impact, so starting from a place of preparedness can help you to navigate the ups and downs and set you up with a better chance of success. What are my top tips?
Preparing your body for pregnancy is the same whether you’re undergoing fertility treatment or just doing it the old-fashioned way.
In this blog post, you’ll find tips and recommendations that are applicable for every journey to conception. You’ll also find more specific guidance for couples having fertility treatment further down the page, to help you prepare on an emotional level for the road ahead. Read on for all the info.
Start making changes 3 months ahead of trying
Whatever treatment type ends up being right for you, nothing the clinic does is going to improve the quality of either the egg or the sperm – that’s all down to you.
Your chance of success increases if you go into the process with eggs and sperm that are as healthy as you can make them. It takes around 3 months for a female egg to mature and for sperm cells to fully develop, so this is your window of opportunity. Allow at least that long in advance of trying to conceive to get yourself ready. This is particularly relevant for couples over 35, women with low ovarian reserve or where a semen analysis has revealed issues with sperm quality.
Change your diet to improve egg and sperm health
Growing healthy eggs and sperm needs a lot of energy and nutrients throughout the process. If you’re lucky, your GP or fertility clinic might have told you to “eat healthy” and lose some weight – not exactly prescriptive. Getting advice that is specifically tailored to your needs, based on your history, current health, and many other factors is the best way to ensure that you are including everything you need. Having healthy eggs and sperm requires more than a healthy reproductive system – your thyroid, gut, liver and immune system all need to be firing on all cylinders too. This is where working with someone that can take a more holistic view of your fertility can be invaluable.
A good set of bloods is vital
If you haven’t already, getting your bloods done is an essential part of preparing for pregnancy. The results will give an insight into what’s going on with your hormones, thyroid and nutrient status. All of that data is pure gold if you’re working with someone on your diet and lifestyle so that they can really personalise your plan.
For women, LH, FSH and oestrogen on day 3 of your cycle and progesterone on day 21 (or 7 days before your period if your cycle isn’t 28 days). For men, FSH, LH and testosterone (total and free if possible) and SHBG. Prolactin and a thyroid panel (TSH and T4 at least) are really useful for both sexes. After that, it’s important to look for nutrient deficiencies, so checking things like vitamin B12, D, iron (including ferritin) and folate levels can be a good place to start.
For women over 35, if you’ve been trying for 6-12 months with no success, it can be worth getting your AMH levels tested, which can be indicative of your ovarian reserve i.e. the amount of eggs you have left (not the quality of those eggs).
Don’t underestimate the power of lifestyle change
Smoking, too much or too little exercise, being overweight, toxin exposure and regular alcohol intake (especially in men) all have an impact on fertility and therefore can affect the chances of your treatment being successful. Any changes you can make to these factors will be positive in terms of your treatment, as well as just being good for your health in the longer term.
For women in particular, improving these things will not just support your chances of successful pregnancy, but also help to reduce your risk of miscarriage and other pregnancy complications.
Learn ways to manage stress
There’s nothing worse than someone telling you to relax or calm down, right? But hear me out. I get it - there’s no way to remove all stress from our lives but learning some techniques to reduce the impact it has on you is really important. Fertility treatment is stressful – there’s lots of waiting and wondering if it will work involved. Getting into a habit of doing something relaxing every day will be hugely beneficial once you start into your treatment – just choose something you really enjoy so that you’ll stick with it. Things like yoga, meditation, deep breathing or journaling are all great options and it only needs to be for five to ten minutes each day.
Get informed for peace of mind
Before embarking on any treatment, make sure you do your homework and learn about what’s involved. Check out multiple clinics and the types of treatment they offer so you’re sure they can fulfil your needs. Read up about the different treatment options (from a reliable source) so that you have an idea of what each one entails. Go and visit the clinic (if that’s an option) so you can get a feel for the place – you want to choose somewhere that feels right to you, not just based on what they charge or what their success rates are (although these are important considerations too).
If and when you choose a clinic, don’t be afraid to ask questions and make sure you’re getting the right treatment for you.
Look into whether your employer offers any time off for staff having fertility treatment. Is there an option to take some unpaid leave? You are going to need time off at different stages during your treatment so it’s good to know in advance what options are available to you.
Don’t be afraid to reach out for help
The clinic should have some form of counselling or support groups available to you as patients and I always recommend that you use it if you can. Speaking to a qualified counsellor or other couples going through the same as you can be an invaluable source of support. Friends and family are amazing, but they don’t always fully understand what you’re going through, both physically and emotionally. There are also external groups that you can contact to find help in your area, like the National Infertility Support and Information Group and the Irish Fertility Counsellors Association.
Be kind to yourself
After your treatment, give your body and mind time to recover – whether it’s been a success or not, having the procedure will have been hard on you. Eat well, rest and manage your stress – whether you’re pregnant or planning another cycle, your body needs a little TLC.
So what are the key takeaways?
For anyone starting on their pregnancy journey:
Give yourself 3 months to prepare;
Start with getting some good bloods done to give you a baseline to start from;
Make changes to your diet and lifestyle that will support every aspect of your health that can impact on fertility. Working with a qualified Nutritional Therapist can remove the guess work and give you confidence in the changes you are making;
Include some self-care regularly to help you manage your stress levels.
And more specifically for couples already undergoing fertility treatment:
Do your homework so you are informed about treatment options, different clinics and how you can manage the time off required;
Make use of the different support options that are available – either locally or through your clinic;
Give yourself plenty of TLC after your treatment.
Want to know more about how I can help you through each and every stage of the process? Book a free Fertility Review with me by clicking the button below and let’s chat about how we can work together.