If you and your partner have been trying to conceive without success for more than 6 to 12 months. You are probably looking for a solution that will achieve conception within the very near future. In this post we will look at ways to prepare for IVF. This includes egg and sperm quality, fertility detox, optimal weight, stress and nutrition.
Assisted reproductive technology such as in vitro fertilization or IVF could possibly help. This is a procedure where a doctor takes a mature egg from the female, fertilises it with her partner’s sperm, creates an embryo in the fertility lab and then puts the embryo back into the female.
As you are most likely aware this procedure is not always successful. However, there are things which can be done to improve your chances of achieving successful in vitro fertilization.
IVF consists of inducing ovulation, retrieving mature egg(s), fertilising the egg(s) and transfer the embryo(s) back into the uterus on day 3 or 5, when cell division has taken place and the viability of the embryo(s) have been established.
In some instances, when there is only one egg – the fertility specialist may prefer to transfer the fertilised egg immediately after fertilisation has taken place.
To achieve a successful IVF, there are important steps that can be taken before the actual IVF process begins, to optimise the chance of a successful outcome. And they are to do with natural IVF support.
This is especially important if you have had previous unsuccessful IVF attempts as hormone stimulation drugs such as Clomid can be stored in fatty tissue.
The reason for a mini detox is to give your body a ‘spring clean’. Clear your body and liver of toxins, drug residue, old cell debris etc. which build up over the years. This is a great way to begin to prepare for IVF as a cleanse will set you on the right path to healthy eating.
If your liver and other elimination systems such as your skin, lungs and kidneys are functioning well – so does your body.
It is worth noting, that ‘toxins’ don’t simply come from the ‘outside’ your body. Your cells produce waste every day, which needs to be cleared from the intracellular space and eliminated from the body.
You can compare the mini detox to taking your car for a yearly service to change the oil and filters etc.
After a mini detox, most people feel a much healthier and have a lot more energy.
Now, it is time to improve egg and sperm quality and build up your nutritional stores so your body is prepared to sustain a healthy pregnancy.
Generally, the older you and your partner are, the more nutritional support you will need. If you have poor egg quality, you will need specific nutrients to help improve the quality of the eggs and help protect their DNA. The same is true for sperm health. Preconception care should start at least 90 days before conception.
Below are a few nutrients, which are the absolute minimum you will need.
High quality fish oil – get a brand which is concentrated and low in mercury. 3000mg per day.
Preconception multi vitamin and mineral with activated B vitamins.
Make an appointment to have your thyroid function tested to make sure your thyroid is working properly. You will need to know your levels of TSH, T3 and T4 and possibly if your body is producing antibodies against your thyroid.
Even if you are on thyroid medication, your body still needs to convert it into its active form. This requires nutrients such as; tyrosine, selenium, iodine and zinc. If you are low in these nutrients, your thyroid function may not be optimal.
Nutrients, essential for good thyroid hormone health are:
Iodine (be careful toxic in high amounts)
Certain herbs such as withania, can also be very beneficial for thyroid health.
Many women who are seeking IVF have less than ideal egg quality. Egg quality deteriorates with age and life style choices as well as environmental toxic exposure.
Because a woman has carried all her eggs in her ovaries since before she was born, they have been around for a while and may need a bit of extra support.
Most women know that they release one egg in each menstrual cycle, which may or may not be fertilised and become a viable pregnancy.
However, many women may not be aware that the recruitment of that egg begins about 120 days before the ovulation. See diagram below.
This means that the quality of the egg being released each month depends on what has taken place in your body during the past 120 days. This is the time to begin to prepare for IVF as the egg can be positively by preconception care. I can also be negatively influenced by toxins, alcohol, cigarette smoke, pollution, heavy metals etc. Diet and nutritional status also directly impact on the developing egg.
The good news is, that if you are willing to spend a few months getting your internal environment and overall health in order – your egg quality will also improve. Good levels of EFA’s, CoQ10, and other antioxidants are all important for improving egg quality especially if you are 35 years and over.
Is your reproductive system ready for IVF? Fertility clinics are good at testing and they will usually pick up if there are any obvious issues.
Determining this involves getting blood and uterine tests to ensure that nothing will interfere with the IVF process.
Embryo transfer will not be a success if the uterus is not prepared to sustain life. The test results should indicate if something needs to be improved before the IVF process begins.
One factor which is sometimes picked up at the time of embryo transfer – is that the uterine lining isn’t as thick and healthy as it should be.
Good circulation and good nutritional supplementation can help ensure that the endometrial lining is able to support the implantation of the embryo.
In older women oestrogen levels have often started to decline and could be a cofactor in a thin endometrium. Fertility clinics grade the endometrial lining, if the lining is too thin, you will be less like to have successful implantation.
If you suffer from any type of inflammation or just want to improve circulation to your uterus, a castor oil packs is something your can do from home. Make sure you buy organic as castor oil is often full of pesticides. Stop using your castor oil pack a week before egg pick up.
Considering that IVF is so expensive and stressful on your body, a few months of preconception care to get your body prepared is money and time well spent.
Getting a semen analysis is standard procedure by any fertility clinic. An egg must be collected, fertilized and implanted in the uterus, but semen is needed to fertilise the egg.
A low sperm count, motility or morphology, pH issues or clumping together of sperm as well as other forms of male fertility issues can almost always be improved with preconception care.
And although procedures like ICSI, can often circumvent common sperm pathology when it comes to fertilisation, - it can’t improve the health of the sperm.
Sperm health is closely related to miscarriage rates and the health of the pregnancy and baby.
If the sperm quality is less than optimal, it will take about 3 months to prepare for IVF if you want the best possible outcome. Preconception care specifically tailored to support individual sperm parameters can often provide greatly improved results.
Nutrients which can help common sperm health issues. (Please note that other nutrients may be indicated in individual cases).
Nutrients: Essential Fatty Acids, vitamin c, Lycopene, selenium, Zinc, Vitamin D, calcium, B9 and B12
Motility (movement in a forward direction):
Nutrients: L-Carnitine, L-Arginine, CoQ10, Zinc, Alpha lipoic acid
Low sperm count: (you may need to lose weight):
Nutrients: L-carnitine, Selenium, CoQ10, Zinc.
Sometimes male fertility issues are due to hormonal imbalances, such as low testosterone, high FSH and/or LH. Other factors could be elevated heavy metals levels or previous vasectomy. Men who are overweight may be producing too much oestrogen which and also affect fertility. Hormone levels are easily tested in blood.
Eat the right foods and lose weight if you are overweight. It also helps to cut out alcohol and increase your favorite form of exercise.
Being overweight can disrupt your hormone levels and can adversely influence IVF results.
Being overweight can lead to an increased risk of miscarriage as well as other serious pregnancy complications, such as gestational diabetes and preeclampsia.
This means eating a well-balanced diet that contains plenty of lean protein, lots of vegetables, leafy greens and 1-2 pieces of fruit per day. A healthy diet involves eating a moderate portion of all food groups.
Being underweight can also disrupt hormone levels and ovulation. Some women stop menstruating when their body weight falls too low. Too much exercise can cause similar problems.
If you need to put on weight -focus on eating healthy fats such as avocado, add a dessert spoon of coconut oil to your smoothie, eat a handful of raw nuts etc.
Refrain from eating refined carbohydrates, drinking soft drinks or fried food. Although they are high in calories they are bad for your fertility and will most likely make you feel unwell. Make sure you eat 3-5 meals daily as long as they are healthy. If you have any questions, seek help from your natural health care practitioner.
Preconception healthcare can help you maintain a healthy weight.
Stress can mess with your hormones. During an IVF cycle, there is so much going on; daily injections, hormone monitoring etc. which makes it difficult to be unaffected by stress.
Both physical and psychological stress is inevitable during IVF, but it is important to minimise it as much as possible.
If you are working and constantly overloaded at work, maybe you can take a couple of weeks off, have a break and relax.
Light exercise is another way to release stress; walking, yoga, tai chi, meditation, dancing or another activity which you find enjoyable are great choices. Exercise also helps lift your mood.
A bath with a few drops of lavender oil (men should avoid hot baths)
Have a massage
Watch a good movie
Have a laugh with a friend
Go on a date with your partner
IVF is a great option for couples who have infertility problems, which can’t be solved otherwise. Many couples have achieved their dreams of having a wonderful family this way.
One thing to mindful of is, that the quality of embryo will be determined by the quality of your egg and his sperm! IVF can't improve the quality of an embryo. IVF can only help fertilise the eggs and place an embryo back into the woman's womb. Preconception can help improve egg and sperm quality during the 90 days leading up to egg retrieval.
Preparing for IVF has been shown to increase the success of conception and full-term pregnancies by almost 47%. (Foresight Research Study 2010).
Postponing your fertility treatment a few months, even if you are older (this is when you need it the most!) to ensure that you and your partner are mentally and physically ready to go through the IVF process, is worth considering, even when you think you can hear the clock ticking.
The best way to do this is to follow the guidelines for natural preconception healthcare. Begin to prepare for IVF at least 3 months before your egg retrieval, by making sure that your nutritional stores are plentiful and you are having targeted nutrients to improve egg and sperm quality. An individual prescription can be very valuable here.
If you feel that you can’t wait to do preconception care for 90 days. It is still better to get started on a support program now, than not doing anything at all.
I sincerely, hope for all couples that they succeed in their first IVF attempt. But if not – you will most likely reach the 90-day mark before your second IVF attempt, in which case, you would have had the opportunity to improve your egg and sperm quality.
Hi there, I’m Henriette Selch and the founder of Perth Natural Fertility. I believe in empowering people to make smarter, healthier choices in their lives. Over the past 15 years, I have helped hundreds of couples improve their health and fertility. Apart from being a naturopath, I spend most of my time reading, learning and developing new skills to help others. I also love traveling and spending time with friends and family.