With infertility affecting about 1 in 6 Australian couples, it is not uncommon to know people who have used Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART), and I work with many clients who engage in the various ART options in order to have a baby. It is truly wonderful that this technology exists, allowing those unable to conceive spontaneously, the chance to create the family they long for.
What does ART involve?
ART covers a variety of technologies including; in vitro fertilisation (IVF), ovulation induction (OI), artificial insemination (AI), donor conception, introcytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), preimplantation genetic diagnosis and surrogacy. There are also other treatments available, however I most often see clients who are undergoing IVF and ICSI, and for this reason I will discuss IVF/ICSI rather than all ART in this blog.
What is IVF?
IVF is the most common ART used in Australia and involves either stimulating the woman’s menstrual cycle with hormone therapy or allowing her natural cycle to take place without hormonal intervention. At the time of ovulation mature egg/eggs are retrieved via a procedure and then sperm is added to allow for fertilisation and embryo development.
If an embryo develops and is deemed suitable for transfer, it is then transferred into the uterus for implantation. Hopefully the embryo sticks and grows into a lovely little human. If more than one embryo develops, the others are frozen and can be transferred in another cycle if pregnancy is unsuccessful.
What is ICSI?
ICSI is a technology commonly used when there is an issue with sperm, and essentially follows the same process as IVF. The difference is, following egg retrieval a single sperm is selected and injected into the egg, therefore potentially enhancing fertilisation rates.
How can you prepare for IVF or ICSI?
Preconception care should start at least 3 months prior to your first IVF/ICSI cycle
Preconception care is just as essential for couples undergoing IVF/ICSI as it is for couples trying to conceive naturally. Eggs can take 120 days to mature and sperm can take 100 days to mature. So how you look after your health during this time may affect the quality of your eggs or sperm. If you’re undergoing ICSI it is even more important to follow a preconception care program as the ‘natural selection’ of the fastest, strongest, healthiest sperm getting to the egg first does not take place.
Whether you’re going through a natural IVF/ICSI cycle or stimulated cycle, you want your health to be in tip top shape to ensure your body is prepared for pregnancy. You also need to optimise your body’s resilience to the treatment protocol, supporting a quick recovery and minimising any unwanted side effects or symptoms.
A good preconception care diet includes lots of wholefoods, lean meats, fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds. You can read more about some key preconception care nutrients here.
If you are undergoing a stimulated IVF/ICSI cycle, your eggs mature at a much faster rate and this may affect the quality of your eggs, so you need to eat lots of antioxidant rich foods to support your egg quality prior to your cycle. The best way to get lots of antioxidant rich foods is to ‘eat the rainbow’, so a variety of colourful fruit and vegetables every day. Your naturopath may also prescribe some specific antioxidant supplements to enhance your egg quality prior to your cycle.
Address any underlying health issues to optimise your IVF/ICSI outcome
If you have other health issues such as being overweight or underweight, recurrent infections, digestive issues, frequent lethargy or have a low mood, it is important to address these issues prior to commencing your IVF/ICSI cycle. These are signs your overall health needs improvement, which of course impacts on your reproductive health. If you have a chronic health condition it is also important to ensure it’s well managed prior to embarking on treatment.
You may feel anxious about waiting until your other health issues are under control before commencing your IVF/ICSI cycle or perhaps your age might mean you have limited time to conceive with IVF/ICSI. So if you can’t wait, you can still get started on improving your health during your cycles and certainly between cycles. Consulting a naturopath who understands IVF/ICSI is important so that any nutritional and/or herbal medicines you are given will not adversely interfere with your reproductive treatments given by your IVF doctor.
Identifying and rectifying any nutritional deficiencies prior to treatment
You’re planning on making a baby so it’s very important that you eating nutrient dense foods in the lead up to your treatment. Hopefully your IVF/ICSI cycle is successful and that means your tiny human needs all the good stuff to grow and develop. Your naturopath can review your current diet and health status in detail and ensure you’re taking the right supplements. It’s best not to start any new supplement without professional advice, especially if you are planning on undergoing treatment. Nutritional supplements need to be safe and appropriate for you.
Consider the emotional aspect of treatment
Trying for a baby each month in a natural cycle is an emotional affair. Add in some medical intervention and your emotional response throughout the process is heightened. Therefore, it is important to identify who will be your support network during treatment and have an outlet for sharing your feelings. Perhaps consider seeing a psychologist to support you.
Practising mindfulness meditation is an effective way to boost your mood and help you manage the ups and downs of trying for a baby. There is also some great research on mindfulness meditation specifically for boosting fertility. If you’re unsure if mindfulness meditation is for you, start with downloading an app on your phone and see how you feel.
Get physically fit
Exercising regularly will improve your physical strength and resilience. Being physically fit will allow your body to recover quicker between each IVF/ICSI cycle. However, if you have already started IVF/ICSI then begin exercising slowly and gently. Perhaps with walking, cycling, swimming etc. During your IVF/ICSI cycle you will need to rest, particularly during egg retrieval, embryo transfer and of course as you wait to find out if your embryo has implanted. Therefore having some time to improve your fitness prior to commencing treatment is ideal.
Take care of your body’s detox organs
Your liver, bowel and kidneys take a hit with each IVF/ICSI cycle, mostly as a result of the medications involved in the treatment. These organs need a little extra love, particularly in between each cycle. You can love your liver by eating lots of green leafy vegetables, broccoli, colourful fruits and vegetables.
Depending on how well you’re recovered from the treatments, your naturopath may prescribe some herbal medicine to support your detoxification pathways. However, again, make sure you’re consulting a naturopath who knows about IVF/ICSI so any herbs used will not adversely impact your treatment.
Need some help to prepare for your IVF/ICSI cycles?
If you’re about to embark on your first IVF/ICSI cycle then please feel free to give me a call to discuss how I can help you prepare and optimise your chances of a successful outcome.
If you’ve had unsuccessful IVF/ICSI cycles, don’t despair, I’m happy to have a chat to you about what you’ve done so far and how I might be able to support you before you embark on further treatment. There are some amazing herbal medicines useful in preparing for IVF/ICSI cycles and some that can be safely used during your cycles. I can be reached via phone on 03 9620 9503 or email firstname.lastname@example.org