Whether you are already on a journey to parenthood via assisted reproductive medicine, or you are just about to start, take a look at the lifestyle changes you can make that doctors say can improve your chances of a successful outcome
As with anything in life, there are no guarantees, but knowing that you are doing everything you can to get “fertility fit”, can offer a huge sense of mental wellbeing.
It is so important to look at your lifestyle, as what you eat, drink, breathe in, how you treat your body can all affect your egg health. It makes sense to give your body the nutrients it needs as the eggs develop and look at ways to reduce any stress in your life. Alternative therapies can give your body and mind a boost too.
The life cycle of sperm, from production to maturity ranges from 42 to 76 days and so it is equally as important for men to make a plan for increasing fertility and boosting sperm health at least two to three months prior to giving sperm for IVF. In this time frame sperm is effected by everything that men eat and drink, as well as lifestyle choices.
Give up smoking, limit the alcohol and coffee
Smoking can age your eggs and lower your ability to conceive and also your IVF success rate, so if there’s ever a time to quit it’s now. The majority of clinics will not offer IVF until smoking has been stopped for at least six months. Most doctors advise couples to stay away from alcohol and to limit caffeine intake.
Watch out for toxins
Some plastics can affect fertility in men and women, even those found in tubs and cling film, so limit how much you expose yourself to toxins this way when you are trying to get pregnant. Use water bottles and other plastics that are free of Bisphenol A (BPA). BPA has been linked to failure of embryos to implant in the womb, so double check your plastic cups and water bottles just to be safe.
Being overweight or underweight can effect ovulation and for men it means they produce fewer sperm that may also be less healthy, so it makes sense to aim for your healthy body weight when you want to conceive. Talk to your doctor for advice.
Gentle, low impact exercises such as walking, yoga, tai chi and pilates can be good for you. Avoid strenuous activities such as aerobics or running as these can release stress hormones that reduce ovulation.
Lower stress with yoga and massage
It’s been claimed that stress levels of women going through fertility issues can be the same as someone with a serious medical illness and for as many as one in three women it can lead to depression. Stress hormones can stop a woman ovulating.
Yoga, reflexology or massage may help to lower stress. If you use a masseuse, make sure they are experienced with fertility massage or abdominal massage. Avoid massage once IVF has started.
Gentle yoga stretching and breathing exercises can reduce anxiety and may improve the chances of conception.
Another stress-buster that some women find effective is acupuncture. Some claim that it can regulate hormonal imbalances, increase blood flow to the uterus and lessen the negative side effects of fertility drugs, but some Western medical experts are sceptical. If you do decide to try it, check that the acupuncturist is experienced in fertility.
A balanced diet
A healthy diet can improve the health of eggs and sperm and contains a balance of proteins, carbohydrates, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals and this includes:
Fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins
Complex carbohydrates – whole grains like brown rice, oats and wholemeal bread
Oily foods such as fish, nuts and seeds
High fibre foods such as avocados, beans and quinoa
Fish and eggs (more than red meat)
What to avoid
Avoid additives, preservatives and chemicals such as artificial sweeteners
Reduce or avoid sugar, both on its own and hidden in food
Care for your teeth
It may sound far-fetched, but how you brush and floss may impact fertility. In one study, women who needed fertility treatment had higher levels of gum bleeding and inflammation than those who conceived naturally, reported the US Journal of Periodontology.
Surprising things that affect fertility also include staring at laptop or smartphone screens late at night.
Watch out for harmful cosmetics
Some chemicals used in cosmetics called phthalates can lead to embryos not implanting in the womb and reduce the success of IVF, according to the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology. Avoid brands that use dibutylphthalate (DBP), dimethylphthalate (DMP), and diethylphthalate (DEP) and scented cosmetics that use phthalates to make scents last longer. Phthalates are used in many products – from perfume, shampoo, soap, hair spray, nail polish, skin moisturisers, food packaging and plastic wrap – so it is difficult to avoid, but you can take steps to avoid it as much as possible.
Folic acid (and other vitamins in prenatal supplements) have been shown to help improve sperm count and may improve ovulation, so it’s a good idea to start taking them when you are trying to have a baby. Folic acid should be taken at least three months before IVF because it can prevent major congenital birth defects and it creates vital red blood cells.
Maca is thought to support hormone balance (good for healthier eggs) by nourishing and balancing the endocrine system.
This advice is designed to give you an idea of how you can improve your chances, but it is only a guide and anything you decide to do should be checked with your GP or fertility clinic before you go ahead.
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