Tips to Improve IVF Success Rates
There are many reasons why people turn to IVF – it can be fertility issues, a back-up plan when you are worried about your life’s progression, the need for genetic testing or because of health issues such as cancer. No matter the reason, IVF offers hope but it also can be a long, hard, emotional, stressful and isolating road. Not to mention that most people who are embarking on IVF have their own story and a unique journey and related pressures that brought them there.
I have now personally experienced five rounds of IVF and by that, I mean five egg collections… it has been a long, long road for us. This has followed the painful and tragic loss that we experienced of losing our daughter Mackenzie at 7 months old, that led us to need IVF to have more children in order to genetically healthy children. The past year has been the worst and hardest year of my life but I have learnt so much.
Some people are very lucky, they may turn to IVF after a long time of trying to conceive but as soon as they start IVF they are successful in the first round or two. In that case, *woooooo* and congratulations! If you are not so lucky, you may start to feel like life is out of your control. You may start to look into anything that can help you.
I hated that feeling of a lack of control and the uncertainty. I needed something to focus on. Something I could work on to keep my mind busy and my fears at bay. I needed to feel like I could do something positive to help us be successful, to contribute to my family’s journey.
I have now spent over nine months in my spare time researching everything about IVF that I could get my hands on. I googled different variations of ‘tips to improve IVF’, my eyes hungrily absorbing the information. On each site I often found one or two tips to add to my arsenal but struggled to find a site that contained everything in one place.
There are so many factors that may influence whether or not IVF is successful. Obviously, your success is partly dependent on the specific issues you may have that require IVF and on your fertility specialist but, from my reading, there are some things you can do that may help the process. These specifically involve improving the quality of the egg which has a significant impact on success.
Previously, Doctors believed you were born with a set number and quality of eggs that you can’t change; however, they now believe that you CAN in fact improve the quality of eggs. Brilliant news!
I’ve outlined some tips that MAY help your IVF. These tips show all that I have gathered over the last year. But please note that I am not a doctor, and I will leave it up to you to check the details on what may assist you and why. You can decide if they will work for you or if it something you want to try. You may also want to consult with your specialist, health practitioner or alternative practitioner.
The first and most important point that I’ve discovered about IVF, eggs and fertility is that the growth phase for an egg in preparation for ovulation is around 90 days. In those 90 days, positive and negative environmental factors can affect the egg. During those 90 days there are things you can do to improve your egg quality and your chances for success. So, my first and most important tip would therefore be to recommend preparing for IVF three months before you even start the injections.
There are a variety of supplements that may help to improve egg quality (and in some cases sperm quality) and in turn create better quality embryos, resulting in higher successful rates of fertilisation and implantation. These supplements are:
· Vitamin D;
· CoQ10 (good for sperm and eggs);
· Vitamin C;
· Pre-natal vitamin tablets which include folate (or a men’s multi for sperm);
· Fish oil; and
· Royal jelly tablets.
These can all be found at your local chemist or health food supplier.
There are two other tablets you can take but they need to be prescribed by your doctor – these are melatonin and DHEA.
On my fifth round of stimulation I also used Chinese herbs from a specialist. I personally believe they work; however, most fertility specialists don’t want you taking them as it is something they can’t control. So this is up to you.
Any amount of time on these supplements should technically help your egg quality, however, due to the life cycle of an egg mentioned above, the full benefits of these supplements require three months to get in to your system and improve your egg quality. This is what I wish I had known at the start, three months seems so long to wait when you are trying so the earlier you know this the better!!
Finally, you can try Human Growth Hormone (HGH). These are expensive injections that you take along with your stimulation injections. There is limited evidence of HGH working but when you have tried everything it is nice to have something new to try.
In full disclosure, I believed all the above supplements helped me however, I think the DHEA and HGH actually had a negative impact on my eggs. This isn’t a common reaction, but they don’t work for everyone. Sadly, it is trial and error; how do you know until you try it?
Increase Blood Flow
Blood flow to the uterus is particularly important when looking at transferring an embryo; however, it is also important to keep blood flowing to the uterus during your stimulation cycle in order to develop good quality eggs. Here are many ways to increase that blood flow:
First and foremost, keep moving! This will improve your blood circulation. For many people the average work day means sitting at a desk which reduces the circulation around your waist. So get up and try to move as much as you can. I recommend walking as your number one form of exercise as it is gentle, and most fertility specialists will advise you to not do high intensity exercise.
Another great exercise option is Fertility Yoga, which is yoga that helps fertility by increasing blood flow. I am no Yoga expert, but I found some good information by just googling ‘Fertility Yoga’ and followed a few good YouTube clips.
Continuing with improving your circulation - stay warm. Keep your feet warm, maybe spend some quality time on the couch with your hot water bottle and a blanket (this is particularly important around embryo transfer time).
I also did weekly acupuncture which has a HUGE range of positives but mainly, if you are trying to get pregnant, can help blood flow to the uterus.
Finally, you can do castor oil packs. This not only can help with blood flow but, apparently, it assists in detoxifying your reproductive organs. It helps to remove waste from the lymphatic system as well as promotes circulation. For a castor oil pack you soak a flannel cloth in castor oil, place it over your lower stomach (over the womb area), cover the flannel with plastic wrap or another cloth (to make the process as clean as possible) then place a hot water bottle over it. Leave it on for 30 minutes while you relax, watch television or meditate. You can re-use the cloth by just putting it in a container and pop it in the fridge. You can do this from the day your period finishes to the day you ovulate. Do not do this while you have your period.
Nourish Your Body
Everywhere we look these days we are being told that what we put in our body can influence everything. From what I have learned, the most important food you can eat for fertility is protein and you should reduce the amount of carbs. So, increase your meat, eggs, nuts and protein shakes.
I also ate bee pollen which I would put into natural Greek yoghurt, like Chobani (high in protein) as well as blueberries (high in antioxidants). I would eat this daily.
Finally, don’t forget to eat plenty of greens and a rainbow of other vegetables and keep your gut healthy with a pro-biotic or fermented food.
For months I felt like I was doing everything I could but the one thing I wasn’t focusing on was my stress levels. Fertility specialists cannot measure how badly stress impacts on fertility, but they know it doesn’t help. It may not be obvious to you that you are stressed but it’s likely that, if you are undergoing IVF, you are. So, the final but most important focus for your fertility journey needs to be relaxation. Do whatever works for you – yoga, meditation, walking, massage, reading, acupuncture, and the odd nap.
There are limited things you can do to assist transfer. Whether implantation works depends on the quality of the embryo and whether your uterus is a happy and ready environment for the embryo to snuggle into. However, there are a few things you can do.
Eat a few brazil nuts each day and chomp on some pineapple (with its core) the few days before and the few days after the transfer.
Keep yourself warm! Especially your feet and your tummy. But not with extreme heat – no saunas, spas, hot baths or hot water bottles directly on your tummy.
Have a laugh! Studies show that implantation rates increased for those who laughed while in the recovery room.
There is conflicting advice on whether to rest or do normal activities in the week or two following the transfer. What you do is up to you. From what I can tell the general advice is to rest for 30 minutes after the transfer, then do slight resting for two days, then do normal activity but not over the top and no heavy exercise or heavy lifting.
Finally, the main action you can do to help your embryo stick is acupuncture. Make sure you work with an acupuncturist that specialises in fertility. They will usually try to have an appointment with you before the transfer and after the transfer.
Some of you who know our story and our journey would be quietly wondering why you should listen to us when after 5 rounds of IVF we are not pregnant yet; however, if we were a normal couple, doing ‘normal IVF’ just aiming to get some day 3 or day 5 embryos to transfer we would have made around 30 embryos that could have turned into babies. We have been successful in ‘normal IVF’; however, our IVF needs mean we have to do genetic testing, which means our embryos have to be the best of the best grade and hatch on day 6 in order for cells to be exposed to be genetically tested. This is incredibly hard. What I have learnt and what is written here has been echoed throughout the internet, so it can all be backed up.
Love Rachael x