The birth of Louise Brown in 1978 marked the first successful pregnancy achieved through in vitro fertilization (IVF). Today, IVF is one of the most common, and most effective, fertility treatment options available. At The Fertility Institute of New Orleans, we've helped thousands of couples get ready for infertility treatments and achieve their dreams of becoming parents. If you're preparing for IVF, here's what you should know about getting ready, physically and mentally.
Why would I be preparing for IVF?
If you've had issues conceiving in the past, in vitro fertilization breaks down the progress of reproduction into several stages. This can allow couples who have trouble conceiving overcome a wide range of challenges.
If you and your partner have had trouble conceiving for over a year, you may be ideal candidates for in vitro fertilization. During your initial consult, we recommend asking as many questions as you need to feel comfortable. We've listed some of the most helpful IVF questions here.
You can make lifestyle changes to increase your chances of IVF success as we'll discuss later, but the most important thing is to understand what's causing your fertility challenges in the first place. Changes to your habits won't matter if your fertility specialist isn't addressing the underlying causes of your difficulties.
Before beginning an IVF cycle, you and your partner will undergo comprehensive medical and fertility tests. These will likely include:
- Ovarian reserve testing
- Semen analysis
- Infectious disease screening
- Uterine cavity exam
- Any other examinations recommended by your doctor
The results of these tests, along with your health history, will guide your final IVF treatment approach. For example, depending on your particular needs, IVF can incorporate the use of you and your partner’s eggs and sperm, or they may include a donor egg and/or donor sperm. If the mother cannot carry the fetus to term, then a surrogate carrier may be required.
Understand the IVF process
Another crucial component of preparing for IVF is understanding how it works. IVF is usually a four-step process that involves fertilizing mature eggs in a laboratory setting, and then transferring the embryo (or embryos) into the mother’s uterus.
More specifically, here's what you can expect at each step:
· Ovarian stimulation and monitoring: Using various medications, including a follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), your fertility specialist will stimulate the ovaries to produce multiple eggs and monitor their development through ultrasound imaging and blood tests.
· Egg retrieval: Once the eggs have matured, you’ll be placed under anesthesia and sedation while your fertility team retrieves them from each follicle using an extremely fine needle.
· Fertilization: The male sperm is collected and processed, and the strongest, most viable sperm are placed into the eggs in the laboratory.
· Embryo transfer: Under ultrasound guidance, the fertilized eggs or embryos will be transferred into the uterus.
Note that your process may differ, depending on your unique health history.
Preparing for IVF: The mental preparation
Before opting for the procedure, you and your partner should have realistic expectations about your results. While IVF is one of the most successful infertility approaches, it doesn't always work. Some of the more common causes of IVF failure are discussed here.
Also, going through multiple daily injections, along with the added costs of treatment, can be stressful. It's important to have a solid, open line of communication between you and your partner before and during your IVF cycle.
Some important questions to discuss beforehand include:
- How will we handle a multiple pregnancy, if it occurs?
- How comfortable are we using donor eggs, sperm, or a surrogate, if necessary?
- What will we do with extra embryos, and will we freeze additional embryos?
- Are we emotionally prepared, in case the procedure isn’t successful?
- How will we handle the costs of IVF, as well as the additional time commitments?
- Who should we tell about our IVF journey before we have a successful pregnancy?
- How will we support each other mentally and emotionally during this stressful time?
See the links in the list for articles that discuss each of those topics in more detail.
Preparing for IVF: The physical preparation
Starting an IVF cycle involves medications and hormones to stimulate the production of multiple eggs. Depending on the state of your physical health, your fertility specialist may recommend certain exercises and diet changes to increase the chances of mature egg production. Always follow your doctor's directions exactly.
In general, though, this is what we recommend for some of the more frequently asked questions.
Can you exercise while going through IVF?
As with many things, moderation is key. Most patients are strongly advised not to take bed rest during IVF. Likewise, we generally discourage high-impact, high-cardio exercises during IVF. A study found that too much exercise can actually negatively affect outcomes in some cases.
In general, we recommend that you:
- Work within your own comfort zone
- Avoid high-impact cardiovascular exercise
- Opt out of exercise completely during certain IVF stages
- Do not exercise for more than four hours per week
- Focus on low-impact exercises that encourage stress relief
You can find even more of our exercise recommendations during IVF here.
Should I be following a diet during IVF injections?
You should avoid smoking and alcohol use during IVF. Many healthcare professionals also discourage caffeine and high-mercury foods, like certain fish.
Otherwise, we recommend that you eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. There are likely no magic foods that will increase your chances of success, but focus on lots of vegetables and lean proteins.
Your doctor may also suggest that you take prenatal vitamins to improve your egg quality. Those containing folic acid, coenzyme, iron, and omega-3s are usually the most helpful.
Always be open with your doctor about the vitamins you're taking, as well as any additional herbs and supplements. Some of these may interact harmfully with your fertility medications, so be honest and open to reduce any risks.
What else should I know?
Beyond the basics of diet and exercise, you can prepare for IVF by:
- Ensuring you get a good amount of sleep each night
- Looking for ways to reduce stress throughout the process
- Using fertility massages or yoga to encourage mindfulness
- Avoiding any other major life changes, like moves or new careers
- Planning ahead before traveling
To learn more about in vitro fertilization, or any of our advanced assisted reproduction options, contact our New Orleans fertility specialists today. Our entire team looks forward to meeting you in person and helping you realize your dreams of starting a healthy, happy family.
Originally posted Apr 28, 2014.