IVF treatment articles focus on what women must do (and not do) to up their chances of successful IVF. The fact is that IVF requires an investment of time, money and energy and both partners play an important role in preparation and success. We’ve written this for couples starting their IVF journey so they can better prepare for conception and pregnancy.
Prioritize good health for at least 3 months. A healthy pregnancy starts long before conception. It takes about 3 months for spermatogenesis (the process of generating mature, functional sperm) to occur. In other words, if you’ve talked with your partner about weight loss goals or lifestyle changes, you’ve got 3-4 months before those positive changes impact your sperm quality to full effect. Start early and stick to it through the IVF cycle.
However important sperm health is, women’s prenatal health is even more important. The general advice is to start prenatal vitamins at least 3 months before trying to conceive. Think about it this way: not only will your baby’s vital organs develop first, but every system and nutrient will come from you. When you give birth, you will be giving birth to a being that not just came from you but of you–including your vitamin, nutrient and mineral stores. Carrying a baby will, quite literally, take a lot out of you. In other words, prenatal vitamins are not just important for fetal health but for your own.
Manage your stress. Stress is more than feeling. It is actually a physiological response. It impacts your health–and the longer you’re stressed, the bigger the impact. And since you won’t be able to use alcohol or cigarettes to calm your nerves, you’ll need a good arsenal of stress relief techniques to turn to. Here are a few ideas:
- Drawing/painting/coloring; DIY projects
- Fostering kittens/puppies
Creative activities are among the quickest, easiest way to relax because they get your mind off your stress and your brain working in different ways. Your brain works in the background to process and find solutions, while you have fun. When it’s over, your mood is up and you’ve figured some things out!
Eat well. Exercise moderately. Save the marathon training for after the baby. For now, shoot for a few hours of aerobic activity per week and keep the intensity light to moderate. Eating well can be a little harder to define, but here are some great principles: avoid alcohol and smoking. Eat nutrient dense food, including lots of plants, nuts, seeds, fish, eggs and avocado, and any other foods dense in essential nutrients and high in good fats. Lay off the sugar and inflammatory foods.
Take your vitamins. Preconception diet is central to a healthy, successful conception and pregnancy. When we think of vitamins for pregnancy, prenatal vitamins for women come to mind first. But men and women both should be optimizing their micronutrients through vitamin supplements. Father’s health is frequently overlooked, but sperm constitute half a baby’s genetic material. Women’s vitamin supplementation is even more critical because in addition to the nutrients required to make, grow and birth a healthy baby, mom has to have enough nutrients for her own well-being. Talk to your doctor about which supplements are best and start taking them a few months before you begin IVF.
Sleep 7+ hours per night. You’ve optimized your diet and exercise and gotten your stress under control. A good night’s sleep may just happen on its own. And by “good” we mean at least 7 hours. Americans are chronically underslept, getting by on little more than coffee and adrenaline. No matter how many years you’ve told yourself you don’t need sleep, you do. Especially now. Not only do you need to be in good physical condition, but the emotional journey of IVF takes a toll on a couple. You’ll need your rest. And once IVF is successful, you’ll both be busy growing life and preparing for the addition to your family. This will make you very tired!
A few tips:
- Establish a simple bedtime routine to make getting to bed quick, easy and enjoyable
- Get a white noise machine to help you fall asleep (and stay asleep).
- Install blackout curtains
- Start wearing a good sleep mask
Gather friends and family. IVF can be an emotional ride–challenging, thrilling, exciting, uncertain. Physical health is important, but it isn’t everything, especially when things get hard. Having people you can turn to for comfort and support is as important as following the other tips in this article.
Don’t Drink Alcohol. Research shows that alcohol can have a significant impact on pregnancy. One study showed that for men and women who drink more than four drinks per week, odds of failed fertilization are nearly 50% higher. Men who drink beer each day lower their likelihood of successful implantation, as do women who drink white wine (by 22%). Women who drink also experience lower estrogen levels and have significantly fewer eggs.
Don’t rely on caffeine. There’s evidence to suggest that caffeine leads to higher likelihood of failed IVF. Given that stress and fatigue typically lead to higher caffeine intake, we encourage stress management and more sleep over more caffeine. It’s hard to give up your daily coffee, yes. One small cup every now and then is ok, but modifying sleep habits, diet and exercise may give you a natural boost in energy and mood without the risk to pregnancy–and the afternoon slump.
Don’t exercise for weight loss. This is the one suggestion that is specifically for women. Your weight loss goals may be inspired by better health or prescribed by your doctor. Either way, we recommend that you lose weight before starting IVF. Pregnancy is an endurance race, the ultramarathon of ultramarathons. In fact, as mentioned above, you’re going to need all the extra energy and nutrients that you can get. Best not to do it on a caloric deficit. Similarly, exercise stresses the body. Stress-induced by light and moderate exercise can be beneficial. Research shows, however, that starting a new exercise regimen, especially an intense one (as is typically the case with weight loss) can get in the way of conception.
Start preparing for IVF now. And if you’ve already begun your rounds, start applying this advice to your life today. From preconception through pregnancy, these tips will help you be healthy, more likely to conceive, and have a healthy baby.