Updated: Aug 3
If you are due to start IVF, it’s important not to rush into it and spend time preparing properly. It takes around 3 months for a new egg and new sperm to develop, so that's 3 months where you can really make a difference to the quality of your egg and sperm.
I’m not here to tell you that you need to cut out this and cut out that, and stop living and doing the things you love! It’s really about taking a holistic approach and ensuring that you are investing in your health overall and getting the support you need.
So what have I been doing to prepare?
Left my job!
Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting you pack up your stationary and desk plants and leave your job, but I am encouraging you to reduce your stress levels, rest when you need to, and seek happiness, whatever that may be. Ideally, you should be in the best possible place for when you start IVF. For me, that meant leaving a job that was grinding me to dust, saying goodbye to toxic people, and finding more of a work-life balance.
Enhanced my diet.
Standard ‘just eat healthy’ advice can be very vague and often misleading. Does it mean counting calories? Reducing fat in your diet? Cutting out gluten, soya, dairy, sugar? There’s so much you can do to optimise your diet for fertility and IVF, to improve egg and sperm quality, or your chance of ovulation and implantation, that are really effective and can fit into your current diet and lifestyle (and it involves none of the above - unless you've been told to for medical reasons).
Include oily fish (salmon, trout, sardines etc) at least once a week.
Add an extra portion of vegetables to your meal (the more colour on your plate, the better).
Add nuts/seeds to anything and everything. Porridge? Add walnuts. Stir fry? What about sesame seeds. Curry? chuck in some cashews. Poached egg on toast? Sprinkle some pumpkin seeds.
Replace half of the meat in your meals with lentils, beans or chickpeas. This works well in stews, casseroles, curries and burritos, for example. It's easy to do, cheaper and you're still getting protein but with a side of fibre and other vitamins and minerals.
Include more whole grains in your diet or simply make that switch from white carbs to brown.
Continued to take my daily supplements.
Take a prenatal supplement. This can be different for everyone, so it’s best to get professional advice as everyone has unique needs. A supplement with folic acid/folate and iodine is a good place to start. A daily 10 microgram supplement of Vitamin D is also the recommendation for everyone (living in the UK), however some people may need more than this (I’d really recommend getting your levels checked). If you aren’t eating oily fish, then omega-3 supplement may also be required.
Continued to move more and sit less.
Exercise has been linked with improved fertility, increasing oxygen rich blood flow to where it's needed most! It’s about finding something that fits in with your current lifestyle, as that way it just becomes part of your everyday routine. Now that I work remotely, I walk to Starbucks instead of driving, or I work from the gym lounge so I’m already here and can workout and go home. You could go for a walk on your lunch break or if you are making a short journey, then walk there instead of taking the car. Find a hobby such as yoga or swimming. Exercise doesn’t have to be a chore and its best to refrain from doing anything too strenuous.
Monitored my caffeine and alcohol intake
I still drink coffee as I just love a morning latte every now and again, but it is best to not go over 200mg of caffeine a day, which is about 2 coffees or 3 teas. I’ll either have a coffee in the morning and a tea later on in the day, or 2 teas throughout the day.
Regarding alcohol, the advice is to abstain from alcohol if you think you could become pregnant. The evidence is inconclusive, however, it is clear that some level of alcohol can negatively impact fertility. This looks different for everyone, which I discuss with my clients, however, my overall advice would be to cut down and follow the general government advice of consuming no more than 14 units spread across the week. For context, a large glass of wine has around 3.3, and a pint of lager has between 2 and 3, depending on the strength. If you feel that you can cut back further, then even better.
As we know, dehydration affects our general health, but it can also negatively impact fertility too. Drinking plenty of water – around two litres (though this includes other liquids in your diet) is always recommended. It lubricates all tissues and organs, ensures your cells are functioning properly (including egg and sperm cells), facilitates the delivery of hormones throughout the body, improves sperm quality and volume of semen, and research has also shown a link between hydration rate of cervical mucus and its ability to allow sperm to penetrate through it. If water is not your thing, then sugar free cordials, herbal teas etc all count, however if you are a heavy fizzy drinker, it is recommended to really cut back on these.
Reduced chemical exposure
You can go crazy, but the evidence between BPA, phthalates, pesticides etc and reproductive health is strong, and becoming more difficult to just ignore.
The main ways I have done this is:
1. Storing my food in glass containers instead of plastic
2. Drinking from steel drink water bottles instead of plastic water bottles
3. Thoroughly washing my fruit and vegetables before consumption (if you can afford to, then go organic, but washing is also effective)
4. Trying to reduce how often I eat from pre-packaged foods
I'm looking forward to sharing even more tips on how to improve fertility in my upcoming course The Egg and Sperm Race. Registration will be open soon, but in the mean time you can subscribe to get all of the updates.