Let’s chat In Vitro Fertilization (IVF).
It’s been coming up in my practice a lot more lately, with more and more women asking questions and wanting to learn more about when IVF is used, what the process is, and how to prepare their bodies for it.
So, let’s dig in!
In an ideal world, an egg and sperm are fertilized inside a woman’s body. If the fertilized egg attaches to the lining of the womb and continues to grow, a baby is born about 9 months later. This process is called natural or unassisted conception.
When natural conception doesn’t occur, for whatever reason, In Vitro Fertilization is an option that can be used. In Vitro Fertilization is an assisted reproductive technology (ART) technique commonly referred to as IVF. It is the process of fertilization by manually combining an egg and sperm in a laboratory dish, and then transferring the embryo to the uterus.
IVF is used as a treatment when unexplained infertility is involved. IVF is generally used after a less invasive method has been tried (like intrauterine insemination). IVF is sometimes offered as a primary treatment for infertility in women over age 40, as well as in the following cases:
Fallopian tube damage or blockage makes it difficult for an egg to be fertilized or for an embryo to travel to the uterus.
If ovulation is infrequent or absent, fewer eggs are available for fertilization.
Premature ovarian failure. Premature ovarian failure is the loss of normal ovarian function before age 40. If your ovaries fail, they don’t produce normal amounts of the hormone estrogen or have eggs to release regularly.
Endometriosis occurs when the uterine tissue implants and grows outside of the uterus – often affecting the function of the ovaries, uterus and fallopian tubes.
Fibroids are benign tumors in the wall of the uterus and are common in women in their 30s and 40s. Fibroids can interfere with implantation of the fertilized egg.
Your partner’s semen analysis, one of the first steps in the medical assessment of infertility, may show below-average sperm concentration, weak movement (motility) of sperm, or abnormalities in sperm size and shape (morphology). IVF can overcome some of these problems because preparing sperm for the procedure helps separate highly motile, normal sperm from those of lower quality.
For more information on what factors affect male fertility, check out this blog post.
If you or your partner is at risk of passing on a genetic disorder to your child, you may be candidates for preimplantation genetic diagnosis – a procedure that involves IVF. After the eggs are harvested and fertilized, they’re screened for certain genetic problems, although not all genetic problems can be found. Embryos that don’t contain identified problems can be transferred to the uterus.
If you’re about to start cancer treatment – such as radiation or chemotherapy – that could harm your fertility, IVF for fertility preservation may be an option. Women can have eggs harvested from their ovaries and frozen in an unfertilized state for later use, or the eggs can be fertilized and frozen as embryos for future use.
The In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) process can seem overwhelming, but I’ve broken it down into 5 easy to digest steps that will help you understand what’s involved:
Fertility medications are given to stimulate egg production. Not all eggs that are retrieved will develop or fertilize after retrieval, so the more the merrier! An ultrasound (transvaginal) is used to examine the ovaries to ensure that they are in tip top shape, and blood tests are taken to check hormone levels.
Your eggs are retrieved through a minor surgical procedure – called follicular aspiration – that uses ultrasound imaging to guide a hollow needle through your pelvic cavity to remove the eggs. This procedure is relatively painless, as you are given medication to ease any potential discomfort.
Your partner, or male donor, produces a sample of sperm male that is “washed” and cleaned in preparation of meeting your eggs.
This is where the magic happens! In a process called insemination, the sperm and eggs are mixed together and stored in a laboratory to encourage fertilization. Your eggs and sperm are closely monitored to confirm that fertilization and cell division are taking place. Once fertilized, the eggs are considered embryos.
The embryos are transferred into your uterus between three and five days following egg retrieval and fertilization. A catheter or small tube is inserted into your uterus to transfer the embryos. This procedure is generally pain-free, although in similar fashion to a pap smear, some mild cramping can occur. If the procedure is successful, implantation typically occurs around six to ten days following embryo transfer.
As with any form of Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART), success rates for IVF can vary depending on your circumstances. However, according to the Society of Assisted Reproductive Technologies (SART), the approximate chance of giving birth to a live baby after IVF is as follows:
Under 35 years old: 41 – 43% chance of live birth
Between 35 – 37 years old: 33 – 36% chance of live birth
Between 38 – 40 years old: 23 – 27% chance of live birth
Over 40 years old: 13 – 18% chance of live birth
Your chances of conceiving with IVF can definitely be increased by looking closely at your diet, lifestyle, environment, stress levels, nutrients, etc.
We know that the cycle of an egg in preparation for ovulation is around 90-120 days. During this period, before an egg reaches full maturation, the eggs are changing and preparing for ovulation – and are hugely affected by both healthy or unhealthy influences. The changes you make today will have a huge impact on preparing your next cycle of eggs, and will help prepare them for fertilization!
By consciously preparing for your IVF, you are able to support your hormonal and reproductive system, nourish your body, have nutrients available during the crucial early stages of fetal development and have the tools to handle any stress that may come your way during this journey. Once retrieval has taken place, focusing on a healthy uterus is pertinent to make sure the egg implants successfully.
So, what changes should you be making? Let’s dig a little deeper …
What you don’t eat is equally as important and what you do eat when it comes to preparing your body for IVF.
Here are a few things that you should eliminate from your diet: refined grains and gluten; pasteurized, non-organic dairy; refined sugar and sweeteners; soy; industrial vegetable oils, hydrogenated oils, and fried foods; genetically modified foods; and synthetic additives, colorings, and flavoring.
Yes, that’s a big list.
Want to know WHY you should be avoiding all of these things?
Well, the obvious reason – because they are terrible for you.
The not so obvious reason? Because they wreak havoc on the delicate balance of your hormonal system AND they can mimic natural hormones (like estrogen), which just confuses your body. The foods on this list are also highly inflammatory, which can harm egg and sperm quality, cellular health, brain health, reproductive organs, and overall health.
Want to know what you should be including in your diet?
Just eat real food! Target 50-60% of calories from healthy fats (this is easy and tastes good), 20% from high quality protein, and 20% from carbohydrates (most in the form of starchy vegetables). Every meal and snack should include a high-quality protein, a healthy fat, and vegetables.
Here’s an idea of what should be included in your diet every day: wild- caught fish and seafood, grass-fed and grass-finished meats, healthy fats and oils, an assortment of colorful vegetables, fruit, carbohydrates in the form of starchy vegetables and properly prepared legumes, coconut, fermented foods, and bone broth.
While diet and nutrition are a HUGE part of preparing your body for IVF, your lifestyle is important, too.
First, if you haven’t already, eliminating alcohol and smoking is an immediate necessity.
Next up? STRESS. It’s basically impossible to just stop stressing in your day to day life, but how you manage your daily stressors is absolutely in your control. Nurture your body, mind and spirit to reduce stress.
Sleep is another lifestyle factor that most people can improve upon. In a perfect world, I’d recommend a solid 8-10 hours of restorative sleep. While this isn’t always possible, ensuring that you get quality sleep is very important. Sleeping in a pitch black room (no LED lights from electronics, get yourself some blackout shades and an eye mask!), will give your body that necessary downtime that it needs to heal and prepare for the next day.
Something else that will help with sleep and stress? EXERCISE! So vitally important, daily exercise helps to mitigate stress (and can even make you a happier person!), and working out some of that pent up energy will help you get a restful slumber at night. Move your body every day! Make sure you get outside daily to take a walk, bike ride, go to a yoga class, or go for an easy hike.
Preparing your body for IVF shouldn’t be a scary process! Read more about how I help women get pregnant (naturally or through assisted reproductive technology!), or schedule an Initial Fertility Assessment to work with me directly.
And check out these blog posts, too:
In an ideal world, an egg and sperm are fertilized inside a woman’s body, but when natural conception doesn’t occur – for whatever reason – In Vitro Fertilization is an option that can be used! IVF is the process of fertilization by manually combining an egg and sperm in a laboratory dish, and then transferring the embryo to the uterus.
The cycle of an egg in preparation for ovulation is around 90-120 days. During this period, before an egg reaches full maturation, the eggs are changing and preparing for ovulation – and are hugely affected by both healthy or unhealthy influences.
Diet and lifestyle tweaks that you make today will have a huge impact on preparing your next cycle of eggs, and will help prepare them for fertilization!