“What else should I be doing?”
This is the #1 question that women ask us when they are doing IVF.
Even if you’ve already made plenty of positive changes for your health and wellbeing, all of a sudden there seems to be pressure when the IVF cycle begins. Many women will urgently wonder whether there’s more that they could be doing to increase their chances of success.
Here’s the kind of advice that we give to women when they ask us “What else should I be doing to help my chances of IVF success”…
Yes. You’ve heard it before.
Oh great, yep I think I’ll just do that – why didn’t I think of this before? (*Waves magic wand and instantly achieves inner peace*).
While it’s true to the point of cliche, it is also very helpful, very beneficial, very useful and very advisable to actively reduce stress and diligently work towards promoting and experiencing relaxation.
The big question is – How?
You can break this down into two main areas: the sources of stress that you can control, and then everything that’s left over.
What can you control?
Can you change your work structure, cut down on extra activities, take up enjoyable hobbies, get a cleaner, streamline your grocery shopping, make peace with your sister-in-law…
What can you do that will ease your daily burden or free up emotional energy?
Take the time to make those changes. Some changes are easy, some are hard. Some are quick, some take time.
Do a “stress audit” on your life, change what you can and keep your expectations really reasonable. Don’t pressure yourself, and above all be kind to yourself.
What’s left over?
For the rest of it – for things you can’t change, for worry or overwhelm, for niggling doubts – then you work on your mindset.
This is where you use “non-logical” processes. You “relax anyway”.
Despite the stresses or difficulties that are going on, you simply make a commitment to actively practice relaxation.
Do it daily and consider it a vitamin for the mind.
You can listen to sample meditations on your app store and download the ones that you like. There are fertility-specific meditations like Be Fertile or Circle+Bloom. Some women love these, while others prefer progressive relaxation, Yoga Nidra or guided visualisation.
There are no rules – just choose what soothes you and practice it daily. You may like to have a variety to listen to, so your mind stays interested and engaged.
Is guided meditation “cheating”? No! It’s being kind to yourself! You get the benefits of meditation without having to use a lot of effort or struggle. Is it valid? Yes! And it’s really helpful. Try it today!
Everything works better when you are getting refreshing sleep, and enough of it.
Do you sleep restfully for eight to nine hours every night, waking up feeling refreshed, and have enough energy for the next day?
If your sleep isn’t sound, if you’re getting to sleep after 10pm or if you’re waking up sluggish then this is definitely an area where some focussed attention will pay off.
If you’re not getting good solid sleep then trying to improve other areas just feels like micromanaging. Get your sleep sorted, then so many things fall into place – including your state of mind. You can then address what’s left over.
Get outside every morning in the fresh air and move your body.
It feels great, and “science” is constantly discovering how many positive health benefits come from daily morning exercise.
A 30-minute walk is fine; you don’t need to enrol in a gruelling bootcamp. Or you can swim, cycle, do some yoga on the balcony… Just remember to have some wet weather options so you can keep a regular routine.
Alongside sleep, movement is one of the big things to put in place. This habit tends to solve a lot of niggling issues when it becomes a daily ritual.
Anxiety and overwhelm tend to reduce with regular exercise, and mood tends to lift and lighten.
4. Real food
Don’t overcomplicate this. Easier said than done with all the “experts” around, granted.
Here are the basic recommendations that come out of all the large scale studies that look at diet and its relationship with all kinds of health issues, from cancer and diabetes to cardiovascular disease and fertility.
What makes you fertile also makes you healthier and live longer.
It’s probably worth repeating that, because it’s so simple that we tend to overlook it, trying to find a high-tech answer to things.
What makes you more fertile, also makes you healthier, and also makes you live longer.
And the opposite is true, because these are very large-scale, population-based observations.
What makes you live longer, also makes you healthier, and also makes you more fertile.
Chinese medicine has recognised this connection for thousands of years, and it’s exciting to see large-scale studies finding the same relationship.
- Eat plants. Lots and lots of plants. Green leaves, brightly coloured veggies, in-season fruit, a rainbow of colours, nuts, seeds, berries, roots and tubers, veggies that are actually fruit, stems, leaves, raw veggies, cooked veggies, crunchy plants, juicy plants, beans and legumes, whole grains and herbs and spices. Google vegan recipes and have fun.
- Go organic. We have local markets on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. You can order a big box of organic produce from The Fruitful Boxes and have it delivered. Or you can select what you want from the Organic Food Network for home delivery. Honest to Goodness is a great source of organic dried and packaged foods including bulk nuts and seeds. The less you expose your body to agricultural chemicals the better, but don’t stress to get this 100% right. Just start replacing what you can. Every reduction of chemicals is a plus for your health and fertility.
- Filter your water. A simple filter jug from a discount shop is a good start. Drink water throughout the day.
- Enjoy what you’re eating.
- Have lots of animal protein. The less the better. The least problematic sources are eggs and fish. Next poultry. Dairy is “sometimes” food (eg once a week*), red meat even more “sometimes” (as in, like lobster) and processed meats are a no-go. You can cut meat into portions and use it to flavour dishes rather than eating large meat servings.
- Have gluten. It can impact fertility and the research is only in its early days as to why gluten has become such a poorly tolerated substance in the past few decades. In the meantime, avoid it when you can. Alternatives are easy to come by in supermarkets these days. Some things you just need to do without, such as croissants or decent flatbread. For many other products, the alternatives are good to excellent.
- Have things in packets. If you do, read the label. If it contains only food and you recognise the ingredients, it’s passed the first test. Note that packaged foods can still contain chemicals in small amounts that don’t need to be listed on the labels. Many food additives can’t be processed or detoxified by the human body and can create strain and burden, including metal nanoparticles or emulsifiers that disturb your intestinal flora. Avoid trans fats (this includes deep fried foods). Buying organic packaged foods is usually preferable as good brands are likely to contain just food. Supermarket brands may have hidden additives.
- Have too much sugar. The less you have, the more your taste buds will adapt. Love chocolate? Move gradually to darker versions. With a bit of practice, a square or two of 70% cocoa chocolate can satisfy a reformed chocoholic. When your body becomes full of plant-based nutrients then your cravings start to change.
- Expose your body to endocrine disruptors. These are chemicals that partially mimic our hormones, causing problems – especially in those who are more sensitive to their effects. It’s impossible to avoid all exposure, but a good place to start is to use only natural/ organic personal care products and especially avoid synthetic perfumes and fake tan. Also try to detox your household products and choose more natural, plant-based or organic versions.
- Have coffee or alcohol. Ideally. They aren’t nutrients, and they don’t serve any positive purpose. However. If you have been in baby-making mode for a while then a feeling of deprivation can set in. How can you allow yourself to join in with the fun, and respect your body at the same time? You decide for yourself. The better you feel without these intoxicants, the more you may feel their impact when you do have them, so be mindful and check in with yourself. You can enjoy the feeling of clarity and calm. When you decide to indulge, try not to feel guilty. There’s no “being good”, it’s just you making positive choices because you love yourself and your body. If you have some drinks then enjoy yourself, and when you’re not having drinks then you can enjoy yourself too.
5. Crazy forums, the latest fad supplement, the thing that your mum’s co-worker said…
If you’ve been in baby-making mode for a little while then you get this already, enough said.
“What else should I be doing?” leads to looking for things outside of yourself. If you start looking, options abound. You start rattling with all the latest himalayan waku powder supplements and vitamin XYZ-3P that someone told you that their neighbour’s cousin took for two weeks after trying for five years and they fell pregnant instantly. It’s tempting isn’t it.
Simplify everything. Look after the basics, as above. Be kind to yourself. Support your partner and be supported by them. Enjoy your life and smell the roses. Every day.
For the past fifteen years or so, acupuncture for IVF has been on the radar. There have been many studies done, usually hyper-focused on a single moment or two of the IVF process such as the day of embryo transfer or egg collection. Researchers are still trying to find out if, when, how and why acupuncture supports women undergoing IVF.
We prefer to support women throughout the process, including the months leading up to a cycle if that’s where you are now. Research suggests that acupuncture is beneficial for reducing anxiety, and we believe that this effect alone brings the most mileage when women and their partners are using acupuncture on the fertility path.
Treatment at our clinic
At Ocean Acupuncture, our practitioners take a whole-person approach.
We listen to you, to your history and what you’ve learned so far. We discuss with you your goals, and where you’d like to be. We then construct a Treatment Plan that is unique to you. We provide specific strategies and actions that move you towards your goals in an integrated way. This may include:
- Chinese herbal medicine (usually not during medicated phases of IVF)
- Breathing exercises
- Dietary advice to complement your constitution and harmonise with the seasons
- Books to read
- Podcasts to listen to…
We structure your Treatment Plan to bring you from where you are now, to where you’d like to be.
If you’d like to find out more then please request your 15-minute Free Consultation at our clinic. We will listen to your history and let you know how we can help. You will then have the opportunity to book in your intake appointment if our services are a good fit for you.
Reference: McDonald J, Janz S. The Acupuncture Evidence Project: A Comparative Literature Review (Revised Edition). Brisbane: Australian Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Association Ltd; 2017. http://www.acupuncture.org.au
* The Fertility Diet recommendations came mainly from of a large observational study of nurses, and pertains especially to women with ovulation irregularities. Low-fat dairy was associated with decreased fertility. Whole-fat dairy was associated with better fertility (one serve per day). The authors were able to propose mechanisms for all the findings from the study except this one. They suppose that pregnancy hormones carried over from the cows may influence human women’s fertility. Dairy may not suit everyone, and many women experience improvements in their health when they stop dairy. This is something you will need to explore, perhaps with the help of a health professional, if you would like to find out whether or not dairy works for you.