There are certain things you can do to improve your chances of pregnancy. Not all of them have been proved scientifically, but some studies still indicate that they do have an impact. We therefore recommend that you adopt a lifestyle, which may help improve your fertility and increase your chances of pregnancy as much as possible.
First, we mention the factors that we consider the most critical, and we strongly recommend that you change them. Next, we mention several factors that are less critical, but which we believe still have an impact on your chances of conceiving.
Our knowledge about the influence of medications on the developing fetus is very limited.
If you take any medication
If you are to take daily medication, please, consult your doctor before you become pregnant and ask whether you should change your prescribed medication. You must always consult the prescribing physician regarding any change of medication. As fertility specialists we cannot interfere in the treatment you have with other medical specialists.
Reduce your intake of medication during the stimulation and pregnancy to a minimum. We cannot recommend naturopathic medications, since their influence on the foetus is mostly unknown.
If you need painkillers, we recommend paracetamol. Painkillers belonging to the group of non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs should be omitted during stimulation and the second half of pregnancy.
In any case of doubt: ask you pharmacist or your physician.
Fertility is generally reduced if the woman smokes. This means that you can become pregnant, but it will take longer time to obtain a pregnancy. We all know female smokers who have become pregnant. However, this does not change the fact that they may not have had any fertility problems, and thus not a limited number of attempts as you have. In addition, it is a lot more fun to get pregnant naturally than having treatments at the fertility clinic.
In popular terms, smoking makes your ovaries 10 years older! Smokers need more hormones for follicle stimulation and do not respond as good as non-smokers. The risk of an ectopic pregnancy is increased for female smokers, also in connection with IVF treatment, as is the risk of having a spontaneous abortion. The combination of advanced age and smoking clearly reduces the chances of pregnancy.
New scientific investigations have demonstrated that smoking during pregnancy also affects the fertility of the unborn child. Smoking is one of the issues suspected for causing bad semen quality in male offspring.
If you become pregnant, the chances of having a normal pregnancy ending in the birth of a healthy child are higher if you quit smoking. In addition, the child has a lower risk of developing asthma, allergy etc. if it lives in a tobacco-free environment.
Whether or not your male partner smokes is of less importance for your fertility, provided that his semen quality is normal. However, tar and cadmium in the smoke affect the DNA quality of the sperm cells, especially in men with reduced semen quality. Remember, it takes 3 months to produce a mature sperm cell.
For the above reasons, the male partner should also quit before you start treatment, particularly also to demonstrate solidarity to you. Experience shows that it is difficult to quit smoking if the other party continues.
There are many good reasons for us to strongly recommend everyone to quit smoking before and during treatment.
Your weight has substantial impact on your chance of obtaining pregnancy. This is the case for both the woman and the man. Both overweight and underweight reduce your chances.
The body mass index (BMI) is used as a measure of your weight in relation to your height (kg/m2). A BMI of 18.5-24.9 is within the normal range. A BMI of 25-29.9 is classed as overweight. If your BMI is above 30, you are classed as obese, and we prefer not to start treatment before you have lost weight.
A lot of overweight women have reduced fertility due to the influence of the fatty tissue and disruptions to the hormonal system. Many obese women have no or very rare menstrual periods and do thus not ovulate normally. Of course, this means that the woman does not become pregnant. Often, she will have what we call polycystic ovaries (PCO), which we will not describe in detail here. It may help the woman to know that her weight may be the cause of her PCO; however, the vicious circle should be broken.
If obese women become pregnant, they have:
Obese women need more hormones for follicle stimulation (and they are expensive), and oocyte aspiration is often more complicated. The reason for this is that the woman has a lot of fat on her intestines, which makes it difficult to see the ovaries and sometimes it is in the way during aspiration.
Consequently, obese women have a smaller chance of having a living, healthy child. To us, it is not just about getting the woman pregnant, but also about her having a living, healthy baby.
Women with a BMI above 30 loose at least 5-10 % of their weight. They should preferably reach a BMI below 30. This will often trigger ovulation and provide a better chance of good hormone stimulation with an adequate number of oocytes. If you are extremely obese, you must loose more than 10 %. Some will benefit from more exercise, using a gym, Weight Watchers, consulting their GP or joining a group.
Experts do not agree on the impact of alcohol consumption on fertility. It has not previously been possible to demonstrate that consumption of less than five units a week has a negative effect. However, a recent Danish study called this into question and demonstrated that even small amounts of alcohol reduce the chances of pregnancy.
If a woman consumes 5-10 units a week, the chances of pregnancy are reduced by 30-40 per cent. If she drinks more than fifteen units a week, the chances of pregnancy are reduced to a third relative to a woman who does not drink alcohol. Alcohol is a poison for cells and affects foetal development, especially development of the foetal brain, during pregnancy.
The woman should not get drunk, which means that she should not drink the week's entire ration on Saturday night. She should preferably refrain from drinking and not drink more than a couple of units a week. This means that you are allowed to have a couple of drinks at a party. Once the woman becomes pregnant, she should totally abstain from any alcohol intake. Men should also reduce their daily intake of alcohol as it can affect semen quality.
Take a vitamin tablet daily. This applies to the woman as well as to the man. Folic acid (0.4 mg daily) reduces the risk of having a baby with neural tube defects. Folic acid is also good for men with reduced semen quality.
In Scandinavia, man people have low levels of vitamin D during winter season. Vitamin D deficiency reduces both male and female fertility.
That the woman eats a healthy and balanced diet and takes 0.4 mg of folic acid daily from three months before treatment start and during her pregnancy. In case the woman has been pregnant with a child with neural tube defect or is taking medication against epilepsy, 5 mg folic acid might be recommended. Please, consult your GP.
You can prevent vitamin D deficiency by taking 40 micrograms of vitamin D daily from October 1st until May 1st.
Although many men feel that their partner is the primary person being treated by the physician, optimisation of male fertility is very important. The semen production is very sensitive to temperature increases. Especially the immature semen cells are damaged when the temperature in the testicles exceeds 34 degrees Celcius. Therefore the man should omit all activities that can increase the temperature up to 3 months before we need the semen sample.
Artificial sweeteners, hot tub and sauna, hot sun bathes and constantly heat in the car seat reduce semen quality. Also remember that a fever of 38.5 degrees Celsius or more decreases sperm quality and especially sperm ability to fertilize the egg in 3 months afterwards! We cannot see it in the semen sample, so remember to tell us! It often results in cancellation of the actual treatment.
Underweight and overweight, large quantities of alcohol, too little exercise, chemicals, radioactive radiation and medicines also can affect the fertility of the man.
Smoking plays also a role in male fertility. If the man has reduced semen quality, he should stop smoking, since tar and cadmium in smoke destroys sperm DNA (genetic material).
A multivitamin tablet with minerals and folic acid (0.4 mg) daily is good for men with reduced semen quality, as well as a daily intake of 40 micrograms of vitamin D from October 1st until May 1st. If you do no feel well, check your temperature!
In addition to the above, there are several other factors that affect your chances of pregnancy.
Generally, exercise is a good thing – also for your general health.
The woman should continue doing the exercise she is used to do. It is good to walk a lot, run (if you are used to it), swim, ride or go to the gym. However, listen to your body. We recommend that you take it easy for a few days just before and after oocyte aspiration. Women who are used to intensive exercise might benefit from reducing the load.
Pregnant women should not have an average pulse over 120 beat per minute during exercise. Walking, swimming and pilates are very popular ways of keeping your body fit during pregnancy.
Weight loss after birth
We all have different needs for exercise. Pregnancy and birth and the subsequent weight loss will be a lot easier if you are fit.
More than 3 cups of coffee or tea daily reduces your fertility.
The intake of coffee or tea does not have any clear impact on your fertility.
Additives and Hormone Disturbing Substances
New research results indicate, that many additives contained in cosmetics, hair dyes, plastic goods etc. demonstrate hormone-disturbing effects that might affect the foetus, especially the developing testicles. The effect is most pronounced within the first 3 months of pregnancy.
Be careful and do not use unnecessary cosmetics. Read the declaration of contents and ask your pharmacy.
Most workplaces, including staggered working hours, seem not to influence on your chance of becoming pregnant. However, you should omit any contact with organic solvents, toxic substances or radioactive substances during pregnancy.
Talk to your employer or physician before you become pregnant and examine whether you should be given other tasks during your pregnancy.
There is considerable research into how stress affects fertility treatment. Immediately it appears not that stress pays any benefit. This was not expected either. However, it is very difficult to measure people's stress levels objectively, in order to compare different people's individual response.
Studies on stress
In a new Danish study couples were interviewed prior to the start of IVF treatment, to assess their stress levels before starting treatment. It turned out that especially impacts which we have no influence on, for example, illness or death in the family and violence, increase stress levels dramatically.
It was found that women who were exposed to these stressors produced 1 oocyte less on average, compared with women who were not particularly affected prior to starting treatment. But there was no difference in the number of pregnant women after treatment.
Do not stress yourself unnecessarily during treatment. Think about whether there are things in your everyday life you can change, so the treatment becomes less stressful.
Often, the psychological burden of being in treatment is as huge as the physical stress. Try to focus less on the changes occurring in your body and try to live life as normally as possible. Think about whether there is anything you can do for yourself to feel comfortable and well. Although we attempt to control and manage your medical treatment very accurate, it is, as a fatter of fact, a complex biological process. Once the embryos or sperm are transferred into the womb, we cannot do any more. The rest is pure biology, so try to relax and leave your body to the forces of nature.
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