The following is an edited extract from ‘IVF Success: An Evidence-Based Guide to Getting Pregnant and Clues to Why You are Not Pregnant Now’ by Dr Raphael Kuhn.
Sally, who was 36, and her husband, Sam, who was 37, were desperate to start a family.
An unexpected inheritance had paid off their mortgage. They tried very hard for six months to get pregnant and were becoming increasingly stressed, especially Sally.
Sally dealt with her stress by talking to her extensive network of girlfriends over multiple cups of coffee and a cigarette or two, and relaxing with her husband over a couple of glasses of white wine in the evenings.
More often than not, they finished the bottle. Sally also tried to cope with her stress by engaging in regular, almost daily, intense gym sessions.
Sam got support from his friends over a few beers on weekends. They joked that there might be a problem with his “swimmers.” As it turns out, there was.
Listen: Meshel Laurie gets very honest about her struggle to get pregnant with a partner who wasn’t interested in having kids.
Sam’s family physician (general practitioner) arranged for him to have a sperm test. This revealed not only a low sperm count, but also a high percentage of abnormal sperm. The test was repeated, and the result was the same.
Sally and Sam were referred to a fertility specialist.
Their fertility specialist insisted on lifestyle changes because alcohol, nicotine, and excessive caffeine intake and exercise are all known to adversely affect chances of both natural and IVF conception.
Sally stopped smoking and drinking, reduced her caffeine intake, and moderated her exercise schedule. Sam stopped drinking as well.
Their fertility specialist did, however, reassure them that stress, whether related to their treatment or other factors, would not adversely affect the outcome.
It took them three months to get into good shape. Sam had another sperm test, but it was still significantly abnormal.
Their first stimulated IVF treatment cycle resulted in a pregnancy with a readily detectable, normal fetal heart rate confirmed by ultrasound.
So how do each of these lifestyle factors affect fertility?
The Facts: Stress
Stress does not affect IVF treatment outcome. A systematic review and meta-analysis of 14 prospective psychosocial studies, involving a total of 3,583 infertile women undergoing IVF treatment, concluded, “The findings of this meta-analysis should reassure women and doctors that emotional distress caused by infertility problems or other events co-occurring with treatment will not compromise the chances of becoming pregnant.”
Distress, however, can mean that patients stop treatment prematurely, before the optimal number of cycles to get pregnant have been completed. It is therefore important to address any issues early and get support, including from your IVF counsellor, to assist you in continuing treatment for the optimal period of time.
Sensible exercise improves results of IVF treatment. Moderate exercise in the female who is the source of eggs is associated with improved IVF outcomes. However, vigorous exercise is correlated with reduced IVF success. While engaging in very vigorous exercise is discouraged, 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per day would be endorsed by most fertility specialists.