Almost 2 years ago I wrong a blog post about what you should eat during your IVF cycle, which can be found here: https://yinstill.com/what-should-i-eat-during-my-ivf-cycle/. This post has become such a hit and I still send it to many patients as a quick reference because it is such a common question.
I wanted to elaborate on this topic and provide you with some helpful suggestions for other things that you can do during your IVF cycle that may increase your chances of success. These are all lifestyle suggestions and the common thread between them is that they all help to decrease perceived stress levels in some way. Simply put, when the body is stressed, it’s not thinking about reproducing so it shuns all of its nutrients and resources away from the reproductive organs and toward the brain and muscles, activating the fight or flight response. This is useful for when you’re running away from a bear but not so much while sitting in traffic. Therefore, it is important to practice daily rituals that help activate your parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system in order to give yourself the best chance of having a healthy baby.
Here are some things you can do:
- Get acupuncture – The amount of research on acupuncture and it’s effect on fertility, IVF success, and stress management just keeps growing and the results are astounding. One study found that acupuncture helped increase IVF success by 50%! This is a big reason why fertility clinics around the world have been welcoming acupuncturists who provide on-site services for their patients on the day of embryo transfer. I have had the pleasure of providing on-site acupuncture for countless ladies on their embryo transfer day and it is such a rewarding experience. Not only is it so convenient for the patient to have all of their treatments done in one place, but the degree of relaxation they experience from talking to us and receiving treatment pre and post transfer, completely changes their whole emotional state and activates their parasympathetic nervous system, allowing their body to be more open to receiving the gift of pregnancy.
- Meditate – This is another technique that has overwhelming research on it’s health benefits. Although meditation is becoming more mainstream, many people still don’t fully understand what it entails or they assume that it has to be done in a certain way such as sitting cross legged with your index fingers and thumbs touching, incense burning in the background, chanting a sacred mantra over and over. Although this is technically one way to meditate it doesn’t need to be so advanced. The goal is to learn to meditate in everything we do in life. Meditation simply means to quiet the mind. Learning to be mindful and present in everything you do is a huge shift in consciousness that ultimately takes you out of your head and into the present moment. What’s great about this is that you can’t be stressed when you are in the present moment because you are not worrying about the future or dwelling on the past. Meditation, like anything in life, is a practice and you should not be discouraged if you find it difficult to quiet the chatter in your mind at first. This is completely normal and to be expected. Keep at it and you will witness the incredible physical benefits that meditation has to offer.
- Practice yoga – If you are someone who likes to do something a little bit more active than mediation, yoga may be a better fit for you. Not only is it a great workout, but yoga combines meditation, body movements, and the breath and is another way that you can learn to be more present. There are also some great yoga poses that help to open up the hips and pelvis, providing further fertility benefits. You should however, avoid hot yoga during your IVF cycle.
- Exercise – This is another great way to release stress so if you are someone who regularly exercises, you may find that you cope better overall with the ups and downs of IVF. Please speak with your fertility specialist prior to starting any intense exercise program as there are some restrictions depending on where you are in your IVF cycle.
- Pick up a hobby – In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the heart and the uterus are directly connected through a meridian called the conception vessel, which runs along the front of the body. The emotion associated with the heart in TCM is joy. Therefore, in order for the uterus to be healthy, the heart must also be healthy. And in order for the heart to be healthy, there must be plenty of joy in your life. The things that bring us joy are things that we are passionate and enthusiastic about. If you feel this way about your job, that is wonderful! But if you are someone who is lacking in joy, you may want to think about what makes you happy and what you enjoy doing, and perhaps pick up a hobby that brings you more joy. This can be the single most important and life changing thing you do for yourself during this time.
- See a counsellor – I find that many women close off from their family and friends when they are going through IVF, not wanting to share anything until they are well into their pregnancy. As a result, people may end up isolating themselves for years if they are required to undergo multiple rounds of IVF. Needless to say, it can be an extremely lonely experience. Furthermore, IVF can be a roller coaster and your family and friends may not always know how best to support you. If you feel this way, you may benefit from speaking with a professional who will hold the space for you to share your thoughts and provide you with some practical tools you can use on a daily basis during your cycle to help you feel more calm and empowered.
- Journal – Journaling is another form of meditation that gets thoughts out of your head, onto paper. If you can focus on keeping a gratitude journal, you will notice that over time you start to appreciate all the positive things in your life regardless of other circumstances that you cannot control. It’s impossible to feel grateful and angry or sad at the same time so this is another great way to transform your emotions into something positive and remove any negativity from your body that is no longer serving you.
- Get IV micronutrient therapy – IVF can be a high stress experience for many women. When we are stressed, we tend to use up our nutrients at a much faster rate than normal. For this reason, it’s not a bad idea to replenish and correct possible nutrient deficiencies through intravenous micronutrient therapy. This treatment also provides your body with a high dose of vitamins, amino acids, antioxidants, and minerals, all required in the proper formation of the egg and sperm cells. IV therapy is great for both men and women undergoing an IVF cycle and can be customized to address your other health goals as well. Speak with a naturopathic doctor who is certified in injection therapies to find out if this treatment might be beneficial for you.
- Keep yourself busy – Many women choose to take time off while they are undergoing an IVF cycle just so that they can “focus” on it. However, you have to remember that during an IVF cycle, there is also a lot of waiting around. Opening up your schedule may leave you alone with your thoughts for long periods of time, prompting you to ruminate in negativity or anxiety, or worse, start Googling things. If you’re going to be taking time off work during your cycle to make yourself more available for the frequent blood tests and ultrasounds, that’s totally understandable. However, I would recommend still keeping yourself busy in other ways whether it’s taking on a new hobby or project, regularly seeing friends and family, or anything else that may fill your day and give you a sense of purpose and accomplishment.
- Take an adaptogen – Adaptogens are natural substances that support the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands are two glands that sit on top of the kidneys and are responsible for managing the way your body handles stress by making and releasing various hormones such as cortisol. Adaptogens can be extremely instrumental in helping you feel more resilient to stress, improving your energy levels, and optimizing your mood. Due to the high number and variety of adaptogenic herbs and nutrients available for purchase at many health food stores, it is best to first speak with a naturopathic doctor to establish which formula would be best for your body.
There you have it! If you try any of these and would like to share your experience please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, if you went through an IVF cycle and did something else that is not on this list, please let me know so that I can include it in future blog posts and hopefully we can help more patients receive that benefit as well.
For a free 15 minute consultation with me, please call 604-873-9355.
Dr. Nora Shilo
ND, Yinstill Reproductive Wellness