December 10: How Well Do They Swim? Learn More

How can I improve my chances of falling pregnant?

When you embark on fertility treatment you may feel a loss of control as you may feel that the process of conception, fertilization and pregnancy are in the hands of health professionals. However, there are so many LIFESTYLE FACTORS that you do have control over that can help improve your chances of success. Some may require changes by both yourself and your partner to improve the likelihood of fertility treatment success.

Key LIFESTYLE FACTORS to consider:

1. Weight
2. Diet
3. Caffeine
4. Stress
5. Smoking
6. Alcohol
7. Recreational Drugs
8. Vitamin Supplements

PART 1.
We will cover weight, diet and caffeine in Part 1 of “How can I improve my changes of falling pregnant?”

Weight
There is now very strong evidence that being either underweight or overweight impacts on the chances of IVF treatment being successful. When a woman is significantly underweight, this can often affect her ability to produce eggs and subsequently ovulate and as such cycles are irregular or absent. Not being able to track your cycle and accurately pin point the time of ovulation means it can be very difficult to time intercourse when you are most fertile. Being overweight on the other hand, is often associated with a lowered response to the medications used in fertility treatments when compared to a normal weight patient. If you are having IVF, then being overweight can also mean that the egg collection procedure is more difficult and getting access to the ovaries can sometimes not occur in significantly overweight women when compared to someone who is of a normal weight. Having a general anaesthetic also carries greater risks when someone is overweight.

In addition, once pregnant, there are risks to the mother and baby if a woman is either significantly under or overweight. For example, there is a greater risk of diabetes and high blood pressure in overweight pregnant woman and a higher risk of babies being born premature and underweight.

Research has very clearly demonstrated a link between excess body weight and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOs), something many women find difficult to manager.
All women and men planning on starting a family should consider it a priority to be within a healthy weight range for your height (known as BMI) so as to maximise treatment outcomes. How do I know if I am within a healthy weight range – Click here?

There is no better motivation to help you focus on your ideal weight than wanting to become pregnant and then be healthy parents.

When you have lots of weight to lose, it can be daunting to look at your long-term weight goal. So, it’s critical to set realistic goals and milestones along the way. For example, it is recommended that a person participates in daily exercise, at least 30 minutes at a time so if you have not exercised in a long time start gradually, perhaps a 10 minute walk each day for a week, increasing this to 15 minutes for a week until you have reached 30 minutes per day. This, along with a well-balanced diet can assist in weight control not to mention your fitness and general health and wellbeing. It doesn’t really matter what form of exercise you do, so long as it works for you.
If you’re overweight and trying to get pregnant, start with the goal of losing just 5 percent of your weight. Then aim for 10 percent. Short-term goals are more achievable and realistic and help to keep you motivated.
Remember when setting goals to think SMART. That means the goals you set should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely.
See our full list of fertility diet tips and foods to help you lose weight.

And here’s some really GOOD NEWS:
THE EFFECT OF WEIGHT LOSS ON FERTILITY. Studies have shown that reducing weight in overweight women can restore menstrual cycle regularity. A weight reduction of 5% is enough to restore normal menstrual cycle function in up to 60% of overweight women. Furthermore, it is also known if an overweight female reduces her weight before undergoing IVF treatment, the chance of becoming pregnant is dramatically improved.
In addition to studies, we have seen at our own clinic the effects weight loss has had on treatment. For example, in one situation a patient who had had a failed cycle returned after 12 months and had lost over 40kg. Her second cycle response was completely different to her first with more follicles and eggs collected through to a successful transfer and pregnancy.

We do not discount the fact that weight loss is difficult but in doing so the results could be your little miracle.

Male weight also needs to be considered. Research also show that the potential for obese males to have a reduced sperm count does exist. For example, obesity can lower levels of the male hormone testosterone (which is directly linked to sperm count). Obese males can also develop an apron of fat around the genital area heating up the testicles and potentially reducing sperm numbers.
Recent research has shown that male obesity can result in reduced quality and development of their embryos and a reduced pregnancy rate. This research was then confirmed by studying a group of obese men undergoing IVF treatment. As the men’s body mass index (BMI) increased, there was a significant reduction in pregnancies and births and an increase in pregnancy loss.

Diet
A well balanced diet is certainly what everyone should be aiming for however, there are foods that are not so good when it comes to you preparing yourself for pregnancy.  Pregnant women may already be aware that some types of fish should be avoided due to them being high in mercury such as white canned tuna. Why is mercury so important to avoid? When you become pregnant  you often don’t find out you’re pregnant until about 2 weeks after your period is due to arrive and you do a pregnancy test which is positive.  At this stage the baby has already been exposed to everything you have put in your body during those two weeks. However, hopefully because you are planning a pregnancy you have managed to cut out most of the obvious things that would be harmful to the baby such as alcohol and smoking, but you might not have thought about fish high in mercury. The particular type of mercury that is best to avoid is called methyl mercury and it is commonly found in some types of fish. Approximately 95% of the methyl mercury is absorbed through the stomach and intestinal tract, then transferred to the blood stream and distributed throughout the body. It then readily passes the blood-brain barrier and enters the brain. In pregnant women, methyl mercury easily crosses the placental barrier and moves into the blood of the developing baby and subsequently into the babies brain and other tissues.

Which other types of fish should you avoid? You should try to completely avoid shark (also known as flake), swordfish, king mackerel, and tile fish (also called golden or white snapper), tuna steaks (fresh or frozen), orange roughy, spanish mackerel, marlin, and grouper because these fish contain the highest levels of mercury. It is not necessary to avoid all fish, only those that are high in mercury, because fish is loaded with protein, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids — all of which are an important part of a healthy diet. There are plenty of good fish choices such as salmon and rainbow trout that contain low levels of mercury and are high in healthy fats.

If you need assistance to understand what a well-balanced diet is or would like to understand more on diets for weight gain or weight loss we recommend consulting with a professional healthcare provider. Connect Me with a Health Professional.

Caffeine
There is an ongoing debate about whether drinking coffee (or other caffeinated beverages) can cause a delay in getting pregnant. Exactly how caffeine and infertility are related isn’t really understood. Although a recent study published in Science Daily (July 20, 2011) suggests that Caffeine may reduce muscle activity in the Fallopian tubes that carry eggs and embryos from a woman’s ovaries to her womb. The experiments were conducted in mice, but this finding goes a long way towards explaining why drinking caffeinated drinks may reduce a woman’s chance of becoming pregnant.
If stopping caffeine completely is too hard for you, try slowly reducing your daily intake with the ultimate aim of only having a maximum of two servings of caffeine per day. Some research has suggested that miscarriages have been seen more commonly in women who ingest more than two cups of caffeinated beverages a day.
The best advice is to try to wean yourself off the caffeinated drinks altogether. Decaffeinated drinks taste just as good as the caffeinated ones so give them a try. However, if you have a really strong addiction to caffeine – wean slowly to avoid some of the withdrawal symptoms that are associated with caffeine withdrawals such as headaches. Drinking 6-8 glassess of water a day is also a great way of reducing the effects of caffeine withdrawals.
Whilst the research relating to caffeine and infertility is still not conclusive, we would encourage people to stay on the safe side and avoid caffeinated beverages while trying to get pregnant.

Part 2. will be released in our December newsletter and will cover  lifestyle factors that can affect your ability to become pregnant such as stress, smoking,  alcohol, recreational drugs and vitamin supplements.

If you would like to discuss your situation in a private, confidential setting, please don’t hesitate contacting us to arrange a free phone or face to face meeting with one of our experienced fertility nurses. email: enquiries@fssc.com.au  or phone 1300 FERTILITY (1300 337 845).