It’s a funny idea, I know. Because I’m sure no fertility clinic that you’ve ever talked to claims to have a 100% IVF pregnancy rate. But that’s actually the point: A 100% IVF rate doesn’t exist! There are, however, many steps you can take before you start IVF to increase your chances of having a healthy pregnancy and baby.
The most important fact to know about human eggs is that the age of your eggs has everything to do with your pregnancy rate
Step One: Become A Cat, Dog or Bunny!
Yes, another joke! Every day 10,000 humans are born in the United States, 70,000 kittens and puppies are born, and, get this, bunnies can give birth up to twelve times a year! That’s because, unlike humans, bunnies don’t have a menstrual cycle. There’s no special window in which a pregnancy needs to happen. In fact, they are spontaneous ovulators, which means that intercourse actually stimulates ovulation. After 40 seconds of magic, an egg releases.
Plan! Plan! Plan!
Unfortunately, humans don’t reproduce as efficiently as bunnies, so planning is vital. Often this involves freezing eggs or embryos before you decide to get pregnant (Read about: Why I Throw Egg Freezing Parties.) The most important fact to know about human eggs is that the age of your eggs has everything to do with your pregnancy rate.
Also, keep in mind that the number of eggs you get in a cycle has nothing to do with your friend’s egg number, even if you’re both the same age. No patient is a number to me, but just to give you an idea of average egg quality for your age: If you’re 35-years-old and you have 10 eggs, then around 50% of the eggs will be genetically normal. At age 37 or 38, around 25% of percent of your eggs are genetically normal, and by age 40, only 10% are genetically normal. So it’s important to ask yourself these questions as early as possible.
- How many kids do you want?
- At what age are you going to start having children?
With these answers, or even a vague idea of what you want, you can then start to plan for your future family in the same way that you might plan a vacation or your retirement.
Eight Ways to Improve Your IVF Rate
There are also a lot of choices you can make to improve your IVF rate.
1. Quit Smoking Now!
Cigarette smoke is a killer. The toxins go into the follicular fluid and can damage the DNA of your eggs. It can also hurt the DNA of sperm. If you’re going to keep smoking, your pregnancy rate is going to be half of that of non-smokers. I know that sounds extreme. People say things to me like, “I know people who smoke who get pregnant.” Smoking isn’t good for you, period! But when you’re having trouble getting pregnant, you want to do everything possible to give yourself the best chance for pregnancy.
2. Consider Genetic Testing
Before you do your IVF cycle, talk to your doctor or a geneticist about genetic testing. The IVF crystal ball (what I call Pre-implantation genetic screening) is still murky at best, but genetic testing can help you and your doctor pick healthier embryos. PGS can tell us if an embryo has the genetic integrity on the inside to turn into a pregnancy. Studies have shown that PGS can increase your time to pregnancy and decrease your risk of having a miscarriage.
3. Optimize Your Partner’s Sperm Health
Sperm quality is just as important as egg quality. It’s not just about having a high count and fast swimmers, or what is known as motility. It also has to do with the genetic integrity of the sperm. Advanced sperm testing can offer answers. I recommend it for any guy who is over 40, has chronic medical problems or is overweight. Unlike women who are born with all our eggs, guys keep producing new sperm and therefore have the chance to improve aspects of their health that can negatively impact the quality of their sperm. (See my interview with Dr. Paul Turek, AKA The Sperm Whisperer, Does Your Man Have a Biological Clock?)
4. Make Your Uterus a Happy Home for Your Embryos
Imagine that your uterus is about to have the most important house guest of your life. For all my patients, I make sure the lining of the uterus is healthy so the embryo settles in comfortably. Read about the testing that I call “Your Embryo Party Evite,” and see if it’s something that’s right for you.
5. Get to a Healthy Weight
Fertility is not skin deep and we have a finite supply of eggs, so you don’t have to wait until you’re that perfect weight because it may not be the best thing for your eggs. But talk to your doctor about what your goal weight should be. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to join a strict boot camp or follow a strict diet, but studies show that if your BMI is over 30, your IVF pregnancy rate is going to be lower. By losing weight, you can also lower your risk of preterm labor and delivery and preeclampsia. I don’t delay my patient’s IVF cycles because of body size, but after we have their embryos frozen, we take time to get into the best shape ever.
If you need help with your diet and nutrition, then perhaps see a nutritionist who can guide your towards a fertility diet. I also recommend apps like CalorieKing or My Fitness Pal to help you along with the process. There are also prepared meal programs that will help you with controlling your calories. You want to make sure your hemoglobin A1C is normal, your triglycerides are normal and you’re blood pressure is normal. IVF medications can make some people’s blood pressure go up, so it’s important to make sure that you’re going into your IVF cycle as healthy as possible.
6. Decrease Your Stress
Do everything and anything you can to be as stress-free as possible. Find your happy place and describe it to yourself so that any time you start to feel anxious, you can immediately go there. Other relaxation techniques include yoga, meditation, acupuncture, which studies have shown can improve blood flow to the uterus and may improve egg quality. (Read my interview with Dr. Ali Domar, How to Deal With Pregnancy Anxiety After A Miscarriage or Infertility)
7. Consider the Number of Embryos You Transfer
Five years ago as soon as I said IVF, my patient would say, “No! I don’t want to be OctoMom!” I’m referring to Natalie Suleman, the mother who gave birth to 8 babies from IVF. It’s an extreme case, I know. Most of my patients are mostly concerned about having twins.
More recent studies show that transferring multiple embryos could potentially decrease your chance of a healthy pregnancy. In fact, the chances of a healthy pregnancy are just as high now if you only transfer one embryo. So before you transfer talk to your doctor about the number that’s right for you. I definitely counsel my patients about transferring the number of embryos that will give them the highest chance for one pregnancy.
8. Consider My Hocus Pocus Supplement List
This list is really individualized for the patient because not all supplements are right for everyone, and it really depends on your whole medical picture. But here’s an example of a list of supplements that could help (again, this isn’t for everyone).
- Prenatal Vitamins with Fish Oil
- Acai Berry