As anyone exploring their fertility knows, it can feel like you’re at the mercy of your ovaries.
Research has shown infertility and assisted conception can be layered with loneliness, stress and anxiety that can physically manifest in the body, and potentially affect fertility outcomes. But, there are a range of holistic options that not only improve fertility outcomes in IVF, but can also support a healthy you in the process.
So, we’ll walk you through some options for additional support when undertaking IVF, because it’s time to talk taking care of you, too.
How can acupuncture support IVF?
Acupuncture in conjunction with IVF is gaining popularity in Australia. With strong claims it can reduce our stress, it’s known to improve quality of life for those undertaking treatment. Other health claims include:
- Its ability to stimulate healthy blood flow to the uterus and ovaries, influencing our cycles and ovulation, as well as
- Improving the quality of our endometrial lining
Moreover, acupuncture is a common treatment for the discomforts associated with PCOS and endometriosis, conditions increasingly associated with the need to explore IVF.
While there is some debate around its ability to improve pregnancy outcomes in IVF cycles, Australian fertility clinics- IVF Australia and Melbourne IVF are involved in a national randomised controlled acupuncture trial (the Gold Standard of clinical trials) to formally investigate the effectiveness, or not, of acupuncture in improving the proposition of live birth rates for women undergoing IVF. Previous studies in this space are noteworthy for their reporting on the benefits of acupuncture on the user; a psycho-social benefit was reported by women undergoing IVF and acupuncture in tandem, noting Acupuncture treatment had a calming effect on users, and reduced anxiety on the day of transfer.
If considering this treatment, it’s best to start seeing your acupuncturist before your IVF cycle begins, ideally even 3 months prior. Try to work with a practitioner who specialises in infertility, since they will have a deep understanding of what IVF is, can read your hormone blood tests for an understanding of your situation, and can support you during critical times of your IVF cycle such as at egg retrieval, embryo transfer, and directly post transfer.
Working with a naturopath while undergoing IVF
Seeing a qualified naturopath can be a great way to navigate the myriad of supplements and herbs on the market boasting to do it all. It’s important to remember that these products are active, and during IVF, there are a number of medications you may be required to manage. A naturopath specialising in reproductive health will be familiar with herbs and supplements that will not adversely interact with your medication. Not only will they be able to provide access to the most bioavailable product, but the personalised sessions should give you peace of mind that your treatment is right for you and your body.
Working with a naturopath before beginning your IVF cycle can help prepare and nourish your body, and improve egg health. In an ideal world, starting this work roughly 3 months before beginning IVF is helpful, as it takes 90 days for an egg cycle to complete maturation, and any work done at the beginning of this time will influence the quality of eggs available on the other side.
How can nutrition support IVF treatments?
There are plenty of opinions on food and nutrition in pregnancy and IVF, so let’s break this one down. The last thing you need on your plate is food stress.
Some fertility specialists are cutthroat about what not to eat for optimal fertility. This includes limiting things like coffee, artificial sugars, high GI foods (pasta, white bread, chocolate, sweet potatoes) and all the other things that generally live in the sometimes category.
However, a 2019 study concluded “infertile women with a greater adherence to Mediterranean diet patterns were likely to obtain more embryos in IVF cycle”. This finding encourages a less restrictive ‘diet’ and more flexibility, which can reduce anxiety and stress around food. A Medditerranean diet is all about fresh fruits and vegetables, whole foods, healthy fats daily, weekly intake of seafood and limited intake of red meats.
If you’re looking for an individualised nutrition plan, it’s important to consider your reasons for underground IVF treatment as this will influence diet choices. Certain tailored diets can best support you, optimise fertility and manage a range of issues with ovulation, egg count, egg quality, sperm health, embryo implantation, uterine lining, PCOS and endometriosis, all of which can impact IVF success. For unique and specific support, consider engaging the guidance of a specialised fertility nutritionist.
Using my support network while undergoing IVF
Holistic health support is available, with a growing world of health practitioners extending far beyond your specialist alone. Fertility doulas (yep there are doulas for conception too!) are an emerging breed, who open up a world of preconception support. Fertility doulas hold space for singles and couples throughout the pre-conception process and (in)fertility journey, and can help navigate:
- The many stages of (in)fertility, including ART and loss
- Teach mindfulness and relaxation tools that call on the relaxation response
- Navigate the options available to clients
- Provide cycle charting support
- Create holistic fertility plans that work to create balance within the mind and body
- Attend clinic appointments/treatments
- Support you through early pregnancy if you’ve experienced infertility (with sensitive awareness of why your experience may be different to other pregnancies)
IVF offers hope, but for some it can be testing. It can place stress and pressure on our relationships, and on our own physical and mental health. Maternal health and wellbeing is central to positive fertility outcomes. So, it’s important to acknowledge we have specific health needs here too. Holistic support can cater to any gaping holes you are finding in this space, ensuring your needs are met while your body is busy going through it all.