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As the rate of first-time moms over age 35 rises—it’s up to 15 percent in the U.S. now—so does the country’s reliance on in-vitro fertilization. In fact, what was once a last-resort procedure has become increasingly routine: In 2012, U.S. doctors performed 165,172 fertility procedures—more than 99 percent of which were IVF, according to the most recent data from the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology. That’s a 7 percent increase since 2011.
How many of those procedures actually lead to deliveries? Among women below age 35, 46 percent of the embryo transfers resulted in live births, the data reveals. That number drops to 38 percent for women ages 35 to 37, and 28 percent for women ages 38 to 40.
A happy, healthy baby. Photo by U.S. Air Force/Flickr
Although those stats may sound discouraging, consider this: Only 55 percent of “chromosomally normal” embryos successfully become a baby, “whether you make them at home in bed, or whether you make them in a lab,” Jamie Grifo, M.D., Ph.D., program director of the NYU Fertility Center, told Yahoo Health. “It’s mostly not under your control. It’s about the luck of getting a good embryo.”
But that doesn’t mean the only thing you can do is cross your fingers and hope: “There are things the patients can do themselves to actually improve the odds of IVF,” said A. Musa Zamah, M.D., Ph.D., an infertility expert at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “And I don’t think those things are always fully utilized.”
Kick stress to the curb
Don’t stress too much about de-stressing—just devote a few minutes every day to unwinding, without totally checking out from your daily routine. “Just because you’re stressed doesn’t mean you can’t get pregnant,” Dr. Grifo said. “If that were true, nobody in New York would have a baby.” In fact, he said, eliminating every source of anxiety—say, by quitting your job—may just leave you without a distraction, tempting you to fret 24/7 about getting pregnant (which is, in and of itself, a serious stressor).
That said, mental tension definitely doesn’t do your fertility any favors, since being in chronic fight-or-flight mode can compromise the quality of your eggs, said Dr. Grifo. Plus, the stress hormone cortisol may interfere with implantation, while also blocking estrogen action in your endometrium, said Sarah Berga, M.D., the chair of obstetrics and gynecology at Wake Forest University.
Watching clowns perform tricks has been shown to reduce stress. Photo by Thomas/Flickr.
Easing stress, on the other hand, may actually help speed things along: In a 2011 Fertility & Sterility study, women who watched a clown perform magic tricks for about 15 minutes after undergoing IVF were nearly three times more likely to become pregnant than the control group. So figure out what works for you—knitting, yoga, watching funny cat videos, whatever—and commit to doing it daily.
Take it easy. Photo by Getty Images
Resist the urge to over-exercise
Being fit equals higher fertility, so constantly hitting the gym is a step in the right direction, right? Not necessarily. Exercise is a form of physiological stress, which means too much of it could hurt your pregnancy odds, said Dr. Grifo. “If you’re running 60 miles a week or training for a marathon, that’s not a good thing,” he said. “If you’re doing an hour of cardio, seven days a week, that’s not a good thing.”
You should be especially cautious about high-intensity workouts during the actual stimulation phase of IVF, when you’re receiving hormone injections, said Dr. Zamah. “You don’t want to risk the ovaries twisting,” he explained. So what’s a reasonable workout regimen? Thirty to 40 minutes of cardio three times a week, with yoga or light weightlifting on the days in between, Dr. Grifo recommended.
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Load up on vitamin D
It’s not just folic acid you should be popping: Consider taking a dose of D, too. “Vitamin D has long been thought to be primarily important for bone health,” said Dr. Zamah. “But it can really affect all aspects of health, including reproduction.” In fact, a 2014 study in the journal Human Reproduction found that D-deficient women who underwent IVF had a 39 percent lower chance of pregnancy than ladies with normal levels of the vitamin. Although the reverse isn’t yet proven—that taking D boosts your pregnancy odds—supplementing with 400 to 800 IUs of vitamin D per day could be “potentially beneficial,” said Dr. Zamah.
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Establish a health weight—before attempting IVF.
Don’t wait until you’re ready to start trying for a child to worry about the number you see on the scale. “Doctors might be reluctant to bring this up with patients, but weight can impact the success of IVF,” Dr. Zamah said. Specifically, being overweight has been linked to poor IVF outcomes, including decreased pregnancy rate, lower live birth rate, and increased risk of miscarriage. The likely explanation? “Obesity appears to hurt the eggs and maybe the endometrium,” said Dr. Berga.
So before you start IVF, aim to get your weight into the “normal” BMI range, or as close to it as possible. “Even if you’re not fully in the ‘normal’ range, a 5 to 10 percent reduction in body weight can really be beneficial for IVF outcomes,” Dr. Berga said. Just don’t go too far—being underweight can have a similarly negative effect on pregnancy success.
Related: The Truth About Cleansing Diets
Photo by Only Natural.
Consider a DHEA supplement
A third of all IVF centers across the globe now use DHEA, a hormonal supplement shown to boost pregnancy chances in women with a shortage of viable eggs, according to a recent study review in Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology. How does it work? “DHEA might help the ovary respond to the fertility medications,” particularly in patients with a low number of eggs, explained Dr. Zhama. The suggested dose: 25 milligrams, three times a day.
Photo by Getty Images.
Get your guy involved
Your body carries the baby, but his sperm also plays a role in your IVF odds. “The male partner needs some attention, too,” said Dr. Berga. That, of course, means limiting stress and watching his weight, but your partner can also try a more targeted approach to boosting the health of his swimmers: a multivitamin, plus an antioxidant supplement. “Nobody has shown one antioxidant blend to be superior to another for sperm,” Dr. Zamah said. “But there are multiple studies showing at least a potential benefit on sperm parameters.”