The decision to undergo IVF can be exciting, yet nerve-wracking. It is important to prepare yourself mentally, physically, emotionally, and financially—for the wild ride that IVF can be. While all couples approach and experience their treatment differently, here are 10 things you must know before starting IVF:
1. Prepare your body for IVF
Most people don’t realize how important their general health is to conceiving, even with IVF. If your body has to agree to nurture a life for nine months, it has to be in good shape first.
Your body weight and fat content affect your hormonal balance, which in turn affects your fertility and ability to conceive.
Even in men, a sedentary lifestyle and poor habits could be extremely detrimental to the sperm, which could be a hindrance in successful conception. However, the good news is that the human sperm has a cycle of just 74 days and you can simply improve sperm count and health by making some simple lifestyle changes.
Stress, obesity, excessive consumption of alcohol, drugs, smoking, and an overly sedentary lifestyle in both men and women are unfavorable for IVF, and by not controlling these factors before starting your cycle, you would be thwarting your chances of success.
It is important that you focus on a balanced nutrition rich diet. Choosing a high-fiber diet including raw fruits and vegetables, grains, proteins, berries, leafy greens will not only help you offset the side effects of the medications but also help you prepare for a healthier pregnancy.
You can start your IVF diet 2-3 months before the treatment, for optimum results.
2. Does stress affect IVF cycles? It may:
IVF treatment, especially for those seeking it the first time, can cause a whole lot of confusion, anxiety, and perplexity due to the unfamiliarity of the system.
Even after it is started, the treatment that can result anxiety over the growing anticipation of results. According to this study, women having lower stress levels the day before the oocyte retrieval were more likely to have a successful pregnancy in IVF.
The most effective way to combat stress is to gather more information, find the right IVF clinic, and have all your questions answered by your doctor.
Ignorance about the procedure can leave space for a lot of anxiety at every step, while if you know exactly what happens in the IVF procedure, you will feel more informed and empowered. This will give you a sense of control and you will feel a lot more relaxed and calmer during the cycles.
3. Do not blindly trust IVF success rates
A common mistake many couples make is picking a clinic solely based on their success rates. Success rates in IVF cannot be trusted because it is easy to manipulate them.
A clinic doing only one case a month, could have a success rate of 100 percent or 0 percent.
So, you need to be careful while evaluating your chances of success.
When you check for success rates, make sure you know what is being reflected in that data. Are live births being measured? Or does the percentage simply measure positive pregnancy tests? Does it include the fact that it was a healthy conception? Or was it a donor-egg cycle?
According to this guide by HFEA, the success rates are extremely misleading and you need to judiciously look at the data, checking for chances of success in cases like yours.
Consult with the doctor and ask for the suggested treatment protocol and chances of success in your specific situation.
4. Blatantly ask about the costs and don’t just settle for the cheapest
Different clinics will give you different costs. While some will give you an all-inclusive package, others will tell you to pay per bill as your treatment proceeds.
Make sure you get all the details in advance and there are no hidden costs. Ask for the cost of blood tests, semen analysis, other required diagnostic tests, consultation fees, scans, ovarian stimulation, oocyte retrieval, semen processing, IVF lab fee, and embryo transfer.
If required, also get the cost for embryo freezing, PGS/PGD, sperm sorting, or whatever other additional services you are looking at.
The costs may not be fixed because the services you need will depend upon your individual situation, but the clinic should be able to provide you an estimated range.
If there is a significant difference in costs from clinic to clinic, don’t just settle for the cheapest option. Look around and find the best value for your money. Remember, sub-standard treatment and a failed cycle would only mean wasted time and money.
In some countries, there are government funded options for IVF—Canada started special funding for IVF in 2015 and there’s NHS in the UK. However, there is a long queue of people waiting to access these funds and the lengthy waiting times can be detrimental to IVF results, especially for women in their mid-30s and beyond.
Don’t give up on your parenthood dreams just because ART treatment seems too expensive—consider these ways to reduce IVF costs.
5. You will need time and patience
IVF is an invasive, extensive and time-consuming procedure. There is no way around it. You will have many appointments for initial treatment planning, then for stimulation monitoring, egg retrieval, semen analysis, etc.
An average cycle could take 3-4 weeks but the time will vary according to your individual circumstances. The treatment progress largely depends upon how your body responds.
Also, the chances of a successful pregnancy in IVF in women under 35 are around 50% and while it is good to be optimistic, you must also remain realistic.
Over 50% of patients need more than one cycle to be able to conceive with IVF, so don’t give up too easily if the initial results are not encouraging.
6. It may be painful and uncomfortable
A common misconception is that the injections are very painful but the truth of the matter is that while injectable drugs are not difficult to administer, they tend to cause some side effects such as cramping, bloating, breast tenderness, mood swings, headaches, abdominal pain.
These medications help with preparing your ovaries for ovulation, which causes them to increase in size. Ins some women, this causes severe abdominal pain.
You may also be given progesterone shots to prepare your uterine lining for receiving an embryo; these are placed in a muscle and may cause bruising and pain at the site.
7. Discuss about embryo transfer
This is something to be discussed before starting your IVF, even though it will only be the final step of your cycle.
One of our partner IVF clinics in Malaysia has established that upto 82.9% clinical pregnancy rate can be achieved by the transfer of a single good graded euploid blastocyst, and most doctors will not prefer to transfer more than two embryos even when it is allowed.
Even though a lot of couples come asking for twins, a multiple pregnancy could be dangerous and you must not insist if your clinic advises against it. The doctor can decide on how many embryos to transfer only after examining your health and embryo quality.
Another thing to consider is day-3 or day-5 (blastocyst) transfer, and most good clinics would prefer the latter if your embryos are good enough to grow to that stage.
Many experts have now started advocating for frozen embryos over fresh embryos, but more data analysis is needed to conclusively decide in favor of frozen embryo transfer.
8. Different kinds of treatments
Is conventional IVF your only choice? Will the doctor be utilizing ICSI technique? Will that cost you anything extra?
If you are young with no major fertility problems, and your tubes are open, you may consider IUI before IVF as it is less invasive, much-lower priced, and the drug usage is often optional.
There are also other IVF treatment options that have less intensive drug stimulation with cycles that are may be integrated with your natural menstrual cycles instead of suppressing them.
Some treatment types include natural IVF, which does not use any drugs and is a lot more easy on the body but obviously has much lower success rates because only one egg can be collected.
Treatments like natural modified IVF and mild IVF use fewer days of drugs with smaller dosages that have a milder impact on the body; but again the milder approach is only for some patients and a good doctor will be able to guide you right after reviewing your reports.
Advanced technologies like PGS may help improve IVF success rate, especially if you are in your late 30s or 40s.
It is imperative you know about all these additional services and alternative options, so you know what is exactly needed in your situation.
9. Guard your relationship
Infertility affects both partners as they go through feelings of anger, shame, disappointments, anxiety, and apprehension.
The emotional and psychological stress of IVF is often downplayed but it impacts each partner differently.
What going through this experience together and being open with each other can bring you closer, an Oxford study states that most couples feel the strain on their relationship when they fail to conceive even after a few IVF cycles and some might even need short-term counseling.
10. Find your support system
Even though more than 20 percent of all couples face it, infertility remains a taboo and many people want to keep their diagnosis under wraps.
Imagine the stress of undergoing all those tests and treatments, added with the burden of secrecy.
Reaching out to friends and family can not only help share your load but make the process easier as you might be surprised with how many people have themselves experienced such problems first-hand, and how supportive they can be.
While your spouse’s care is most important, they might be going through their own problems dealing with the situation and a little outside help could prove important for your emotional well-being. Consider online forums and support groups and continue to meet with friends who can keep light conversations and talk about other aspects of life.
Infertility can be demanding and while IVF significantly increases the odds of achieving a pregnancy, it does not provide any guarantees. Fertility treatments can bring you the joy of parenthood but they could also take a toll on your physical and emotional health.
Preparing for IVF means switching to a healthier lifestyle, discussing with people who know better, finding the best treatment options for you, and keeping yourself thoroughly informed about what it entails.