It’s a big step in your journey to be a parent if you are considering IVF or assisted reproduction. You must have already experienced lots of problems to get to this point. A lot of couples go into IVF with the hope that this will be the answer, but unfortunately, when looking at the rates of pregnancy success and live birth rates of IVF in Australia, it’s not looking good.
For women aged under 30 roughly 40% fall pregnant, and 35% have a baby. This declines rapidly as we get older. Who is traditionally looking at doing IVF? Older couples over age 30! So when we look at women aged 35-39 years, just over a third of them doing IVF will fall pregnant and a quarter will have a baby. For women over 40 years, Its less than 5% success having a baby. I don’t want to be all doom and gloom about it, I just need you to be aware of these statistics so you can go in eyes wide open and fully supported.
As a newcastle nutritionist and naturopath, I see my role as supporting the work undertaken by your fertility doctor to optimise the treatment outcomes. A lot of couples find naturopathy or TCM during their fertility journey, which is wonderful! What is discouraging for me, is that they often come 2 weeks out of a transfer and seek help, and in that time frame, change is just not going to happen. I’m a naturopath, not a witch doctor (although sometimes in the media we get portrayed like that!!)
So let’s go through a few things that I want all couples to know when they are struggling to fall pregnant and considering extra support.
- Both members of the couple contribute to the outcome. The most common cause of infertility is DNA damage to sperm AND egg. It takes two to tango, and it takes both of you to be in a optimal healthy state to support a healthy pregnancy. Too often I see couples where the future father doesn’t want to test his sperm, doesn’t want to change his habits and doesn’t want to take herbs or supplements. To me, quite bluntly, that just means he doesn’t have the drive to be a dad. When my husband and I were going through our pregnancy losses, he did whatever he needed to do to increase our chances of success, and I believe as women, we should have that expectation of our partners. If they aren’t willing to do the hard yards now, then perhaps they are not the right man for the job! (I’m getting picky now!!) Honestly, it is something to consider. This is a very taxing journey you are going on (physically and emotionally). Both partners will need to support each other during this; otherwise you may not get through it together! One study showed that couples who didn’t successfully conceive after IVF (which looking at the stats will be roughly two thirds of couples) were THREE times more likely to separate.
- It takes time to improve the quality of the egg and sperm. You have to find patience to go through a naturopathic pre conception plan. Ultimately, I want to get you to the best place you both can be, and then WAIT a further 3-4 months for the egg and sperm to mature from that point of optimum health, nurturing it with your new healthy habits during that time, until the point of conception. By doing this, the outcome of your pregnancy will be much more positive than if we just give you a herb for a month! I completely understand the burning desire to be a parent, however, I also know the devastating heartaches that come after loss. Putting in the time and effort prior to even trying to conceive is the best thing you can do to take control of this journey. You are much more likely to have a trouble free pregnancy AND a beautiful healthy baby!
- Environmental and lifestyle choices make a massive difference to the health of the sperm and egg. I will be asking you to put down the smokes, reduce chemical exposure by changing cosmetics, perfumes, hair dye, spray tan, deodorant, and after shave; by changing how you cook and store food; by looking at everything that comes into contact with your skin and airways and making it as clean as it can be!
- It is safe and effective to take nutritional and herbal medicine while undergoing IVF. Using evidence-based medicine, I will work alongside your specialist to increase your fertility. Naturopathic medicine is personalised medicine. There is no “one size fits all” prescription for fertility, so I won’t say “take maca and it will help”, as some women need it and some women most definitely do not! As a general rule, both men and women need a lot more antioxidants. A HEAP more! So think about including dark green leafy veggies, and richly coloured fruits and berries. Herbal and nutritional medicine shines for providing really intense sources of antioxidants that will help repair and protect your egg and sperm from any DNA damage.
- A Mediterranean style diet is the one that has the most research behind it for both men and women’s fertility. Including lots of fresh seafood, poultry, nuts, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, using moderate amounts of healthy fats, and having small amounts of quality red meat has been shown to improve the sperm and egg quality in couples undergoing fertility treatment. Limiting processed foods, fast foods, energy drinks, and fake foods is essential for our DNA health.
There is a lot of things we can do to help your fertility naturally. For me it’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle with a few missing pieces. We’ve got to do a bit of work to find out what’s happening and what we need to do to improve it. The whole “we don’t know why” answer that you often get at conventional doctors does not sit well with me. We’ll keep digging and improving until we have left no stone unturned.
In my toolbox I’ve got lots of things to try, herbs, minerals, amino acids, vitamin therapy, nutritional interventions, and detoxification. You’ve got nothing to lose (well, maybe some old habits) and everything to gain by using naturopathic medicine to support you in your fertility journey.
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