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A Healthy Start – preparing for fertility treatment

By Dr Bidisha Ghosh

Specialty Doctor, Saint Mary’s Assisted Reproductive Treatment

As the saying goes, planning ahead is the key to success – and the same applies to a successful pregnancy, whether conceived naturally or through assisted reproduction. In this blog, Dr Bidisha Ghosh talks about how you can prepare for fertility treatment through simple but important measures relating to your lifestyle:

1.  Healthy eating It makes sense to buy food at the supermarket that mainly includes fresh fruits / vegetables/ salads/ cereals/ pulses/ wholegrain bread/nuts/ fresh milk. .The more you stay away from the shelves that have ready meals/ fizzy drinks / cakes and cookies the better .Your body will get more of natural micronutrients , vitamins and antioxidants from a healthy balanced diet that is vital for the health of your egg and sperm and then for a healthy embryo from the start of conception. 

2.  Exercise There is no doubt that regular moderate exercise is good for you, but like most things in life, you can have too much of a good thing. Research shows that men who do regular moderate intensity exercise have better sperm counts than men (up to 1 hour three times a week) who do very little exercise, but men who exercise at the level of elite athletes have a poorer sperm picture. Some sports, such as cycling if carried out for more than 5 hours a week may also harm male fertility. In women too, regular exercise is beneficial, but studies suggest it should not exceed 4 hours a week.

3. Optimal body weight Couples who are trying to conceive should keep an eye on their waistline and their body mass index (BMI). There are several online calculators that allow you to calculate your BMI, and of course, we can do so for you as well. Research shows that BMI> 30 is associated with subfertility in both men and women.

BMI>30  can affect the ovulation in women which results in infertility  but  not only that , high BMI affects fertility even in normally ovulating women. Moreover there is evidence that IVF success rate may decline with rising BMI of the woman.

In men, being overweight or obese is equally harmful as it alters the testosterone levels in the system which leads to poor sperm count and quality and therefore causes subfertility. Good quality sperm is also vital to improve the success rate of IVF treatment.

It can be a real challenge losing weight, particularly if you are also dealing with the stress of subfertility at the same time. However, support to help you with this is available in primary care via your GP. We find that a healthy, balanced diet and an exercise routine are the building blocks for successful weight management. Some people find it easier to lose weight working with a group with similar aims. As planning a family is a journey together as a couple why not consider implementing these life style changes together. If you start your healthy diet and regular exercises together you are more likely to continue it for longer, motivate each other and get long lasting results.

4.  Smoking If there is one piece of advice that I can say is absolutely vital, it is to quit smoking completely, however infrequent or minimum you smoke. Smoking affects every system in the body and the reproductive system is not an exception. Infertility rates in couples who smoke are about twice those of non-smokers and are directly related to the number of cigarettes smoked per day.

Women, who smoke need increased doses of IVF medications, have fewer eggs in IVF and have a lower chance of implantation of the embryo. The miscarriage rate in early pregnancy is also significantly higher in smokers.

In men toxic chemicals in cigarette smoke, like cyanide, nicotine and carbon monoxide decrease the sperm count, motility and even reduce the sperm’s capacity to fertilise an egg. Women who are non-smokers but have partners who smoke also suffer the same detrimental effects.

5. Supplements though a healthy balance diet will provide you with most of the nutrients, there are certain supplements that are essential to start pre conception. Folic acid 400ug must be started at least 3 months before conception and is vital to the development of the brain and spinal cord in the fetus. Vitamin D deficiency is quite common and evidence has shown that this can lead to multiple problems in pregnancy and in neonates. Vitamin D 10ug per day is now the daily recommended dose that should be started preconception and continued throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding period.

6. Regular intercourse Women with regular menstrual cycles are fertile between day 10 – day 17 of their cycle but this is probably the case in only 30% of women. In others who have menstrual cycles of varying lengths it is very difficult to predict the fertile period and it may even vary in each cycle. Therefore couples trying to achieve a pregnancy are advised to have regular intercourse two to three times a week throughout the cycle to maximise their chances of natural conception.

7. Pre conception control of medical conditions Women who have medical conditions like type 1 or type 2 Diabetes, Hypertension, Asthma, Epilepsy, Congenital cardiac problems should seek preconception advise to have these conditions well controlled. This not only helps in conception but also improves the chances of a safe pregnancy and a healthy baby.

These are some simple pieces of advice which may help you to achieve your aim of a healthy pregnancy, either spontaneously or through fertility treatment. Good luck!