A lot of people during lockdown are feeling very frustrated. Things are starting to get moving now and clinics are starting to open again but for some people there is still quite a waiting list because they’ve just started up. A lot of people want to know what they can do at the moment to help things. I will go through some of the things that you can do for yourself while you’re waiting. It’s a bit of a checklist because sometimes when patients come in for treatment, they’ll say “I wish I’d come to see you sooner”. There’s a lot of information that we go through, advice that we give and patients would have liked to have done those things earlier. Some really simple things that you can do to help yourself when you’re preparing for IVF may seem common sense stuff but sometimes you just need a little bit of a kick to remind you that these are the important things to think about.
First of all, eating – eat as well as you can. Go for natural foods where possible, stay away from processed foods, go for the best quality that you can get hold of. If you can afford organic food, then, ideally, buy organic. If you are working to the minimum, you can look at things like the Dirty Dozen that will tell you the worst foods that you can eat that aren’t organic and which ones are best for you to buy. Those are little simple tweaks you can make without having to go completely organic. Look at the quality of the produce you can get hold of, look at the quality of milk if you use dairy products. If you have got digestive issues or complex conditions, consider if working with a nutritionist would benefit you, if you need to go on that deeper level. Look at what supplements you’re taking. Often we see patients coming in who are taking too many supplements. They’re doubling up, they’re taking a preconception multivitamin but they’ve also read that maybe they should add this product in and don’t always realize that they’re doubling up. This is where a nutritionist could really come in because over-supplementation is just as negative as not having any supplements. Do your research on that side of things.
Giving up smoking is a really obvious tip. If you’re struggling and you do smoke, seek help. There are different methods out there that you can use. There’s a fantastic book that a lot of people have found very useful and you can read that. There are lots of things out there but we know that smoking actually decreases your reproductive years and it can affect all the processes throughout reproduction development during your cycle. Trying to get rid of smoking where possible will really help. Alcohol – the research is mixed around alcohol. For men, as long as they’re having low to moderate amounts of alcohol this should be OK. It depends again, in certain circumstances. If you were seeing somebody like myself, they would look at your constitution and be able to tell you whether you can get away with having alcohol or if it is those tiny amounts that you might be having still having an impact. Keep it low because you don’t want to feel necessarily like you can’t have any fun and your life is on hold but just be conscious that you’re not overdoing it with alcohol. Definitely, when you come to start an IVF cycle, we would tell you to cut the alcohol out just for the cycle at least. With IVF there has been research that has shown reduced life birth rates when people have drunk excessive amounts. Be conscious of the amount you drink.
Caffeine – it’s a little bit mixed. Sometimes we hear very negative things around caffeine and male fertility, other times, we’re not seeing that it’s substantiated. From a TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) point of view, caffeine is a diuretic and it’s going to decrease the fluids in your body and in certain cases we’ll see some issues in the semen being too thick or the women are having night sweats. We want to be conscious that the body has enough fluids so caffeine is going to have a negative impact on the body. If you’re a particularly anxious person, you struggle to sleep, caffeine isn’t going to be great. Reducing caffeine as much as possible, switching to decaf will really help you.
Another thing to look at is medication. Depending on if you’ve already seen a consultant or not, or you may be waiting for IVF, things that you want to check is whether the medication that you’re on at the moment may have any impact on fertility. Sometimes your GP might not have picked up on that or you might not have got to the stage to speak to your GP. Doing that research to make sure you’re not taking anything that is going to impede your chances of conception because often there are alternatives that can be used. Exercise – you can’t go wrong with exercise, it gets your energy moving, it gets your blood circulation going, it helps with your mental health. On the other side, make sure you’re not overdoing it as well. Listen to your body, if you’re feeling tired, if you need a rest, then do rest. Make sure you get plenty of sleep. Particularly in lockdown, people have really struggled with keeping good sleeping habits. If you have got out of routine, try and work to get back into a good routine. Ideally, be in bed by 10:30 PM, this is where we would want you to be as a Chinese medicine practitioner. One of the reasons is that at night your liver helps detoxify the body, it helps regenerate for the next day and if you’re up late, you’re then giving your body other functions rather than being able to rest and repair. 11 o’clock is deliver time so get to bed at 10:30, you can still be watching a movie for a little while but at least if you’re resting, your body can then do its jobs and it would during the night. It’s also about getting a decent number of hours of sleep.
Emotional health is also important. If you’ve had issues in the past, you might have had traumatic events happen to you, you may have had miscarriages, there may be lots of different things that you’ve experienced and that may be affecting you, now is a good time to address those before going into an IVF cycle if you’ve got the chance. If you’re a worrier trying to find ways to switch your mind off and stop that overthinking will really help you. Building a practice of mindfulness or meditation or some kind of activity that occupies your mind like knitting can help switch you out of those negative thoughts. Use those to help calm your mind. If you’ve got issues around grief or fear, perhaps working with a therapist if you can help address those. IVF is an emotional process as well and we want your emotional health to be as good as possible.
Stress, worry, emotional stress – try and bring more love and joy into your life. Go for hobbies and things that are going to really excite you. We can get stuck in the mundane and almost forget how to have fun sometimes. Bring in things that will help make you feel happy, having fun, bring out that inner child if you can.
Frustration – if you’ve got a lot of frustration and anger and feelings that you’re suppressing, try and get them out. Exercise is really good for this. Boxing if you’ve really got lots of aggression that you need to get out of you. Do what you can to work on your emotional health and also be creative because sometimes being creative and making things happen can really help get things moving on an emotional level.
Also, look at your environment. I’ll talk a little bit more in detail about this later but what are you being exposed to, what are your living arrangements, how can you make those things as healthy as possible for you? Now is the time if you are preparing for an IVF cycle and you want to do acupuncture to start looking for an acupuncturist so you’re ready and you can start the ball rolling.