Preparing for IVF can feel overwhelming – where do you start, what do you do and how do you do it?
Now, a GP may not be the first type of doctor you turn to when preparing for IVF. But from my experience, we are often the ones supporting you right from the start. We may be the clinician you talk to when you’ve been unable to conceive in the first place, and the person referring you to a fertility clinic for IVF.
That’s why I am sharing eight things to think about when preparing for your IVF journey – and how those around you can help you along the way.
8 things to consider when preparing for your IVF journey
1. Your journey, your way
I like to share this idea with as many of my patients as possible. Medical pathways at times can feel discombobulating and even disempowering, so it’s important to decide what you’ll need along the way.
For some, privacy is key, and keeping their treatment quiet is a key way to manage their stress (and sometimes, other people’s expectations!). For others, having this part of their life shrouded in secrecy can make them feel isolated and unsupported.
Do what works for you – be that journaling about your treatment, speaking to a fertility counsellor, or keeping it in the family. There is no right or wrong way.
2. Familiarise yourself with the IVF process
IVF can be confusing – with medical language seemingly designed to bamboozle you and many different steps along the way.
So much airtime can go to specific parts of the journey, like the embryo transfer or the fertilisation of egg and sperm in a laboratory, that I’ve seen some people surprised by the other stages they encounter along the way, like the length of hormonal treatment before the egg retrieval.
Learning the basics of the IVF process before you get started can be a really great way to help you prepare for the journey, both mentally and physically. You don’t need to be an expert (that’s what the medical teams are there for), but knowing what is coming next can really help.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions
This may be your first time going through the process, and it may be your fifth. Whatever stage you are at, I’m sure you’ll have had some questions that have gone unanswered.
The basis of a good clinical relationship is having the safe space you need to ask any question you want, no matter how big or small. Don’t be afraid to share these with your medical team.
Appointments can be overwhelming and it’s so easy to go into a clinic and immediately forget everything that was on your mind. I’d suggest writing down any questions before, or emailing them ahead to your clinic. This is to make sure you get the answers you need, even if you forget the questions you had wanted to ask!
4. Review your medications
Having your medications in check before your IVF journey can be a good way to help you feel more in control at the start of the process. For instance, if you are on long-term medications, they may need to be continued or adjusted during your treatment.
Having a chat with your GP or specialist beforehand can be a good way to make sure that your medications are safe to use during your IVF treatment and beyond. It is important not to suddenly stop any medication you may have been on for some time without discussion with an expert.
5. Streamline your supplements
Knowing what supplements to take can feel overwhelming. The market is saturated with medications that promise the world and often do not deliver. At best, they do nothing and at worst, they can cause harm to you and a future pregnancy.
The supplements you need will depend on your own personal risk profile and health. Take the burden off your shoulders (and your wallet!) by speaking to a qualified health professional, who can help guide you.
6. Be mindful of your BMI
BMI (or body mass index) is a measure of your height and your weight. Most fertility clinics specify the BMI that they need you to be in order to proceed with IVF treatment. This is because having a BMI which is too high or too low can be associated with reduced fertility and an increased risk of potential complications.
However, BMI is not a perfect measure of health. It does not take into account a number of factors, including muscle mass, and this can mean that your BMI can sometimes be higher than you would expect.
I know how difficult this can be in relation to IVF. I have seen patients who have been rejected because their BMI is just slightly too high. If you are struggling with this, please reach out to your GP who can review this with you and can advise you on local support services as needed.
7. Smoke-free is the best way to be
Smoking is known to impact fertility – and continuing to smoke during a future pregnancy can cause harm to you and your baby.
The good news? It is never too late to stop smoking. There are loads of brilliant groups out there who can support you. You’ll even notice changes in how you feel physically, from the first missed cigarette and beyond.
8. Scheduling helps
IVF takes time… and headspace. Clearing time in your diary during the weeks and months ahead can really help.
Not only does this mean taking enough time out of your working day and allowing time for your appointments (including travel time), but also during your downtime.
Blocking out regular mental health breaks for you to decompress and socialise selectively is hugely beneficial. Is hanging out with your sister and her new baby going to be helpful, or is dinner with a couple who are child-free by choice going to be better for your mental health?
Everyone will be different, but making those decisions early on (and organising your diary accordingly) can really help support your mental wellbeing.
Small changes can make big differences
If you are reading this list and seeing a to-do list spiralling out of control, it is important to take a beat. Talking to friends, family, and medical professionals can help build up a community around you – and even the smallest changes can make a big difference.
Sustainable change is built on small habits that stick. Why not start with one of the suggestions above and see how you can get the ball rolling this week?