Many factors play a role in your chances of success with I.V.F. Fixed factors like the woman’s age, the man’s sperm count, the woman’s egg reserve, and health factors like endometriosis and blockages can impact your chances of conceiving naturally and can also affect your chances of success with I.V.F. The good news is that some life choices (which you can change), like maintaining a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, taking the right daily wellness supplements, and quitting smoking can improve your chances of success with I.V.F.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, of the 306,197 assisted reproductive technology cycles reported to the CDC in 2018, 73,831 resulted in live births, which translates to a 24% success rate. However, these percentages don’t necessarily reflect your personal chances of success. Age can play a role in your chances of success. Women under age 35 saw a success rate of 42.6%, while the chances of success for women between age 35-37 dropped to 30.7%, and women between age 38 and 40 saw their chances drop further to 19.7%, according to the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology. Success with I.V.F. is highly dependent on the woman’s age. Research published in the journal Human Reproduction found that chances of success for I.V.F. dropped “sharply” for women after age 35.
But age alone isn’t the only predictor of success. Sperm counts in the man, uterine health, and other factors play a role. Fortunately, there are tools women can use to better estimate their personal chances of success. Older tools include the Templeton Model, but a more recent tool you can use online is known as IVFPredict and research performed at the University of Bristol found it to be more accurate than the older Templeton Model. However, both models were found to underestimate a woman’s chance of having a live birth, so when using this online tool or when estimating your chances using any model, it is wise to remember that a model is just that—an estimate of your success. Your individual pregnancy journey will be a unique story that statistics can only gesture toward.
While there are factors (like age and certain uterine conditions) that can’t be changed, there are factors both women and men can change to improve their I.V.F. chances. Research suggests that there are steps you can take as a couple to improve your chances. It is important to note that this advice doesn’t just apply to women. Men also have a sperm cycle (the time period it takes sperm to mature in the testicles), and this advice applies to men, as well as to women. Here are some things you can do several months before your first I.V.F. cycle to improve your chances:
- Eat a healthy diet (the Mediterranean diet has been found to be best)
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Men should avoid the hot tub, sauna, and hot baths, which can reduce sperm counts
- Quit smoking and other recreational drug use
- Don’t drink heavily
- Keep stress down
- Avoid chemicals, like pesticides
- Men and women should both take a daily supplement (to improve sperm counts and to prepare the woman’s body for pregnancy)
Let’s explore each of these ways you can improve your chances with I.V.F. and why each is so important.
Eat a Healthy Diet
Research published in Human Reproduction found that women who closely adhered to the Mediterranean diet had better success with I.V.F. than those who did not. Women who more closely followed the Mediterranean diet saw a 2.7 times “higher likelihood of achieving clinical pregnancy and live birth.”
What does the Mediterranean diet consist of? According to Nicholas Bakalar, writing for the New York Times, the Mediterranean diet is a “diet high in fruits, vegetables, fish, olive oil, nuts and seeds, and low in refined carbohydrates, sugar, and saturated fat.” Research published in Human Reproduction noted that a diet of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and healthy fats could increase a woman’s chance of having a live birth with I.V.F.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Research indicates that men and women who have a healthy weight can contribute to improving their chances of I.V.F. success. Researchers writing in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology saw that even modest weight loss could increase the chances of I.V.F. success in obese women. Obesity can also impact a man’s sperm count. It is believed that excess fat around the scrotum could increase heat around the testicles which can impact sperm production. Research in Human Reproduction studied testicular heating in obese men and found that this could be a risk factor for lower sperm counts.
Men Should Keep Their Testicles Cool
Testicles are located anatomically separate from the body for a reason. When testicles are heated, this can impact sperm count. Activities like using a hot laptop on your lap, spending time in the hot tub or sauna, or wearing tight-fitting clothing can potentially impair your sperm count. The good news is that avoiding these behaviors can often lead to higher sperm counts in just a couple of months. Daily Wellness has an article here that goes into this subject in more depth.
Quit Smoking, Recreational Drug Use, and Cut Back on Heavy Drinking
Cigarette and marijuana smoke contain chemicals that can impact your sperm count, fertility, and can impact your developing baby should you become pregnant. Not only is smoking bad for your health, studies have found that it can reduce your chances of success with I.V.F. Research published in Reproductive Biomedicine Online found that when women smoke, this can reduce their ovarian reserves and is associated with “poor prognosis” for I.V.F. Cigarette smoking can also impact men’s sperm counts, so men should quit smoking before they go for their sperm retrieval procedure. The Asian Journal of Andrology notes that men who smoke are more likely to produce deformed sperm and have lower sperm counts. Given that tobacco smoke contains over 4,000 different chemicals, it’s no surprise that smoking can affect your I.V.F. chances. Heavy drinking can also impact your chances of success with I.V.F. Research published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology found that women who have more than four drinks a week had “16% less odds of a live birth rate compared to those who drank fewer than four drinks per week.”
This goes hand-in-hand with quitting smoking and cutting back on drinking, but chemicals like pesticides found on non-organic fruits and vegetables can impact sperm count and fertility. A recent Harvard study found that women who consumed fruits and vegetables known to have higher pesticide residues had lower probabilities of achieving live birth with I.V.F. Daily Wellness explores this issue in depth and offers recommendations for which fruits and vegetables are least likely to contain dangerous pesticides and chemicals. When it comes to eating strawberries, kale, spinach, nectarines, and grapes, organic may be best, because these are fruits and vegetables known to have the highest levels of pesticide residue, according to the Environmental Working Group.
Choose a Good Infertility Clinic
When it comes to your chances of success, the clinic you choose can matter. Different clinics have different success rates, and some clinics have higher success rates than the national average. A doctor’s skill in transferring eggs can also play a role. Research in the journal Fertility & Sterility found that difficulty of the egg transfer could impact success rates for I.V.F. among women using donor eggs. However, statistics can be misleading. Some clinics may have inflated success rates because they don’t take on difficult cases (which could result in difficult egg transfers) or don’t work with older women. When choosing your fertility clinic, asking whether your doctor has worked with cases similar to yours and finding out the success rate for those cases is important. The Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology has a search tool that can help you search for clinics in your area.
Keep Stress Down
While it isn’t clear whether high stress can lower your chances of success with I.V.F., research indicates that women who had lower stress hormones had better outcomes. Research published in the journal Human Reproduction found that women who were successful with I.V.F. had lower concentrations of adrenaline during egg retrieval. Meditation, exercise, deep breathing, yoga, and other stress reduction techniques can only be helpful in preparing you for the crucial moments of your I.V.F. cycle.
Folic acid, vitamin D, calcium, and other vitamins and minerals are crucial to prepare your body for pregnancy and are crucial for your developing baby. Some daily wellness supplements have even been associated with higher chances of pregnancy success. A study performed by researchers at Stanford University found that FertilityBlend for Women has been found to improve women’s chances of I.V.F. success and it also contains essential vitamins needed to prepare your body for pregnancy. FertilityBlend for Men also contains essential vitamins and supplements that have been associated with improved sperm count and motility.
These are just some things you can do right away to potentially improve your chances of success with I.V.F. Of course, I.V.F. success is based on many variables, some of which can be changed and some of which cannot be changed. Furthermore, for each couple, some choices will have a more meaningful impact on their chances. For example, if you are considered obese, losing weight may have the most meaningful impact on your chances of success. And for some couples struggling with low sperm counts, low egg reserves, or genetic conditions that impact fertility, using a donor could increase chances. Healthy decisions before you start your first I.V.F. cycle can also be beneficial, and paying attention to the details, like eating the right diet, taking the right wellness supplements, keeping stress down, and avoiding practices known to reduce sperm count can potentially improve your chances of success.