Lauren Haring, RN, IVF Coach
Advances in reproductive science and technology continue to improve success rates since IVF became available in the late 1970s. But, the ins and outs of IVF are still not common knowledge. Navigating IVF begins with a better understanding of what the process entails.
An IVF cycle takes about 4 weeks from start to completion (finding out pregnancy results). Timing will vary based on medication protocols but typically follows these steps:
Baseline blood work and ultrasound, usually around menstrual cycle day 2
Injectable fertility medications to stimulate the ovaries to develop multiple follicles and prevent ovulation with multiple monitoring visits
Trigger injection to prepare eggs for retrieval
Egg retrieval procedure is performed
Insemination of mature eggs with partner or donor sperm
Assessment of fertilization and embryo development for 3 – 6 days
Embryo(s) transferred into the uterus
Pregnancy outcome testing per clinic protocol
IVF treatment requires as much of your mind as it does your body. It brings ups, downs, and everything in between for you to process before, during, and after the cycle is complete. Every IVF experience will be personal and unique, just as your fertility story is.
Here are 10 ways to help you mentally and physically prepare for IVF like a pro:
1. Get the facts
One of the best methods to combat anxiety is with knowledge. Do you truly know why you’re doing IVF? Are you aware of what is going to happen during each phase? Did your doctor discuss possible side effects and complications that could occur? What are your individual success rates?
A detailed conversation about your diagnosis, how the treatment process works, and what your responsibilities are will provide clarity and confidence as you move through your IVF journey. It is your right to ask. Talk with your fertility team to ensure all of your questions are answered, you are comfortable proceeding, and proper expectations are set.
You are investing time, money, energy, your body, and more into this - you deserve to understand and be your own best fertility advocate.
2. Focus on a healthy fertility foundation
At a time when so much feels out of your control, it’s crucial to control the things you can before starting IVF. The best chance for a successful outcome starts with choices that support your health. While you can’t change your age or genetics, you can nourish your mind, body, and reproductive wellness from within.
To lay the best path, you can make small changes in various lifestyle areas including:
Nutrition & Hydration
Proper nutrients are required for both partners to be able to create and carry the baby. It’s a lot of work to grow a human! Eating healthily is one of the best natural fertility boosters.
There is not one “perfect” fertility diet, but following a Mediterranean diet provides antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects which benefit reproductive health. Include plenty of whole grains, healthy unsaturated fats, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, legumes, olive oil, and fish whenever you can. Eat the rainbow of fruits and veggies to maximize the full range of nutrients you’re getting.
Water performs many important functions in the body like making minerals and nutrients accessible, flushing waste, regulating body temperature, and hydrating cervical mucus, to name a few. Aim to drink half of your body weight in ounces per day. For example, a 140-pound woman should drink at least 70 ounces of water per day.
Sleep is essential for good general health and many body processes. This means it is essential for optimal reproductive health as well. When you get enough good quality sleep, your brain chemistry normalizes and hormones return to a baseline level.
Healthy sleep habits require adequate duration (7 – 9 hours per night), good quality, and appropriate timing. Allow your bedroom to be a sanctuary! Invest in sheets you love, declutter, keep the room dark and cool, establish a good routine, and limit electronics for one hour before bed.
You’ve heard it before: Sitting is the new smoking. I’d even reframe that to say failure to exercise is the new smoking.
Moderate amounts of physical activity have been shown to benefit fertility. Consistent movement helps balance hormones, increase circulation, and decrease stress levels. Implementing more movement into your routines can be as simple as parking farther away, taking the stairs, or using a break for a 15-minute walk.
Exercise is also one of the best ways to alleviate feelings of anxiety, stress, and depression. Each person’s mental and emotional response to IVF will differ, but experiencing difficult emotions is not uncommon. Restorative activities like yoga or a hike in nature can really help.
During IVF your fertility clinic will advise about necessary activity restrictions for each stage.
Small changes can have big impacts! Don’t forget that men provide half of the blueprint for the child. Include one another in your small changes to foster accountability, support, and connection.
3. Get organized
IVF is a stressful process. Being disorganized will compound that stress. When emotions run amok and random thoughts enter your mind at any given time (especially while on fertility medications), you can promote calm by keeping yourself organized.
An IVF notebook or phone app is great so you have one go-to place for all things IVF. Use it to jot down questions, record your cycle results, ponder emotions, and note anything you want to remember along the way.
Just a quick search on Etsy, Amazon, or similar site will bring amazing IVF cycle support products to your fingertips. Many are made with love by current or former IVF warriors who have been where you are and get it. You can find medication organizers, injection tools, cycle journals, adorable clothing items, and meaningful keepsakes.
4. Master your meds
It would be a red flag if anyone was excited for this part of IVF. No one enjoys the injections, but you will be amazed at what you’re capable of doing to reach your goals. Review all of your medications in detail before day 1!
Giving yourself an injection at home can be scary the first time. Here are some tips to conquer your fertility medications:
Remember that it only gets easier after the first injection is done!
Watch training videos and ask your fertility team questions so you understand what each medication is for and how to mix and administer with confidence.
The most important thing you can do is give yourself time and space to get it right.
Deep breathing and relaxation techniques prior to the injection can be helpful so your body is less tense.
Try not to psych yourself out by getting ready to do the injection and repeatedly stopping – say 1, 2, 3 and just do it!
Set reminders or alarms to keep on track and avoid late or missed doses.
5. Financial planning
Plain and simple, IVF is expensive. Without good insurance coverage, it may take time to get finances together for treatment and medication expenses. Those with coverage will need to plan treatment around the time it takes for the insurance company to authorize treatment and receive medications.
No one enjoys the surprise of getting an unexpected bill during or after IVF treatment. Be clear on exactly what your insurance or financial contract covers (or doesn’t), expected co-pays, and what your out-of-pocket costs may be for both the IVF cycle and fertility medications.
A few additional financial considerations:
There will be added cost for any medication refills needed throughout the cycle.
If your cycle is canceled prior to egg retrieval or embryo transfer, understand what that financially means for you.
Check in advance if early pregnancy monitoring is included in your coverage or contract.
6. It’s okay to say no
Certain occasions bring simultaneous joy and pain when trying to conceive (like baby showers and birthday parties). Protect your valuable time, emotions, and mental health during IVF by putting yourself first. If you aren’t up for an activity, it is okay to just say no. But remember, like you, we never know what someone is dealing with behind public view, so be compassionate in your response.
7. Choose your people
Be proactive about creating your IVF support system. Identify who you trust to include on this incredibly personal and special journey. Knowing who you want to share this part of your life with when you’re in the thick of it and need someone to lift you up, or just listen, is priceless.
Family and friends can offer amazing support or they end up being an emotional drain. This is your private information to share and it can take time to decide the right people you want let in. In hindsight, sometimes patients wish they had not told so many people initially as it adds more pressure.
Counseling with a reproductive mental health professional is a great option to help you work through your fears, feelings, and build resilience. This can be a valuable tool for both individuals and couples.
8. Don’t leave your partner behind
Infertility and IVF can be one of the most challenging experiences a couple goes through in their life. It is completely normal for each partner to react differently to fertility and IVF stress.
Make communication a priority. Your partner needs support just as much as they need to be there to support you. Provide the opportunity to discuss your feelings, concerns, and excitement as you move through your cycle. Talk about your hopes and expectations for each other and how to better support one another. No one should feel alone, especially when you’re in it together.
A quick note about IVF and sex: Unless prohibited by your fertility clinic, try to work in some “just for fun” sex instead of the “let’s make a baby” sex that has likely taken over this part of your relationship.
9. Stress management and resilience
Additional stress with IVF is normal. Everyone experiences it differently based on their own personality and history. But it is important to know that too much stress can throw hormones awry. When you’re under stress, the fight or flight response kicks in by producing more Cortisol (the stress hormone), which can throw off your reproductive hormone production.
Mindfulness and stressor awareness are the first steps toward better management and resilience. Identifying your triggers can help you anticipate, avoid, and employ coping strategies. For some, it is the stress of injections, while others may be triggered by their work or daily schedule.
Avoid unnecessary stress during your IVF cycle by making your life as simple as possible. Learn to ask for help. Small tasks like walking the dog or getting groceries can be done by those who want to support you. Major upheavals like moving homes or a changing careers bring more stress and are better avoided during this time if possible.
Combat the effects of stress with relaxation promoting activities like meditation, yoga, acupuncture, massage therapy, walking in nature, journaling and more. Mental health provider and IVF support groups are great resources to utilize during this time.
10. Breathe. Enough said, you’ve got this!
You are strong. You can absolutely do this. And you don’t have to do it alone! Look for the positive and celebrate each milestone as you move through treatment. No matter how big or small, each one is vital to reach your goal of bringing home a healthy baby.
Focusing on these areas in advance will help you have a better IVF experience overall. This is an exciting, magical, and momentous time. Remember to be kind and patient with yourself along the way.
Embrace Fertility offers IVF Cycle Coaching, 1:1 Fertility Support, and Fertility Wellness Programs for your complete fertility and IVF journey. Click here to learn more.