Improving your chances of conception

Improving your chances of conception suggested by the Fertility service at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, Fulham Road

Couples who come to our unit often ask, “Is there anything we can do to improve our chances of success?” The simple answer is “Yes”.

Stop smoking

Chemicals in cigarette smoke are harmful to both eggs and sperm. Smokers take up to 30% longer than non-smokers to conceive naturally and studies show that smoking reduces the chances of IVF working by 50–70% per attempt. It reduces the response to stimulation and the rate of fertilisation.

Reduce your alcohol consumption

Although the effects of alcohol on conception are less clearcut than with smoking, heavy drinking does affect sperm production and motility. In the case of the woman, heavy alcohol intake during early implantation and pregnancy will expose the foetus to toxins which could lead to foetal abnormalities—this is called foetal alcohol syndrome. During assisted conception we encourage both the man and woman to avoid alcohol as some studies suggest that even small amounts can reduce pregnancy rates.

Don’t take recreational drugs

There is very good evidence that both male and female fertility can be seriously impaired by illicit drugs. In addition, smoking can cause serious permanent damage to a foetus during pregnancy.

Check that you are immunised against rubella

Most women now trying to get pregnant were immunised against rubella when they were at school (this is now part of the MMR jab given to children). If you are not immune and catch rubella when pregnant, the baby can develop problems with hearing and mental retardation.

Take folic acid

Folic acid, which can be obtained over the counter from any chemist, reduces the risk of your baby having a neural tube defect such as anencephaly or spina bifida. You should take 400mcg of folic acid for 3 months before conception and for the first 3 months of your pregnancy.

Watch your weight

Being underweight or overweight may reduce your response to treatment to the point that you do not respond to stimulation at all. Your fertility specialist will measure your weight in kilograms divided by your height in metres squared—this is a ratio called the Body Mass Index (BMI). If your BMI is less than 19kgs/m2 or more than 30 kgs/m2, you will be advised to delay your treatment until your BMI is within this range.

Take gentle exercise

Although the woman should avoid strenuous exercise during the IVF programme, gentle exercise for 20–30 minutes 3–4 times per week is encouraged in both partners to improve health and help cope with the stress of investigations and treatment.