Giving yourself the best chance of having a baby
His and Hers Fertility Bootcamp focuses on lifestyle changes to increase the odds, with or without medical intervention
Cormac and Nefissa Flood with their baby Rehan (14 weeks) at their home in Blackrock, Co Dublin. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
Few people are about on Dublin’s Merrion Square early on a Saturday morning but I have a bet with myself that I know where the couple hand-in-hand striding purposefully ahead of me is heading.
Sure enough, the man and woman turn into the doorway I predicted on Mount Street, as another couple approaches from the opposite direction. But this second couple’s body language couldn’t be more different – there’s no physical contact and they are wordlessly slowing down, as if willing the moment of arrival to be delayed.
The destination for both is a free “His and Hers Fertility Bootcamp” hosted by the Merrion Fertility Clinic, which is linked to the neighbouring National Maternity Hospital on Holles Street. The two couples’ demeanour represent both ends of the spectrum of emotions that come with the prospect of needing assistance with reproduction – from embarrassment and fear of the unknown to new-found optimism and gratitude for what medical science can achieve.
However, the bootcamp is primarily about lifestyles changes that, as clinic director Dr Mary Wingfield explains, can help couples to achieve spontaneous pregnancy without intervention.
Or, if that still doesn’t happen, improve their chances of conception with fertility treatment.
As the lecture room fills up with about 100 people, there is a buzz of conversation even if many are feeling outside their comfort zone.
The majority are couples; some women have come alone, a few with their mothers, and there is at least one unaccompanied male.
By the end of the half-day programme they have heard different speakers on a range of factors affecting fertility and steps to take that could increase the odds of having a baby.
Meanwhile Declan Keane, senior embryologist and director of ReproMed fertility clinics in Dublin and Kilkenny, also highlights the importance of going back to the basics when it comes to fertility.
“Many people don’t realise that treatments such as IVF [in vitro fertilisation], IUI [intrauterine insemination] and ICSI [intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection] are a last resort in fertility treatment,” he says. “There are so many different things couples and individuals can do before they even get to that stage.”
Advice put out by ReproMed highlights how honey is “a natural fertility booster”; garlic can help women with endometriosis conceive naturally, tomatoes “can do wonders for your sperm health” and that couples using lubricants during intercourse should be aware that many contain spermicides, so they should use a natural alternative such as canola oil (also known as rapeseed oil).
While adjusting nutrition is, without a doubt, going to benefit couples struggling with infertility, if the woman has, say, a blocked Fallopian tube, no amount of lifestyle changes alone is going to sort the problem, points out counselling psychotherapist Ann Bracken, head of the Mind/Body programme at the Sims clinic in Dublin.
However, while she feels it would be “irresponsible” to say to people that improving their diet and taking more exercise will be enough to solve their fertility problems, at the same time going through expensive and emotionally draining treatments without improving lifestyle factors “is not giving yourself the best chance”.
So, if starting, or enlarging, a family is on your mind, here are some tips from those working in the field of fertility:
Ironically, perhaps, this is what Dr Wingfield kicks off her presentation with at the fertility bootcamp – as it is the one thing nobody in the room can do anything about. However, it’s the big message that doctors like her want to get out, she explains, that “the age of the woman is critical in getting pregnant”, acknowledging that “nobody likes talking about it”.
No matter how unfair it seems, Mother Nature doesn’t abide by equality legislation; age 20-30 is the time of optimum female fertility and it declines sharply after the age of 35. The passing years do not have such a dramatic effect on men but their fertility does decline from the age of 45.
IVF will make up only half of the pregnancies that are lost through women postponing procreation from age 30 to age 35, Wingfield warns.
Men’s biological clocks may tick slower but male factors are the sole cause of infertility in 20 per cent of cases and a contributory factor to a further 25 per cent. So the man needs to look at his lifestyle too and also go for medical investigations if necessary.
Frequency of sex
Sex every two to three days optimises the chances of pregnancy – but that can be difficult, Wingfield acknowledges, for couples who spend a lot of time apart or are simply too tired.
“Get a balance between being too neurotic about it and making sure you are giving yourselves a chance,” she advises.
Watch your weight
Losing or gaining weight may boost your chances of conceiving, depending on your starting point.