5 things you should know before starting IVF

Fertility specialist Art Leader outlines what what you should consider before starting in vitro fertility treatment.

Photo: iStockphoto

Photo: iStockphoto

With infertility now affecting one in six couples, many Canadians are opting to pursue alternative methods of becoming parents, including adoption and various assisted reproductive technologies, such as in vitro fertilization (IVF).

Hoping to mitigate the often prohibitive cost of IVF for patients who are struggling with infertility, a handful of provincial governments have introduced publicly funded programs. These programs cover some of the costs associated with the treatment, which can otherwise run upwards of $10,000 per cycle. Ontario, which launched its IVF funding model last December, became the fourth province to have such a program, joining Manitoba, Quebec and New Brunswick.

IVF treatments can be physically, emotionally and financially taxing. Before you embark on this choice, it’s important for prospective patients to be as informed as possible. Here are five things you should keep in mind.

1. Research the process
Before deciding to pursue IVF, patients should try to understand the treatment process and what is involved in each step. Being well informed is the best way to be mentally prepared for the emotional and physical changes that IVF can bring. Success rates vary from clinic to clinic, so don’t be afraid to ask what your chances of having a baby are with a particular treatment.

Patients living in Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick should also look into their province’s respective IVF funding programs to learn which services are covered under their health care plans. Ontario’s funding plan doesn’t include the cost of fertility drugs during the IVF process, while other provincial plans don’t cover the full cost of treatment and drugs. Patients should look into whether their employee benefit plans cover these expenses or if they will have to pay for them out-of-pocket.

2. Make sure that you’re as healthy as possible
Adopting a balanced diet and fitness program is the best way to start any fertility journey. Studies have shown that women who are in better physical and emotional health have the highest chance of success with IVF. Drinking more than four units of alcohol a week has been proven to reduce success rates, and smoking cigarettes can cut the likelihood of conceiving by up to 60 percent. Women who are medically obese should also be aware that their weight can have a negative impact on their chances of success.

3. Timing is everything
IVF can be physically and emotionally stressful. I recommend that women avoid starting an IVF treatment cycle during known periods of high stress or a major life change, such as a career shift. If you are comfortable with sharing your plans, talk to your employer so that you can make adjustments to minimize work-related stress wherever possible, as well as make accommodations for the multiple clinic visits required when you’re undergoing IVF.

4. Build a solid support system
Given the physical and emotional toll that IVF can have on a woman’s physical and emotional well-being, it’s important to have a strong support network of family and friends to turn to when times are particularly challenging. In addition to the array of emotions that patients are prone to feeling while trying to conceive, fertility drugs can significantly affect your mood. Surround yourself with friends, family or a partner who can offer emotional support. There are also a number of online patient forums that can provide a virtual support system.

5. Stay positive but also realistic
Experience tells us that women under 35 have the highest success rates for conceiving through both natural and assisted reproductive technologies. Beyond that age, the chances for success begin to decline significantly. Stay positive and confident on your respective IVF journeys, but also be mindful that factors such as age, weight, lifestyle habits and general health will determine your likelihood of success. In general, women over 30 who want to have children should look at their reproductive health and that of their partners sooner rather than later.

Art Leader is co-founder of the Ottawa Fertility Centre and a board member of the Ontario-based IVF advocacy group Conceivable Dreams.

Read more:
Erin’s story: Infertility and IVF
Ellen’s story: When IVF doesn’t work

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