A small study of women undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF) in a large Boston fertility clinic has revealed that perhaps more often than anyone realized, IVF patients don’t always do as the doctor orders. The 106 women in the study, who were all scheduled to undergo a cycle of IVF, filled out a questionnaire about virtually all aspects of their lifestyle – exercise, smoking, alcohol, sleep, herbs, caffeine, acupuncture, and how many fruits and vegetables they ate. They told the researchers what their habits were in the preceding month, as well as what they did 5 years prior to completing the survey.
The scientists were particularly interested to find out whether the women did more of the healthy behaviors – like cutting down on or eliminating alcohol or caffeine – while they were in an IVF cycle, and whether they were making healthier choices now than 5 years ago. The doctors did find a significant drop in alcohol use, as well as a significant uptick in the use of acupuncture treatments.
Most surprising, though, was that many women in the study did not make lifestyle changes while undergoing IVF that might improve their odds of conception. The researchers were most taken aback by the fact that 12 percent of the women took herbs during an IVF cycle, even though they were explicitly told not to do so (herbs were not part of services offered by the clinic, and in fact acupuncturists employed at the fertility clinic were not allowed to even discuss any herbal remedies with infertility patients).
Also surprising: The amount of alcohol some of the women consumed. Though the clinic’s patients are told to give up alcohol completely while in an IVF cycle, about 50 percent of the women drank one or two drinks weekly. The patients were also told to limit caffeine consumption to 50 milligrams per day, but nearly half continued to drink caffeine every day. Vigorous exercise can hurt pregnancy rates from IVF as well; the study found that 36 percent of the respondents exercised four to six times a week, and 4 percent exercised daily.
With such a small study it’s not possible to say these findings apply to all women undergoing fertility treatment, and to IVF in particular, but it does raise interesting questions about why we might not follow our doctor’s prescription for lifestyle changes to the letter. IVF is especially invasive, complex, and expensive, and so many parts of the procedure are out of a woman’s control – it would be easy to conclude that a woman would therefore want to do all of the things she can control -- namely her lifestyle. But IVF is also extremely emotionally difficult for anyone who’s been through it, and living a monk’s life leading up to and through a cycle simply isn’t so easy to do.
What has your experience been with IVF? Have you altered your lifestyle during a cycle? Do you think it helped – or didn’t make any difference? Would you do anything different if you do another cycle?