Anthony McPartlin made headlines when he revealed that he and his wife Lisa have been struggling to have a baby. The popular TV presenter, best known for his on-screen partnership with Declan Donnelly, candidly told the Radio Times, "Lisa and I would love to have kids. We're trying. It's tougher than you think when you get a bit older."
They are not alone – as many as one if seven couples experience difficulties conceiving. With that in mind, HELLO! Online speaks exclusively to fertility expert Jacqueline Hurst to get answers to some of the most common fertility questions.
How can I prepare my body for conceiving naturally?
There is endless advice on how best to prepare for conceiving naturally, but I recommend my patients focus on five areas:
• Keep healthy and fit: It might sound obvious, but looking after your body is an important place to start. Regular exercise helps with weight control and, combined with a healthy diet, it can help optimise your chances of conception. Any exercise you enjoy is fine, but avoid exercising to exhaustion – excessive exercise affects a woman’s hormone balance, which can affect cycles and ovulation.
• Limit stress: Fertility problems can be highly stressful for some couples, so you really need to take it easy on yourselves. Consider the main areas of stress in your life and therapies such as acupuncture, reflexology, hypnotherapy, or massage can also help to reduce the effects.
• Reproductive health-check: Make sure you’re up to date with your cervical smear – if any treatment is needed, it’s easier before you are pregnant. It’s also advisable that you and your partner have had a sexual health check-up (This can be done at your local genito-urinary (GU) clinic at your nearest big hospital. For NHS clinics see www.fpa.org.uk).
• Positive thinking: Trying for a baby can be fun, but when faced with delays and uncertainty this can result in a sense of loss of control. It is really important to try to stay positive and not to lose confidence in your body’s ability to have a baby. Explore relaxation techniques to help avoid slipping into anxiety or negative thinking.
• Nutrition: There is increasing evidence that good nutrition plays an important part in optimising conception. Aim for a healthy balanced diet, take a good quality preconception multi-vitamin and mineral supplements and remember that any changes to diet or lifestyle take about 3 months to have an effect.
How can I improve the odds of IVF working for me?
The essential advice is to relax. Anxiety and stress releases adrenaline into your blood stream. Allow plenty of time in your schedule for appointments and take each day as it comes. Try visualisation techniques – close your eyes and breathe deeply. Try to spend 15 minutes every morning and evening visualising what is happening inside your womb.
What is acupuncture and how can it help me?
Acupuncture can help to boost natural fertility by balancing hormones, improving blood flow to the reproductive organs and boosting egg growth and the thickness of the womb lining. It’s really good for reducing stress too. A recent study has shown that women who had acupuncture before and after embryo transfer had a 42% success rate per cycle compared to 26% amongst those who did not.
I’ve heard ‘positive thinking’ can help – what is this, and does it really make a difference?
Visualisation is very important at every stage of IVF. There are so many hurdles to overcome. Try not to allow yourself to slip into anxiety or negative thinking. At each stage of treatment, visualise what is happening in your body – the follicles growing, the eggs maturing, the womb lining thickening, the embryos implanting.
Explore relaxation techniques to find one that suits you and fits into your life easily. Try meditation, yoga or tai chi.
The difficulty we’ve had in getting pregnant has put a real strain on our relationship – is this normal?
It’s absolutely normal. It can be a stressful process, so take time out occasionally to stop thinking and worrying and spend time with your partner, doing things you both enjoy. You need to be able to support each other through this and to still have a good relationship at the end of it. You’ll both react differently to the pressures, so try to find ten minutes each evening to talk about what has happened and how you are feeling, so everything is out in the open.
Jacqueline Hurst is a qualified acupuncturist, counsellor and psychotherapist and runs Fertility Support - a clinic based in Warwickshire which offers help, advice and therapies to those who want to conceive. For more information go to www.fertility-support.co.uk or call 02476 421935.