Misconceptions about IVF

Dear Professor Winston,
I am 42 and have been trying to conceive for 3 years. I have just completed my first IVF cycle which was unsuccessful. I had 10 eggs, 9 fertilised, 7 were viable at 3 days and two were transferred at 3 days. Sadly only one of the remaining 5 was viable for freezing at 5 days. I have one child, conceived naturally after 6 months and born in 2008 in the UK. We now live in South Africa. While undergoing IVF, my husband and I were not advised about activities to avoid during the process, other than being told to take it easy and to avoid alcohol. Naturally, I am questioning whether there was anything I did which may have jeopardised the success. Our own internet reading gave such conflicting advice that we simply did not know what to do or not to do. I hope you will be able to comment on the following: Is sex post embryo transfer safe? Is it safe to run (jog) post transfer? Is it safe to ride horses post transfer? Is it safe to dance post transfer? (New Year’s Eve fell two days after my transfer!) Should I have gone home immediately after the transfer and stayed in bed until my pregnancy test? Do the chemicals/pesticides in our food/environment have a detrimental effect on fertility and would eating organic food be beneficial? I fully understand that my age is probably the reason the IVF failed, but I hope the answers to these questions may clear up a few misconceptions flying around the web! Regards T

Dear T,

I don’t want to sound dismissive but I really believe that it only requires a very little thought to see that women get pregnant all the time indulging in all the activities you are clearly worried about – including sex, horse-riding and reasonable exercise. This is fully understandable because I think after every embryo transfer there is a special feeling of fragility and often a kind of illusion that one must be pregnant. Moreover, the menstrual period, when it comes, always a horrible experience and people always feel that they have done something deleterious.

And, I am sorry to say this – but no matter what individual clinics may state, you have to face the fact that the statistics are very clear indeed. A woman of 42 has around 5 – 8% chance of success with each cycle of IVF so the outcome you had is mathematically normal and to be completely anticipated. This sounds harsh but it is important, I think, to be realistic.

By the way, I do not consider there any reason to worry about organic food, though why you should be indulging in something which is more expensive without any benefit that I can think of is a bit puzzling. A key question – does it taste better?. And for goodness sake, if you like having a glass of alcohol occasionally why not indulge yourself? There really is no serious evidence at all that an occasional drink before, during or immediately after pregnancy has the slightest deleterious effect. And I am sure that is true of those delicious wines from the Paarl region.

My best wishes,
Good luck to you
Robert Winston