8 ways to survive the festive season when you’re having difficulties trying to conceive

Written by Tanja Faessler-Moro
19 Nov

The festive season can be challenging for many people, particularly if you’re experiencing difficulties getting pregnant, as you navigate extended family members asking about your plans for starting a family.

As Christmas approaches, it may feel like you are being pulled in all directions - longing for that picture perfect family time of your own, trying to put on a happy face while you may be hurting on the inside, and wishing people would leave the issue alone. All these feelings are perfectly normal.

The holidays are meant to be a time of joy, gratitude and family. Here are eight ways to gracefully survive this festive season when you’re having difficulties conceiving.

pregnant christmas

1. Be prepared

In the coming weeks, you may have to deal with curiosity from family members, or have to cope with insensitive comments. For this, it pays to practice ahead of time so you’re not caught off guard. At home, rehearse a few lines you can say if someone enquires about this sensitive topic. Discuss and agree with your partner what your main message will be to such enquiries and who may potentially deal with it. Be polite, somewhat vague and friendly. Take control of the situation, be warm and then change the subject.

2. Communicate healthy boundaries

Unfortunately, you may have to deal with people who are pushy, rude or insensitive. If someone makes a hurtful comment, prepare for this too. People usually don’t know how hurtful it is if they suggest a wonder diet or that you simply need to relax. Remember most of the time they are just trying to help. Be patient with them. Politely and firmly reinforce your boundaries - you never have to discuss anything you are not comfortable discussing, and you’re within your rights to make this known.

3. Practice self-care

The holidays can be a draining time at best. Since December is so often a period of overindulgence, set yourself some goals when it comes to eating and drinking, your sleep routine and even your spending habits, so as not overextend yourself or put yourself into overly stressful situations. But take the opportunity to have a drink without feeling guilty!

4. Acknowledge your relationship

While you’re dedicating some ‘me’ time spend some time on your relationship as well. Sometimes, it may feel to you that your partner is not equally interested in the fertility related topics. Well, how do you truly know what your partner thinks or feels about it? Make a conscious decision to acknowledge your partners feelings. A simple question like ‘What can I do for you?’, ‘How can I help you?’ or ‘I’m here for you’ can help to strengthen your relationship.

5. Remember to be grateful

Constantly realign to all the ways that your life is full and meaningful already, by writing down three things you’re grateful for every day.

6. Find your own well-being in the present

So often, our suffering is caused in most part by our own thoughts and interpretations of reality, rather than reality itself. Try to reclaim your own presence of mind and power in the coming months and remember - nobody can make you feel anything, at least, not without your permission.

When you get carried away in your own thoughts about the world around you, one thing always happens - you are no longer in the world. Sometimes we cannot predict the shape our happiness will come in. Try and find happiness and well-being within you, right now and not in worries of what could be.

7. Challenge negative thinking

If your thoughts manifest in a negative form, it might be time to learn to challenge this negative thinking. Watch your inner monologue and be careful of one-dimensional, “black or white” thinking. The more you tell yourself something, the more you’ll think it’s true, so it pays to be watchful - is it really true that you can never enjoy Christmas because you don’t have children?

When you tell yourself something like, “Everything will be OK, just as soon as…” you’re brushing away the wonder of the present moment, and all the ways that your life is already OK, right now.

8. Take a breather

All of the above can be achieved if you can take a moment every day to stop, turn inward and reflect on our experiences. By incorporating a breathing exercise into your daily routine, you train yourself to relax, which loosens your muscles and lowers your cortisol levels. This brings you back to focused awareness on the present.

There is any number of helpful breathing exercises. You can try a 4/7 technique: wherever you are, close your eyes and find your breath. Breathe slowly in for a count of four, pause for a moment, and then breathe slowly out again for a count of seven. Placing your hands on your lower ribs or diaphragm can focus your attention on the way your lungs fill and empty as you breathe. Simply let go, and clear your mind, even if it’s just for a short while.

The festive season can be a difficult time as you navigate your journey to parenthood, but try to see the many ways that it can remind you of the joys you already have in your life.

All our fertility clinics offer supportive counselling services to patients. If you need a little extra help, don’t hesitate to reach out to our experienced fertility counsellors.

Read more: Melbourne IVF counselling, IVFAustralia counsellors, Queensland Fertility Group counsellors, TasIVF counsellor, Virtus Fertility Centre counsellor


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There’s a sperm donor shortage in Australia – but only 20% of men know about it

The leading fertility clinics in the Virtus Health group, including IVF Australia, Melbourne IVF and Queensland Fertility Group, have joined forces to research sperm donation in Australia

What did we find out about Sperm Donation?

Only 20% of men are aware that there is a shortage of sperm donors in this country.
While the majority of Australians are aware of the need for blood and organ donation, the requirement for sperm donors is largely unknown.
Used by patients as either part of an In-Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) cycle, or via Intrauterine Insemination (IUI), donor sperm can help overcome male factor infertility (15%), or help same-sex couples (35%) and single women (50%) have a child.

What are the common motivations for donation?

The same research also discovered that the common reasons for wanting to donate sperm included:

  • Helping others to have a family (38%)
  • Knowing other people going through fertility treatment (24%)
  • Knowing my sperm count and quality could be assessed at donation (20%)
  • Everyone deserves to be a parent if they want to be (18%)

Sperm donors in Australia can be known to the recipient or recruited via the clinic. Many couples and individuals choose their sperm donor through a clinic, as knowing the demographic profile of the donor but not their identity is a preferred option. In these cases, children of sperm donors are able to access their biological father’s details when they are 18 years old.
While Australians cannot be paid for their sperm (like blood or organ donation) most clinics reimburse donors for legitimate expenses. Sperm donors in Australia are typically aged 25-45, with or without their own families, and of any sexual orientation.

Would you or someone you know now consider sperm donation?

After seeing the results of this research, we want to raise awareness of the need for more sperm donors in Australia. If it is something that you would consider talk to your local clinic for more information.

Sperm Donation in Australia Infographic

Sperm Donation in Australia infographic


* Research conducted by Woolcott Research in March 2012. 

Mediterranean diet – can it influence IVF results?

UK scientists will examine the effects of a Mediterranean diet rich in omega-3 fish oil and vitamin D on fertility for women and couples undergoing In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF).

Common sense would suggest that preconception health of both women and men could play a role in the Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) treatment outcome. We all know that a healthy lifestyle and good nutrition influences the quality of egg and sperm in the preconception period, therefore increasing the chances of a successful pregnancy.

What is a Mediterranean diet?

The Mediterranean style diet is high in fruits, vegetables, fish, wholegrain, nuts and seeds. It is limited in red meat, dairy, alcohol and processed foods such as cakes and mayonnaise2

In 2010 a Dutch study showed that preconception Mediterranean style diet in couples undergoing ART treatment increases chances of achieving pregnancy by 40% 2.

More evidence of Mediterranean diet’s benefits

Omega-3 fatty acids are derived from oily fish sources such as salmon, mackerel and sardines, nuts and seeds. Omega-3 serves as a precursor to different prostaglandins (PGs) that are important in the menstrual cycle, growth and development of eggs and initiation of the ovulation. PGs also play a role in fertilization of the embryo in the uterus.2

Vitamin D is derived from dietary oily fish and eggs. It appears to impact IVF outcomes by boosting levels of progesterone and estrogen, which regulates menstrual cycles improving the chance of conception.

You may be thinking what about men? Vitamin D also benefits semen quality and count in males. Additionally, it increases levels of testosterone, boosting libido. 3

Current guidelines suggest to prescreen all women before IVF. Optimal vitamin D levels are considered to be 75m/mol or above. We commonly prescribe vitamin D doses ranging from 1000-5000iu a day. Dosage recommended in infertility depends on the  blood levels. If you are very deficient it may be hard to obtain sufficient amounts of Vitamin D from the diet alone and supplements are highly recommended.4

But, do these positive results from dietary omega-3 and vitamin D, translate into positive results from supplementation?

The answer is we don’t know yet. Vitamins and minerals absorb more effectively from food sources. There are other co-factors in food that increase vitamin and nutrient activation in the body. Nevertheless, both omega-3 and vitamin D supplements have a low side effects profile and are safe before, during and after (breastfeeding stage) pregnancy.

One other likely benefit of the Mediterranean diet to fertility is its high vitamin B content. Vitamin B6 and B12, as well as Folate, is required to breakdown homocysteine, a naturally occurring amino acid found in blood plasma. Elevated levels of homocysteine are associated with adverse reproductive and pregnancy outcomes. This is why adequate intake of Folate, B6 and B12 is recommended for women who are trying to conceive either spontaneously or via IVF. In another blog I will discuss the significance of homocysteine pathway and its link to the quality of sperm and egg.2

What does this mean if you’re undergoing IVF?

Following a Mediterranean diet may increase your chances of achieving pregnancy through IVF. Omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D play an important role though further research is still required to confirm this link.

Currently there are no specific guidelines on what constitutes a Mediterranean diet and optimal quantities of certain foods in order to make a routine recommendation. IVF patients may benefit from a nutrition assessment by a clinical dietitian or a naturopath who can review their dietary habits and develop a food plan.

In the case of Vitamin D, given the current prevalence of deficiency in sub-fertile women and men, and difficulty deriving enough from diet alone, supplementation alongside ART treatment may be recommended in most cases.

References: 1, Mediterranean diet trial targets IVF boost. The Australian. 25 Mar 2014. Available: [http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/latest-news/mediterranean-diet-trial-targets-ivf-boost/story-fn3dxix6-1226864778849].  Accessed:  [27 Mar 2014]. 2, Vujkovic M, De Vries JH, Lindemans J, Macklon NS, Van Der Spek PJ, Steegers EA, Steegers-Theunissen PM. The preconception Mediterranean dietary pattern in couples undergoing in vitro fertilization/intracytoplasmic sperm injection treatment increases the change of pregnancy. Fertility and sterility Vol. 94, No 6, November 2010. 3, Lerchbaum E, Obermayer-Pietsch B. Vitamin D and fertility – a systematic review. European Society of Endocrinology. 24 January 2012. 4, Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council. Clinical Practice guideline: Antenatal Care – Module 1. Australian Government Department of Health and Aging, Canberra. 31 August 2012. Available: [www.health.gov.au/antenatal]. Accessed: [27 Mar 2014].

Has following a Mediterranean diet worked for you?

Current study: Can acupuncture support IVF treatment?

Many people use complementary or alternative therapies to improve their overall physical and emotional health. Some women also consider using these therapies to prepare their body for pregnancy or support them through fertility treatment.

Why are women turning to Acupuncture while undergoing IVF?

Acupuncture has grown in popularity in Australia as an adjunct to IVF treatment and is claimed to reduce stress, improve the quality of life while you’re undertaking treatment, and stimulate blood flow to the uterus influencing menstrual cycle and ovulation.

Some limited studies have shown that acupuncture on the day of embryo transfer, within an IVF cycle, may improve implantation rates although it should also be borne in mind that some recent studies have not found acupuncture to be effective.

Background on the current study into IVF and Acupuncture

The clinics within the Virtus Health group, including IVFAustralia, Melbourne IVF and Queensland Fertility Group, are continually investing in research projects that seek to improve health and reproductive outcomes for patients. In some cases this involves working together with complementary therapists to maximise patient fertility. An example of this is the relationships that have been setup between acupuncture clinics in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs and the Bondi Junction IVFAustralia clinic.

A current research project that IVFAustralia and Melbourne IVF are involved in is a national multi-centre randomised controlled acupuncture trial in conjunction with The University of Western Sydney. The purpose is to formally investigate the effectiveness, or not, of acupuncture in improving the proportion of live birth rates for women undergoing in vitro fertilisation (IVF).

What are the expected outcomes of this trial?

This study will determine the cost effectiveness of IVF with acupuncture, assess the personal and social context of acupuncture on IVF patients and identify other effects of acupuncture.

It will add significant knowledge to defining the exact role of acupuncture in the management of IVF from a clinical and cost effectiveness perspective. Any way that we can reduce the number of cycles it takes for our patients to achieve a healthy pregnancy, is likely to have a positive emotional and financial impact on that family.

However, regardless of the outcome of this trial, while improving your general health and wellbeing is clearly beneficial, acupuncture is not for everyone and varied opinions reflect the limited evidence on its effectiveness.

Who is eligible to take part?

We are currently recruiting IVF Australia and Melbourne IVF patients interested in taking part in the trial.

To participate you must: be less than 43 years of age, be undergoing a fresh IVF or Intracystoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) cycle; and not be undergoing a pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) cycle.

Participants in the trial will receive their treatments on the day of embryo transfer – administered by experienced acupuncturists – at research partnered IVF units in clinics across Australia.

If you want to find out more or register for the trial, contact IVF Australia or Melbourne IVF.

Read more: Complementary Therapies for Pregnancy (NSW), Adjuvant Therapy & IVF Treatment (Melbourne), Complementary Therapies & Fertility (QLD)

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