Self-care during IVF treatment

Written by Elise Atkinson
18 Dec

When you’re on a fertility journey, looking after your own wellbeing can be challenging. Let’s explore the benefits of taking time out for you. 

At a glance

  • Looking after your emotional health is just as important as what’s going on physically
  • The frustrations of infertility can place strain on relationships, so taking mental breaks is key
  • Counselling can be an important resource for those struggling with fertility

Whether you’re partnered-up or single, navigating the fertility space can at times feel overwhelming, frustrating and mentally exhausting. With so much invested in the end result, it’s as much of an emotional journey as it is a physical one.

“Self-care needs to be a priority,” says fertility counsellor and psychotherapist Elise Atkinson. And not just once it’s all over. “It’s important to think about it during the beginning of your journey too.”

In fact, nourishing your mental health from the get-go is fundamental to you feeling as supported, healthy, resilient and as mentally ‘ready’ as possible to take on the physical demands of the treatment.

Atkinson emphasises the importance of taking time out for regular, feel-good rituals unique to you. “It could be as simple as factoring in time for exercise, taking the dog for a walk or finding a place in nature that leaves you feeling enthused and invigorated again,” she suggests. “It’s about what makeyou feel good.”


Singles vs couples

Although two very different journeys, going through the fertility process alone or with a partner requires a broad support network. “Make sure you know who can be helpful at this time,” says Atkinson.

  • For singles this might mean depending on a close friend, colleague or family member to offer support at appointments, assist in decision-making, or even just be there to listen without necessarily offering up advice.
  • For couples this might mean engagingotherpeople in your journey – even just one person – so as not to place the entire emotional load on your partner.

Frustrations around infertility can place strain on relationships and it can be easy to forget to make time to connect with those you love - outside of the heavy conversations and medical chat. “If you’re going through treatment with a partner, find ways you can keep in touch emotionally, but also have fun together,” advises Atkinson.

Scheduling ‘fertility talk free’ time once a week for instance, will give you both an emotional holiday from the intensity of what you’re going through


The importance of counselling

Seeking out professional support while going through a fertility journey is a great way to receive support from someone removed emotionally from your situation, and an invaluable exercise in prioritising self-care.

Sessions could focus on:


Talk to your GP or fertility specialist about what steps you can take to organise your first session.




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Coping with the festive season when you’re going through fertility treatment

Many of my fertility patients express that they find Christmas the hardest time of the year. At this time, there tends to be a heavy focus on family and children, which is a constant reminder of what they are striving for. Although, if you’re going through fertility treatment, such as IVF, it’s natural to be feeling frustrated, sad or disappointed and therefore not very festive at all.

Having a plan for this time of year can help you feel more in control and hopefully allow you to make the most of the break, so that you can come back in the New Year with renewed energy to continue your fertility journey.

So if you are anxious about how you are going to cope here are some tips to help you manage the festive season…

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle in the ‘party’ season

Even though December can be a time of year to be merry, don’t forget or dismiss the basics about your diet and lifestyle that can help to optimise your fertility. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having a drink, but think about the frequency and quantity. Two glasses of wine a couple of times a week is fine, but avoid binging.

Keep taking your folic acid supplements as, if your treatment is successful, this reduces the risk of neural defects, most commonly spina bifida in babies.

Eat a well-balanced diet to maintain a healthy BMI and try to balance those extra indulgences with some exercise. That might mean just going for a half hour walk with your partner or a friend.

Moderate your caffeine intake to no more than two cups a day and I cannot stress this enough, no smoking, not even socially. This goes for the men too.

Preparing for social gatherings

Be selective about which invitations you accept and decide in advance the events you will be comfortable attending. It’s ok to put yourself first so don’t feel guilty about declining invitations.
If you feel like you have to attend, plan to spend only a short amount of time at the event – just pop in a say hi then excuse yourself.

Prepare for questions from well-meaning friends and relatives about when you are planning on starting your family. Have prepared phases such as ‘I appreciate your interest and care but I don’t have any news to share at this time’ or an off the cuff response such as ‘We’re still having fun practicing’.

It can also be a good idea to have a private ‘get me out of here’ signal with your partner or a close friend in case you become overwhelmed and pre-plan an exit strategy.

Nurturing your relationship

For couples having difficulty conceiving it can be easy to lose focus of the reason you are in this situation in the first place – your relationship with the person you love. So take the holidays as an opportunity to break a fertility treatment routine and spend this time focusing on each other and reconnecting. 

Need some additional support?

A lot of patients find it helpful to talk with someone who understands what they are going through, who will listen and provide advice. All of our clinics offer support through our counselling team and if you are currently undergoing treatment I encourage you to access this service.

We also have a private fertility forum, where you can connect with people going through a similar journey as you, so if you’re a member, make sure you logon. If you’re not a member, why not register today?

Visit your local forum: IVFAustralia Fertility Forum, Qld Fertility Group Fertility Forum, Melbourne IVF Fertility Forum

Most importantly be kind to yourself, have some self-compassion and do things that you enjoy.

Take care of yourself and we wish you all the very best this holiday season.

Elise Atkinson
18 Dec

Good advice for supporting a friend with infertility

Infertility and fertility treatment is understandably a very sensitive area. In order that we can all show more understanding to women and couples that are having difficulties conceiving, the following advice can be invaluable. 

Providing Support

How a couple having difficulties conceiving is feeling

When someone you know is having difficulties conceiving, and in particular when they’re going through fertility treatment, it can feel like they’re on an emotional rollercoaster.
Women and couples having difficulties conceiving are likely to be feeling sad, frustrated and sometimes angry. Fertility issues can have a huge impact on self-esteem and many experience feelings of guilt and shame at being unable to easily achieve something that they expected to be able to do naturally.
It can also be an isolating time particularly if friends and family are at the same life stage and falling pregnant.  

What not to say to a couple coping with infertility

Common phrases that we hear people say, almost always innocently enough, that can actually be quite hurtful to the people involved:

So, when are you having kids?

Having a baby is a very private and personal event and the couple may not want to discuss it publicly with others, particularly if they are having difficulties. If in doubt, its best to avoid asking these sorts of questions, as harmless as your intentions may be.

Just relax and it will happen / Go on a holiday

The reality is that most couples only have 12 chances of falling pregnant each year, so ‘just relaxing’ is not going to help them have a baby. Sex at the right time of the month is essential for conception, which is why some women keep a close track of their likely ovulation date. Although a holiday might be fun, it’s not going to help them become pregnant any more than frequent sex and good timing.

Have you tried “insert old wives tale”?

Couples having trouble conceiving have often done a lot of research on anything and everything that may help them fall pregnant. Old wives tales are also mostly widely unproven and of little help.

You have to think positive!

None of us can be positive all the time, and if couples have experienced a lot of disappointment while trying to fall pregnant they may find it harder and harder to be hopeful. Positive thinking is not going to help them get pregnant but worrying about any negativity they are feeling only adds to the overall emotional load.

Have you tried IVF?

While IVF treatment is behind 1 in 23 births in Australia, it is not always successful and often requires more than one cycle before you fall pregnant. This creates its own emotional rollercoaster combined with the physical discomfort and financial pressure. If they are already undergoing IVF treatment, they may also be worried that it will be unsuccessful and the more people who know, the more people they have to tell at the end if it doesn’t work.

What about adoption?

The reality is adoption is a very lengthy and difficult process and there are not many adoptions each year in Australia. This sort of question also minimises and dismisses how much the couple may want to have their own genetic child.

You’re young it will be ok!

The reality is you don’t know what the outcome will be and you probably don’t know their exact situation and medical history. Again, it may be an innocent comment but best to avoid these sorts of statements.

How best to communicate with a couple that’s having difficulties starting a family

If you are talking to a woman or couple that’s having difficulties having a baby, recognise that the person you’re talking to may be grieving. Unthoughtful comments may minimise or even dismiss the experience that they are going through. You are better to say nothing at all, or acknowledge that there is nothing that you can say, than to make light of what can be a very painful situation.
If you do have a friend or relative trying to cope with infertility or fertility treatment, try to follow this advice from expert counsellors:

  1. Be open to communication and truly listen when they feel like talking – listening means not giving advice or judging their decisions. Allow them to raise and change the subject.
  2. Always think before you speak. They are in pain. If you realise you may have made a tactless remark, apologise and keep listening. Be honest, just tell them you don’t know what to say.
  3. Sense when they need to be involved in an activity that distracts them or when they need to have a heart-to-heart. Respect their wishes and be mindful of particularly painful occasions such as pregnancy announcements, christenings and mother’s day.
  4. Keep information confidential. Infertility is a very private matter. If they trust you enough to share, do not betray this trust.
  5. Remember what they need may change over time and be sensitive and reactive to this. 

Some fertility clinics offer free counselling not only for patients but for their family and friends. If you feel like you need extra support, contact the counselling team at your local fertility clinic. 

Read more: Fertility counselling in QLD, Fertility counselling in NSW, Fertility counselling in VICFertility counselling in TAS, Fertility counselling in Singapore

Elise Atkinson
18 Dec

How to mentally prepare for fertility treatment

Preparing for IVF treatment isn’t easy; add into the mix juggling relationships, work and other every day realities, and it can become extremely overwhelming. We spoke to fertility counsellor Melissa Stephens to get some tips to help try and manage the stress of these situations.

Friends and family

It’s important to have a support network when going through IVF for those moments when you need a shoulder to lean on. Confiding in your nearest and dearest - perhaps a sister or best friend - can provide an outlet on the hard days and can make a world of difference.

How many people you share your journey with is entirely up to you. The one thing to be aware of is, the more people who know, the more people who will check in on you and that can sometimes become stressful when you don’t feel like talking. If you ever feel this way, it’s okay to say things like “thank you for your support on this, I’m just taking a mental break – if I feel like I need to talk about anything, I will come to you”.

9 to 5

Sharing your situation with work colleagues can be challenging. There will be times where you may need to leave the office for appointments or take medication, or just feel like you’re not quite as focused as you usually are. If so, you may want to tell your immediate manager in confidence.

If you don’t have that kind of relationship with your manger but have a colleague who is supportive, it may be helpful for them to be aware of what’s happening.  Some women feel more comfortable keeping their treatment private but making excuses each time you need to leave the workplace can be hard, especially if you have experienced several cycles.

Your relationship with your partner

Your relationship is one of the most significant parts of your journey. The experience is as much physical as it is emotional for women undergoing IVF and they need to be in tune with what is happening with their bodies. Plus there is the added pressure of having to remember when to take injections and waiting for test results.  This combination can make it difficult to switch off from the process.

A partner’s part in the process is often considered ‘easy’. However, not having more of a physical part to play can often heighten the pressure someone feels to support their partner going through treatment. No matter how uncomfortable it may be, when it comes to handling the day to day with your partner, communication really is key. Tell each other how you’re feeling, what might be weighing on your mind and what is helpful for you at that time. One option is to make a specific time during the day, perhaps 15 minutes before dinner, to talk about anything to do with the treatment.

Some coping strategies that can work really well for couples can be planning things to look forward to, like social events, small trips or starting a home project – any goals that are achievable and will keep the connection, romance and fun in your relationship.

Social occasions

IVF can often be a lengthy process and naturally, social events will pop up that may be more difficult to attend than they used to be. Family events such as Christmas or Easter can be particularly challenging, especially if family members are asking “when is the baby coming?” A good response to these questions is having a prepared line to say, such as “If there’s any news, I’ll let you know”.

One of the more difficult situations for women is baby showers. It may not be something you feel like attending when you are going through IVF and it is okay to say no to these events. Instead, you can send a gift and say you have prior commitments.

Take time out for you

There are many people that go through IVF treatment for an extended period of time. Often, when they look back, they remember focusing on little else and feel they missed out on memories, other experiences and life in general.

Try and remember to focus on yourself. Self-care keeps you in the right frame of mind to tackle any obstacles that may be ahead of you.

On an IVF journey it’s important to do things that make you feel good about yourself, whether that’s exercise, being outside, pampering yourself, meditation or even just time to be by yourself with your thoughts.

And most importantly, if you don’t have immediate success in IVF you will go through a grieving process. Couples will experience a lot of normal emotions; sadness, anger, frustration, confusion. The worst thing you can do is ignore these feelings; it’s important to sit with it and work through it because the feelings won’t go away by themselves.

If you’re going through treatment or feel like you need a little extra support, call your clinic or follow the links below.


Elise Atkinson
18 Dec

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