What are the alternatives to IVF?
Dr Bob Watson | 23rd Aug 2016
As many as 1 in 6 Australian couples will have difficulties conceiving when they decide to start or extend their family. Pregnancy delay is still a relatively ‘silent’ topic, with many couples preferring not to openly discuss their difficulties when trying for a baby. As a result, there is still a lack of knowledge in this area, with many couples maintaining an unrealistic concern that seeing a fertility specialist will automatically result in them having to go down the IVF route.
It should be reassuring to know that there are many effective alternatives to IVF, if you do decide to seek help from a fertility specialist.
Getting your timing right with expert help
Timing is everything when trying to get pregnant. Many women are under the impression that they should have sex exactly when they ovulate and don’t understand the importance of having sex leading up to ovulation.
There are online tools and apps available to help you track your cycle and estimate when you are due to ovulate, so you can ensure you are having sex in the few days prior. Many fertility clinics offer ovulation cycle tracking (which can involve simple blood tests and/or scans) to provide a more accurate way of identifying when you’re going to ovulate to help you get the time just right.
IVF isn’t the only fertility treatment available
Fertility specialists are expert gynaecologists and obstetricians who specialise in fertility. They are able to assess your full medical history and unless there is a good reason for moving straight to IVF, most fertility specialists will recommend a less invasive form of fertility treatment first.
For women that don’t ovulate regularly or at all, for example those with PCOS, Ovulation Induction can sometimes be enough to help them fall pregnant and only involves oral medication and an ultrasound scan.
The next, most common alternative, which can be effective and for those where regular ovulation is not the issue, is Intrauterine Insemination (IUI). This is also commonly referred to as artificial insemination and involves placing the male partner’s sperm inside the woman’s uterus. This very affordable procedure is performed in a doctor’s rooms or a fertility clinic, and is a similar feeling to undergoing a pap smear.
If a medical condition, such as endometriosis, is thought to be the cause for the pregnancy delay, keyhole surgery may be discussed as an option to rectify the issue. Many women successfully achieve a pregnancy post-surgery without further intervention.
What can we do to boost our natural fertility?
Fortunately there are also steps you and your partner can take to boost your natural fertility, such as quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy diet, committing to regular exercise, and consuming alcohol and caffeine in moderation.
What about alternative therapies?
If you do decide to consult a fertility specialist, it’s best to discuss any alternative therapies you are using or plan to use. Acupuncture and vitamin supplements are generally considered to be compatible with most fertility treatments, but it’s important to check that complementary medicines don’t interfere with any treatments your doctor may prescribe.
When is IVF recommended?
If other forms of treatment have proved unsuccessful or in limited circumstances, IVF may be recommended. This decision is usually made during a discussion between you and your partner and the treating fertility specialist. However, if there are significant problems with the male partner’s sperm or the woman is over the age of 40, IVF may be discussed sooner. In addition, if you know or suspect you have a genetic condition or chromosomal abnormality, IVF combined with PGD will be recommended to avoid passing on the condition to your child.
Fertility specialists recommend couples try to conceive for twelve months before seeking medical advice, except when the women is over the age of 35, or has known gynaecological issues (e.g. irregular periods, PCOS or endometriosis). In your late 30’s and early 40’s, women should try for just six months before seeking expert help.